Food waste has reached epidemic levels, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, an estimated third of all food produced for human consumption is being wasted, equal to 1.3 billion tonnes annually. Smart packaging is a more effective method than the traditional best-before labelling to inform consumers of food quality over time.

Smart label technology

Food waste is not only a moral concern, with starvation prominent around the world, but is a key environmental issue. Currently, food waste generates 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, with one study by Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security claiming that one of the most effective ways to tackle climate change is to reduce food waste. In addition, around 5.4 million square miles of land (10% of the planet’s habitable surface) is used to produce food that is wasted. Figures such as these illustrate that current methods used are ineffective and it is time for a change.

A start-up company called Mimica Touch has begun a consumer trial on Arla dairy products and is an interesting example of packaging innovation to tackle the food waste epidemic. The smart label becomes bumpy when the food has started to spoil and is no longer safe for consumption. This form of tactile indication of food expiration is particularly useful for consumers with visual impairment. Similarly, Sainsbury’s have introduced a ‘Smart Fresh’ label that changes colour over time as the product becomes inedible.

Furthermore, dynamic shelf life (DSL) labelling has the ability for the suggested use-by date to be adjusted based on the quality of the product. This would allow the seller to adjust labelling based on factors such as temperature throughout the year which would affect the rate of degradation.

Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the impact their habits have on the planet and are seeking ways to reduce this. According to GlobalData’s 2018 Q4 global consumer survey, almost half of global consumers (49%) stated they are always or often influenced by how ethical/environmentally-friendly/socially-responsible the product/service is. Furthermore, 43% also stated that they are always or often influenced by how digitally advanced/”smart” the product/service is.

Therefore, smart labelling methods have the potential to greatly reduce food wastage while being accepted from the majority of consumers. However, such a large change to conventional methods will be difficult to implement and would need practical planning.

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