A Smarter Future For Labels
By Mike Fairley, global label industry expert
The future potential and growth for labels will not so much be about the printed content and presentation, but increasingly about making labels cleverer, smarter and more intelligent.
Why is the marketplace actively looking for smarter, more intelligent label solutions? There are many diverse answers:
• To aid distribution, handling and storage operations
• To keep food fresher longer in transit, on store shelves and in consumers’ refrigerators
• To indicate damage or shocks to packs and goods in transit
• To show product deterioration with food and pharmaceuticals
• To help asset management and assist returns control
• To help eliminate counterfeiting and improve brand protection
• To speed up checking and reading processes
• To offer a means of authenticating products and packs
This list does not include some of the more traditional, clever label solutions, or the developments that have been taking place in RFID smart labels over the past three or four years. I’m talking about many of the newer intelligent and smart solutions that have been introduced in the past one or two years, and products that are only just being launched in the market.
Just take some of the most recent advances in labels that have been developed for keeping food—and some types of drugs—fresher for longer or at least can stop the products from deteriorating before use. Labels for example, that are oxygen or ethylene scavenging; moisture or odor absorbing; and those that are freshness, microbial growth or pack leakage indicators.
Perhaps some of the more sophisticated solutions are labels that are hydrogen sulphide-indicating, to warn of specific pack leakage and/or provide information on disruption in the cold chain, or specially designed oxygen indicating labels that warn of pack leakage in modified atmosphere packaging, or labels that can be used to indicate the freshness of fruit or to stop it deteriorating too quickly.
The potential of such labels has enormous implications for the whole food chain. In the case of soft fruits, such as raspberries or blackberries, these will start to go watery in clamshell packs after one or two days. They are still edible but look less appetizing. Placing a moisture absorbing label inside the pack before closure can stop the fruit from deteriorating. Similar issues arise with some drugs in tablet form. They will begin to deteriorate in the bottle if they are exposed to oxygen or moisture—which starts occurring each time the bottle is opened. Oxygen and moisture absorbing tags inside the bottle can therefore extend the product usage life.
Perhaps the biggest potential for the food and medical sectors are new developments in labels that can detect—or kill—most bacteria and viruses. Such labels, of which the first are already now entering the market, will be able to detect e-coli contamination in food products and MRSA, c-dificile bugs and even bird flu and mad cow disease.
A whole new world is developing for label converters. Forget just competing on price to produce multicolor labels. Think about the opportunities to produce added-value labels that eliminate or minimize diseases; labels that can preserve and protect foodstuffs; labels that protect against bacteria and microbes; labels that provide proof of process control or reduce counterfeiting.
The future of labels and packaging is definitely getting smaller. Indeed over the next five years ‘nano’ technology, will offer solutions previously undreamed of by brand owners and retail groups - solutions that will revolutionize the way we pack, identify, brand, enhance, store and sell all kinds of products.
But like many other types of label production, there is a downside to providing these new types of smart/intelligent label solutions. Firstly, converters need clever and creative personnel that come up with the ideas and applications. Secondly, they need clever converting materials, technology and presses to be able to make the products and, thirdly, they need skilled sales and marketing staff to present the benefits to potential customers.
Many companies may have one or two of these requirements in-house—but seldom have all three. It therefore also requires forward-thinking management to put the right personnel, procedures, systems and ideas into practice, to monitor all the new developments and to create a business environment that looks to the solutions of tomorrow rather than the products of the past.
In conclusion, today’s smart label converters should be developing smart label solutions for a smarter and more profitable future. These latest developments will be on show at Labelexpo Europe 2007 in Brussels this September. The world’s largest ever dedicated label show will have a dedicated ‘Smart’ pavilion to showcase and highlight new materials, products and technology.
For further information, www.labelexpo-europe.com.