image shows consumer scanning a bar code on a healthcare product

Digital Smart Packaging

Sriman Banerjee, Director Packaging Development, Respiratory Category

The Innovation That Benefits Consumers and Manufacturers

Innovation has produced major changes in the world of packaging over the last decade. Most of these advancements have focused on materials and structural design. We’ve seen benefits related to physical stability, ergonomics, consumer convenience and manufacturing.


The next big trend in packaging development, just starting to take hold, incorporates digital capabilities—an innovation known as smart packaging. By embedding digital capabilities in their product packaging, brands will be increasingly able to leverage new data streams for gathering information about their products after they leave the warehouse while also pushing more information to customers to enhance product engagement. The trend is an exciting one, just starting to appear in the consumer marketplace and is driving interest and demand for new technologies that could help smart packaging applications evolve beyond what’s currently available.

What Is Smart Packaging Exactly?

Smart packaging typically covers 2 subcategories, according to the Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association:

  • Active packaging, which has built-in physical functionality, like moisture control, temperature sensing or impact resistance features
  • Intelligent packaging, which digitally supplies consumers with additional information or value-added features, accessible from a smart phone or other Internet-enabled device

What Can It Do?

Smart packaging, especially intelligent packaging, offers direct benefits to the producer and the consumer at the same time. Via embedded digital capabilities, producers can collect data and track unit movement through the supply chain and retail marketplace. At the same time, smart packaging offers consumers easy and immediate smartphone access to context-sensitive information, tips and augmented-reality experiences, which promote engagement.


The first generation of smart packaging included the QR (quick response) code, a special barcode that can be scanned with a smartphone app to access more information about a product. The latest technology, known as near field communication (NFC) chips, can be embedded in product labels or other packaging designs and promises much more—allowing users to wave their smart devices over an NFC-compatible device to send/receive information without needing to go through multiple steps to set up a connection. Look for even more advances on the horizon.

Who Is Using It?

Just a handful of companies have started to take advantage of the next generation of intelligent packaging technologies in the retail space thus far.


As detailed on its company Web site, Diageo’s Johnnie Walker Blue Label recently teamed with Norwegian tech firm Thin Film Electronics ASA (aka Thinfilm) to produce smart labels embedded with NFC chips for its iconic scotch whiskey. Wave your enabled smartphone over a bottle, and it initiates a radio signal that relays custom content from the cloud to your smartphone, confirming authenticity of the scotch, showing promotional offers and offering cocktail recipes. 


Heinz Ketchup and Doctor Pepper have teamed with UK-based augmented reality (AR) company Blippar, according to the tech company’s Web site, to test-drive packaging that when 'blipped' with a smartphone pulls up special content—such as a 3D recipe booklet and a comic book—and enters users in prize giveaways. Cosmetics retailers, like Coty and Sephora, have also incorporated AR capabilities to create platforms that work with selfie photos, analyzing them to make cosmetic recommendations based on skin tone and allowing consumers to try on products like makeup and nail polish virtually before they buy. This capability in particular could be a major boon for other e-commerce companies.

Even GSK Consumer Healthcare is moving toward smart technologies like these. This past fall, we incorporated Thinfilm’s SpeedTap® tags and CNECT software into product shelving at retail stores across Canada in an effort to educate consumers about Flonase® and guide their buying decisions. By tapping NFC-enabled smartphones to the shelf, consumers can instantly see helpful product information as well as other messages and content we manage remotely. On the flip side, the technology also allows GSK to view real-time tapping activity and develop other consumer insights through built-in analytics functionality.

What’s on the Smart Packaging Horizon?

As consumers grow more comfortable interacting with brands via smart devices and intelligent packaging technologies begin to advance even further, I expect this packaging category to grow by leaps and bounds—especially as advancing technologies allow us to increase the benefits that smart packaging offers both consumers and manufacturers.


Android devices have been able to read NFC tags for some time, and the technology has already made its way to places like historic landmarks and museums. Just this past fall, Apple launched its iOS 11 with developer access to the NFC chip (previously limited to use with Apple Pay) for the first time, according to MacRumors and other IT news outlets. That could spur even wider adoption of the NFC functionality. Bluetooth capabilities for packaging are beginning to develop. And over the next 3 to 4 years, watch for voice-recognition technologies to become integrated with these new digital packaging solutions as well.


In the meantime, product companies are increasingly taking interest in digital packaging innovations and looking to partner with technology companies that can help them harness the full potential of them for their specific categories and brands. GSK Consumer Healthcare is one of them, and we’re eager to hear what you can offer.

Essential Benefits of Smart Packaging

Increased User Interaction and Engagement

·         Product research in store

·         On-the-spot product information

·         Guidance on how to use

·         Promotions and coupons

·         Education and entertainment

·         Instant connect to social media

·         Consumer centric information including dosing, recipes, etc

·         Chatbot


Compliance and Tracking Capabilities

•       Dose monitoring

•       Temperature monitoring

•       Refill ordering

•       E-labelling

•       Product usage


Product Security Confirmation

•       E-commerce

•       In-store authentication

•       Added anti-counterfeit features


How Smart Packaging Will Evolve

QR Code (First Generation)

•       Easy to build in existing printed components

•       One-way connection between consumer and pack

•       Enabled through a smartphone with QR code scanner

•       Widely used for digital leaflets and anti-counterfeiting


Augmented Reality (Second Generation)

•       Easy to build in existing printed components

•       Two-way connection between consumer and packaging

•       Enabled through a smartphone with augmented reality app

•       Widely used to connect the product to the consumer, leveraging the packaging platform to enable consumer to 'try' the product before purchase or to promote engagement via value-adds like product recipes, games and more


NFC Chips and Radio Frequency Identification (Third Generation)

•       Easy to build in labels

•       Two-way connection between consumer and packaging

•       Enabled through a smartphone with NFC port

•       Increasingly used to connect the product to the consumer, leveraging packaging platform to provide a digital experience from the point of purchase until the end use of the product


Bluetooth (Fourth Generation)

•       Providing real time connectivity to device

•       Two-way connection between consumer and packaging

•       Enabled through smartphone Bluetooth

•       Also offers a digital experience from the point of purchase until the end use of the product. Requires both the smart device and the packaging to have a power source. Offers connection at a distance with real-tie monitoring features and data transmission capabilities