Bottles that cool in seconds, plastic containers that heat their contents in an instant, bags suitable for use in microwave ovens. Smart packaging advances hand in hand with the convenience it provides.
The characteristics of practical packaging are as numerous as they are different. They are light and, therefore, manageable; They can be opened and closed again without the need for accessories, they have a security label that guarantees their authenticity; Food can be heated or processed in the packaging in both the microwave and the oven; They can be recycled or used for other purposes, and their size corresponds to a certain number of portions. In addition, packaged products have a long shelf life.
In short, what is called convenience in English has long since become the packaging routine in the United States. American consumers almost always value the benefits of such products when purchasing.
For packaging companies, there is a need to improve the characteristics of their packaging in order to improve the competitiveness of their products in the consumer market. For this reason, the existing possibilities are being extended to other types of packaging and packaging materials, and new ways to make the consumer’s life more pleasant are being sought.
Among the new ways of presenting food and drinks, it is worth highlighting those applications that allow cooling or heating of products through a container without other accessories.
Americans show that they have an insatiable desire to consume these types of items and in fact Americans rank first in demand statistics, although convenience is undoubtedly a universal trend.
This is inferred from the fact that in many cases such technologies in the packaging industry are not of American origin. Aseptic storable containers, modified atmosphere coolers, shelf-stable and resealable pouches, and plastic-based beer bottles were created and marketed outside the United States.
As the brand industry has recognised, in a globalized market it is not enough to launch a great product, everything else has to be up to par. In order to thrive, the product packaging industry needs packaging that meets consumer aspirations and desire for convenience. Given the current nature of competition, the packaging industry must constantly come up with innovative solutions.
The sophistication of the solution is growing at the same speed as the demands of supermarket customers. A good example of this is those containers in which a cooling or heating element has been added. Packaging industry design departments have promoted such advances for decades. However, demand has historically been limited to limited target groups. Portioned tanks for the military and mountaineers were the primary application.
The presence of such items on the market can be described as modest. There were almost no offers aimed at the end consumer. Currently, product packaging characterized by the aforementioned convenience attributes seems to have a clear path to hypermarket shelves. The most important product groups are currently coffee, tea and soups.
But practicality does not stop alcoholic beverages, as above all, aperitifs and digestifs that are not consumed cold are on the list of new packaging solutions with practicality attributes that packaging companies crave.
At the end of 2001, a technique belonging to the segment of self-heating packaging was launched on the market of the United States and Great Britain. It is a one-piece, seamless container, made of injection-molded plastic, which, as its specialty, has several internal chambers that automatically heat up, due to the effect of the exothermic reaction that occurs when the consumer peels off the sheet. press to the bottom of the bowl. The elements involved in the chemical process are ground limestone and pure water.
Cool in a few minutes
In the United States and in line with the country’s consumer habits, refrigeration is one of the priority goals among the research and development activities of the packaging industry. “Instant Cool” (IC) is called the current technological method, according to which the cooling tank must contain a condenser, a vapor collector and a salt-based desiccant, because the vapors and liquid produced as a result of activation should be collected at the bottom of the tank.
This process is applicable to rigid containers, such as cans and bottles, and bags. There are reports of this method dropping the temperature of the tank and its contents by nearly 17ºC (30ºF) in a matter of minutes. Experts hope that the two American companies that invented this process will grant exclusive licenses corresponding to different types of containers and regions of the world.
Cooling is also covered by another innovation called “Instantcool”. This patented process appears to be applicable to aluminum containers. The cooling process begins when you open the can. The University of California is monitoring the development work of the California manufacturer. Here too, business progress is expected through national and international licenses.
In addition, a third method is known, which was developed to reduce costs. It is a small accessory that can be installed in normal bottles, cans and cardboard boxes, although it takes up almost a third of the capacity of the container there. Technically, it’s a small vinyl bag filled with water.
When the container is opened, the liquid contained in the cooler bag is compressed and evaporates. In turn, the steam removes heat from the product, so that it cools. The steam that settles in the bag is captured by the clay-based drying material. Even in this case, the drop in temperature is significant, according to the manufacturer. With “CoolBev”, the temperature of the product drops by 18º C (32º F) in two or three minutes.
The efforts of the packaging industry are aimed at a whole range of target groups whose activities are primarily focused on the leisure sector: cyclists, tourists, hunters, fishermen and mountaineers, as well as those consumers who want more comfort at home. . But for now, we will have to wait until it becomes clear which of the different types of packaging will finally prevail. The market is still at the beginning of its development phase.
Packaging that “talks”
However, the examples presented show the future path of practical packaging. The packaging of tomorrow will reflect technical progress and, in addition to providing comfort to the consumer, will be a help in the kitchen and household chores. However, the end of the development is not yet in sight, since now manufacturers of household appliances, in cooperation with universities and research institutes, are enriching their know-how regarding containers and packaging, with the aim of presenting branded products to the industry. items, new packaging models that further simplify work in the kitchen.
According to researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersey (USA), food technology will be combined with the development of packaging and computer applications. The goal is to design packaging that emits intelligent messages. As an example, we can imagine the appearance of packaging equipped with a barcode that transmits the information necessary for the preparation of any dish or expiration date information to various kitchen appliances. In this way, an optimal technical environment can be created for the product, if the kitchenware has the ability to “match” the packaging.
Handling the product will be easier and more pleasant for consumers than before, because they will no longer have to worry about anything in terms of food storage and preparation. Better commercial opportunities are visible above all in relation to those consumers who have reduced visual abilities. Therefore, the new barcodes will contain security information. It is also likely to include information of interest to allergy sufferers and information relating to shelf life at different temperatures or possible previous product recall actions by the manufacturer.
Of course, development is still in its early stages, but engineers are excited about the possibilities offered by smart packaging, and packaging companies have already shown great interest in the topic. Convenience-oriented consumers will drive global demand for packaged food products.