Europe lags five to eight years behind Asia in its adoption of active and intelligent packaging (AIP) technologies, with consumer fear and legislation the biggest obstacles to implementation, according to the Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA).
Eef de Ferrante, director of the industry association, told FoodProductionDaily.com: “People have still to get used to AIP, particularly active packaging; there are wonderful solutions that use nanotechnology to extend shelf life or prevent sauces from clogging in bottles but people are afraid of them.
“They are suspicious about what is happening in the pack. We need to explain and communicate the advantages of AIP and how it works,” he added.
“Legislation is another obstacle. For example, although the EU is really focused on reducing food waste, the legal requirement to include date marks on packs stops the food industry from looking at technologies that could reduce food waste by indicating the condition of the product inside the pack.
De Ferrante said: “Implementing this type of active packaging rather than relying solely on date stamps would mean we wouldn’t have to throw away food that was still edible.”
Japanese lead the pack
By contrast, in Asia, de Ferrante said that active and intelligent packaging are in daily use, which is why AIPIA had chosen to hold its first meeting in Japan, during the TokyoPack exhibition (1-3 October 2012).
“The Japanese have been using active and intelligent packaging commercially for several years so they can teach us a lot about how to implement and popularise the technologies. This will help us speed up implementation in western markets,” de Ferrante said.
During the congress AIPIA will organise tours of local retail outlets to see how supermarkets, shops, pharmacies and consumers use active and intelligent packs and how widely available and acceptable the technology has become, he added.
Active packaging incorporates materials that interact chemically or biologically with the headspace or contents to prolong the shelf life.
Nano-films, coatings, QR coding…
Examples include nano-films that can extend the life of fruit and vegetables by emitting a chemical vapour, thaw indicators for frozen food that visually highlight whether the product has thawed at any point during transit through the supply chain, and a nano-coating for ketchup bottles that eliminates residual waste.
Intelligent packaging technologies, on the other hand, have a built-in IT element, for example, mobile commerce, QR (quick response) coding, augmented reality or NFC (near-field communication) technology that enables the consumer to interact with products via mobile phone.
“All the technologies exist and work; the AIP industry is more ready than implementation would suggest,” de Ferrante said.
“I think the food and drink industry in Europe is ready too to adopt some of these technologies, but commercialisation will take another two to five years. The US is even further behind.”