September 11-15, 2017

Packaging of Tomorrow

I found it fitting that Disney World, home of Tomorrowland, recently announced one of the more futuristic uses of radio frequency identification technology (perhaps better known by its acronym: RFID). For those of you not familiar with RFID, it’s a technology that uses small tags on items to beam signals back and forth to readers. The result is the ability to easily track products as they pass by the readers, like in the beverage warehouse, for instance.

The interesting Disney twist is that the RFID chip won’t be placed on any of the company’s products, but on people. That’s right, the park’s guests will be given what are called “MagicBands” containing RFID tags that will serve as a guest’s room key, theme park ticket, access to FastPass+ selections, PhotoPass card and optional payment account all rolled into one.

This innovative use of the technology reminded me of all the promises we’ve heard about RFID and other advanced technology over the years. Several years ago, the vision was that RFID tags would get to be so inexpensive that they could be placed on individual items, such as cans of soda. We’re not quite there yet, but as the Disney MagicBands bear out, we might be getting closer.

Just consider the possibilities. Individual packages of soda, beer or other beverages containing the tiny tags could one day be part of an advanced “smart home” system. Every time the consumer finishes drinking a bottle of Coke, for instance, disposing the empty package would trigger a reader that automatically orders them another one as part of their next home delivery from the local supermarket.

The possibilities of such technology are really endless. The only limitations so far have been the cost of the RFID tags, which until now have been too expensive for individual items.

RFID is just one technology that has the potential to revolutionize beverage packaging. Others are already in use, such as QR codes that enable consumers to scan the package label with their smart phones, linking to websites or videos with more information or special promotions.

David Turner, principal and founder, Turner Duckworth Design, recently emailed me his 2013 predictions for beverage packaging. He started by pointing out that beverage packaging really hasn’t changed very much in the past 100 years or so. So are we overdue for a major change? He believes so. “Not to the form of packaging, but to its role,” he said. “Packaging is the one part of a beverage brand’s marketing that’s guaranteed to reach the consumer. With the advent of image recognition technologies, the package can come to life through mobile devices as an interactive hub for information and entertainment.”

Now that sounds just about as innovative as Disney’s MagicBands. The beverage package’s role has remained unchanged for decades. All it needs are these emerging technologies to give it that extra layer of functionality.

So who knows what the future will hold. But if Turner is right, we may be entering a new era where the beverage package takes on even greater importance than it’s had until now. It truly will be the packaging of tomorrow.

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