Consumers in Vietnam are moving up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As consumer goods with basic functions become taken for granted, there is increasing demand for foods with natural ingredients and fortified values, says Kantar Worldpanel, a market-research firm. This is reiterated by Retail Measurement Services, Nielsen Vietnam1, who state that 83% of Vietnamese consumers make dietary choices based on preventing bad health conditions, and 89% are willing to pay more for food that promotes health benefits.
So it may come as a surprise that a premium food brand may face obstacles in attracting Vietnamese consumers. Despite their search for healthier options, consumers remain highly price sensitive, particularly where numerous brands claim to have the same health benefits, and there is a lack of clarity about the ingredients and their production methods. This is the problem faced by Unilever’s Knorr, which produces dehydrated stock cubes widely used in Vietnamese soups.
So My Bowl of Pho is Traceable?
In order to appeal to their health-conscious yet price-sensitive consumers, Knorr needed to become more effective in communicating the high quality of their ingredients.
Pork, one of the main ingredients for Knorr’s stock cubes, is sourced from clean pork farms committed to hygiene and quality. Knorr wanted to alleviate Vietnamese consumers’ concerns about food safety and credibility by allowing them to trace and interact with their products.
Enter smart packaging solutions provider, ScanTrust. ScanTrust is a trailblazer in the smart packaging industry, offering supply chain traceability and consumer engagement through package interaction. The company developed a QR code for Knorr’s packaging that consumers can scan to access a web page showing the supply chain for each ingredient. The web page offers information about the caretaker of the pigs in the related batch, the meat processors and manufacturers. Giving consumers an insight into the journey of their food right up to the point they hold the product in their hand has been instrumental for brands such as Knorr in winning them over.
“Actively protecting brands, creating supply chain awareness, and driving consumer behavior are all in our wheelhouse at ScanTrust. Understanding how these benefits are drawn into live supply chain circumstances means looking at the innovations that make smart packaging tick. QR codes, RFID, NFC, different data management schemes; these are all going to be used for years to come,” said ScanTrust Co-Founder & CEO, Nathan Anderson.
Research by Nielsen Vietnam revealed that 88% of Vietnamese consumers read packaging labels carefully to find out more about nutrition content. Combined with the high mobile and internet penetration in the region2 – 68% of mobile users in rural Vietnam have a smartphone – Vietnamese consumers are a suitable target audience for this packaging technology. Since the project launched in July 2019, around 12 million QR codes have been printed. This method of smart packaging has proven to be an important innovation in addressing the concerns of consumers when it comes to the origin of the food they consume.
Battling Food Waste and Case for Asian Markets
Food waste is another global issue that can be tackled by smart functional packaging. 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year, according to the UN’s FAO3, and costs around US$680 billion in industrialised countries, and US$310 billion in the developing world. Food waste alone generates 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually; decomposing food in landfills accounts for nearly 25% of US emissions of methane alone, says the Environmental Protection Agency. So why do we throw out so much good food?
Consumer scepticism about the freshness of food is one of the biggest reasons for food waste. Many people throw food away when they are unsure of whether the food may be spoiled, where the color does not look right, or the consistency seems off, even though it is often still suitable for consumption. Some of this uncertainty about the freshness of our food and its source can be prevented with innovations in the packaging industry. Innovations in packaging are necessary to enable the extension of shelf life, improvement of product safety, minimising of waste, and educating consumers on how they can help with the problem. Smart functional packaging allows consumers to interact with the product and understand details such as the time of manufacture and storage conditions. According to the EFSA, intelligent packing materials are defined as “materials and articles that monitor the condition of packaged food or the environment surrounding food”.
One company tackling this problem of food waste due to perception of spoilage is a German startup, a Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH spinout – Is It Fresh. The company uses low cost printed electronic sensors that can measure various parameters providing the product’s freshness status in real time such as temperature and pH value. While the technology can be applied across the supply chain Is It Fresh’s first product is a smart tray which can be used in warehouses or store fronts to track freshness of perishable produce. The tray sensors interact with sensors on the product and provide updates via the cloud on the produce health. Interestingly, the company has targeted South Korea as their first international market as they see much higher adoption of such technologies and customer demand for traceability in East Asian markets.
The most popular type of smart functional packaging is smart labels, such as the kind provided by Scan Trust. These labels are especially effective in Asia Pacific, where Internet penetration is the highest in the world (72% of the population), and where the number of mobile subscribers is estimated to reach 3.1 billion by 2025. According to research firm Mintel, between 2014 and 2018, the APAC region has seen an 83% rise in QR Codes on consumer products. Approx. 9 percent of all goods launched in Asia Pacific feature a QR code, while that number in Europe is at 5%4.
Water.io, an Israel-based smart packaging startup, takes a slightly different approach. Its co-founder Yoav Hoshen believes “most consumers are usually slow in changing their consumption behaviours. One of the biggest challenges the smart packaging industry faces is keeping the package exactly the same, while demanding no behavioural changes from the customers, as well as minimal to no changes on the manufacturer’s side”. Water.io uses a patented Smart-Cap technology – small IoT devices built into or attached on bottle caps – to enable consumers to interact with their packaging and brand owners to collect data about their consumers’ habits.
Water.io created a first-of-its-kind Internet-of-packaging platform that ensures customers use the product correctly and get the most benefit out of them. The data is automatically collected from the package, providing brands an insight into what the customer is experiencing, how the brand can help them use it better, and what the consumer actually wants. The technology can also facilitate waste reduction through one of its Smart-Cap capabilities, which alerts users of the product’s expiry date or before it runs out. “[This] helps maintain smart purchasing [behaviours] and reduces over-buying. Smart packaging can also help brands produce [stock with more accuracy] and minimise storage and stock-handling”, said Mr. Hoshen.
According to Edwin Seah, Head of Sustainability and Communications at Food Industry Asia, “Smart packaging that could warn of contaminants in the product, product tempering, and product authenticity, would be popular especially given the rise of e-commerce. In Asia, food fraud and food safety remain a major concern and smart packaging could contribute to helping brand owners and authorities tackle this.”
The Future of Smart Packaging
The past few years has seen a variety of innovations for intelligent packaging: oxygen-absorbing packaging that eliminates exposure to elements that may reduce the freshness of a product; radio-frequency identification device (RFID) chips embedded in packaging that enable consumers to engage with a brand; trackable packaging that have integrated electronic circuits that can provide information on the movement, temperature, and interaction of a package. The market is nascent and possibilities are vast.
The global smart packaging market is expected to grow at CAGR of 4.2% to US$44 billion by 2024, reports Mordor Intelligence5. However, the industry remains fragmented: enterprises, whether big or small, tend to focus on one-off solutions rather than working on solutions with wider applicability. Also, interaction can only take place on the customer’s terms, making the current industry challenging and exciting at the same time.
On the stage of the industry Mr. Seah said “Smart packaging technology is still very much at the infant stage. Cost of adopting smart packaging could still be high, and that’s not even taking into account the cost of printing or placing them on product packaging. The challenge for smart packaging companies is to develop one that addresses and integrates the challenge of prolonging, preserving and protecting products yet ensuring economic sense for smart packaging manufacturers, brand owners, and consumers. Another trend that has emerged is of packaging producers and brand owners looking at ways of reducing packaging (in terms of size, weight, volume) which impacts transportation and its links to carbon emissions and climate change, material and resource use, recyclability, etc. Smart packaging needs to address these too, and find a way to convince stakeholders of their added functionality.”
But demand for smart packaging is undoubtedly on the rise, because of its ability to provide better transparency to customers and combat food waste. According to a survey by Deloitte Insights6, smart and connected packaging is attracting significant investment, and senior executives are beginning to see its value as a way of managing a brand’s inventory and product life cycle management. The smart packaging industry is still at its infancy, and there is no one application or industry close to reaching maturity – but it promises to transform the way we consume and hold brands accountable.
- Food Navigator Asia, June 2018, Consumer food trends in Vietnam: Rising incomes offering big opportunities for manufacturers By Lester Wan
- The State of Mobile in Rural Vietnam Report 2018-19, Google and Mobile Marketing Association
- FAO, 2019, The State of Food and Agriculture 2019
- Mintel Global Packaging Trends Report 2019
- Mordor Intelligence, Smart Packaging Market – Growth, Trends, and Forecast (2019 – 2024)
- Deloitte, Capturing value from the smart packaging revolution, October 2018, by Mike Armstrong, Francesco Fazio, Daniel Herrmann, David Duckworth