Intelligent Packaging Keeps Getting Smarter

In the early 1970s, a group of food packaging scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed the first intelligent packaging materials for use by the U.S. military.

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By Nancy Mann Jackson

In the early 1970s, a group of food packaging scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed the first intelligent packaging materials for use by the U.S. military. Ted Labuza, University of Minnesota, was part of that team and presented the first industry talk on intelligent packaging.

In IFT20 session 236, Labuza starts with an in-depth look at the historical development of packaging technology, ranging from the early 1970s to the present. He brings an insider’s look at the evolution of food packaging since he has firsthand experience with all the technologies of the past five decades.

Firmly grounded in the history of the industry, this presentation isn’t just about the past. It’s also a look at the latest technologies that are affecting packaging and how those technologies can be leveraged to meet the needs of today’s consumers. Labuza recommends looking at consumers’ priorities for food—safety, convenience, quality, healthfulness, and sustainability—and examining how packaging technologies can affect them.

For instance, intelligent packaging can be used to trace the origin and journey of a food product or to show its shelf-life data. At Washington State University (WSU), researchers have found that expiration dates on milk packages are often invalid due to varying refrigeration temperatures. They’ve developed a colorimetric sensor that can be embedded in sealed packages, interacting with the milk and changing the label color to show a quantitative measure of the milk’s shelf life, says Mohamed Ziyaina, cheesemaker at Tillamook County Creamery Association and former cheesemaker at WSU. Retailers could use such sensors to create a competitive advantage and help consumers avoid waste by ensuring they consume the milk before it spoils.

smart packagingTo boost success with intelligent food packaging, Ziynet Boz, University of Florida, recommends incorporating the user experience into the package design. For instance, if the packaging will require Wi-Fi or cellular internet access to be effective, but the target customer doesn’t have internet access, the packaging will be rendered useless.

Today, the most readily accessible and simple categories of intelligent packaging include branding (such as differentiation, protection, and authentication) and functional platforms (such as freshness indicators).


Learn more about consumer research that guides decision making and has aligned intelligent packaging with current applications in the dairy industry by viewing this session in the SHIFT20 on-demand library.

Registration for SHIFT20 provides access to the on-demand library of sessions for a full year.

Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer based in Huntsville, Ala.

Kelly Hensel

Senior Digital Editor, IFT

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