What will packaging be like tomorrow?
Packaging is becoming active
Packaging is active when it contains elements which interact with its environment (see part one). Behind this definition lies a very advanced technology based on microcapsules and other highly developed chemical processes. But rest assured, there is no question of playing the sorcerer’s apprentice here: these processes are rigorously controlled. The principle behind this new type of packaging (for food use on a wide scale) is based on the absorption or release of natural, gaseous substances with a view to prolonging the storage life of foods and preserving their health, nutritional and organoleptic qualities (the latter linked to the senses: taste, colour, texture, aromas, etc.) This packaging is equipped with absorbers (of oxygen, humidity or ethylene) or emitters (antimicrobial, aromatic, etc.).
In the form of a sachet, label or polymer film incorporated in the packaging, they absorb the oxygen responsible for oxidation and the development of bacteria. Today, these innovations constitute a niche market and most of them are still in the course of development. However, the consumer is already benefiting from them in certain fruit juice containers whose tops contain an oxygen absorber. We should also add that polymer films with antimicrobial properties also have applications in the medical, cosmetic and electronic fields among others.
When the packaging talks to my fridge and my microwave !
There are many additional applications made possible by research, as explained by Fabrice Roy, executive director of Sealed Air. The interaction between the food manufacturer and the final customer is another way forward. We already know that a smartphone is capable of reading the barcode of a product and providing us with information on this product. Let us dare to go further with packaging that interacts with refrigerators, which alerts us when the expiry dates of food are approaching. Similarly, a microwave can recognise the reheating intensity and duration necessary to ready a meal. These are interesting ideas, particularly for the elderly. These innovations are technically already possible, it just requires the establishment of a standardised system introducing some coherence among all those concerned. Having said that, an innovation can emerge only if its cost/performance ratio is acceptable and it corresponds to an expressed or latent need among consumers.”
And what if the label went beyond its original function as a simple vector of information concerning directions for use, ingredients or even, for medicines, the dosage? New mechanisms are being developed to inform the consumer of the state of preservation of a product, thus guaranteeing its quality and therefore its safety. These are the promises of smart packaging with an indicator that is able to detect and report essential information such as a leak (for modified atmosphere packaging), a break in the cold chain, the state of freshness, etc. For example, a chromatic label which changes colour if oxygen enters the packaging or if the cold chain has been interrupted during transport or storage. This same type of process, reacting to the gases given off in aromas, is able to communicate the maturity of fruit: red when it is hard, orange when it is firm, yellow when it is juicy.