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Barriers Towards Intelligent Packaging Technologies

Many research articles have identified a great number of commercially available intelligent packaging technologies that are inexpensive. In our previous article, we discussed the state-of-the-art technologies in intelligent packaging. But we have not seen these technologies being adopted widely even today. What could possibly be the reasons for not adopting these great technologies? Some researchers have pointed out that end-user acceptance and trust towards a given technology have a strong influence on their adoption of the technology (Suh and Han 2002; Wu et al. 2011). In this article, we gather research studies to find out possible barriers and enablers towards the adoption of intelligent packaging technologies nowadays.

Health Risk

Our results show that in terms of intelligent packaging technologies, particularly for time temperature indicators, the availability of easily interpretable labels and irreversible colour changes has been the main enabler for many consumers (Pennanen et al. 2015). On the other hand, consumers are highly concerned with potentially increased waste and price coupled with the indicator. In addition, they are concerned with the possibility that indicators could leak substances onto food while at the same time being subject to becoming unreliable once they are not in contact with food and/or manipulated by retailers.

Safer Alternatives?

The next technology that has become increasingly popular for communication in the supply chain is QR code. One particular information most valued by consumers with this technology was the ability to easily access the history of food product (Matzembacher et al. 2018). These include information about disease/pest and inputs (e.g., fertilizer and sprays for plans and food for animals). However, having an independent government body was seen by consumers as an important factor for this technology. Such an independent government body would be responsible for food safety and hygiene to provide consumers with accurate information about food and drink. On the other hand, even though QR code is a relatively easy technology to implement, regular consumers’ lack of knowledge and interest in food traceability (Matzembacher et al. 2018; Tsai et al. 2014) and health consciousness (Buaprommee and Polyorat 2016) seem to be one of the biggest barriers today.

Age

An interesting finding of (O’ Callaghan and Kerry 2016) suggests that acceptance of new food packaging technologies may depend on the age of end-users. For instance, consumers’ willingness to accept decreased with increasing age, and the preference for no technological interference with food was higher for individuals over the age of 35.

Misconduct

Next, both (Aday and Yener 2015) and (O’ Callaghan and Kerry 2016) found that from the consumer point of view, the chance of being misled with innovative packaging claims is too high. However, they were willing to accept the technology through educational commercials (Aday and Yener 2015). Food producers showed similar concerns as consumers indicating that there is a risk of misconduct and a lack of proven added value and robustness which could lead to liability issues in the event of deviations. Thus, manufactures should aim not only to be transparent and informative about the given technology but also to certify and test for robustness of the technology.

Cost

Another push back for food producers is that new technologies may be incompatible with existing packaging machinery. This requires a higher investment and introduces technical complexity. In the studies of (O’ Callaghan and Kerry 2016) and (Paunonen et al. 2018), both consumers and food producers reported that high cost resulting from the new technology is a barrier towards adopting it.

One prominent example is the blockchain technology which has recently become quite popular due to its robustness against label counterfeit. Unlike traditional centralised approach where supply chain traceability information is stored in a database centrally managed by a supply chain entity, a blockchain traceability framework follows the decentralised approach and uses a smart contract protocol. This allows only trusted supply chain entities with write access to create transactions in the ledger. These transactions are trackable and irreversible. Customers can then retrieve these transactions by scanning RFID, barcode or similar data carriers. But blockchain traceability technology is new to most supply chain entities. Specific barriers to this technology include a lack of demand (possibly due to consumers’ lack of knowledge of the technology (Yeh et al. 2019)), financial burden of the systems and difficulty in tracing the source of all ingredients for all food products (Sander, Semeijn, and Mahr 2018). In a recent interview with four different companies in food supply chain, (Behnke and Janssen 2020) found that the main barriers are 1) technological incompatibility of retailers (requiring still a lot of manual actions), 2) lack of standardised internal and external traceability processes (requiring organisation changes) and 3) lack of standardised master data between the supply chain actors.

In a literature review by (Galvez, Mejuto, and Simal-Gandara 2018), it was suggested that the dependence on traditional data carriers such as RFID or barcodes to scan food tracking data could itself be a barrier to blockchain. For instance, although the data is immutable, one can tamper with a sensor and the blockchain will not be able to detect it. In other words, the blockchain does not have a verification mechanism to prove whether the raw data were correct. In addition, the overall cost of implementing blockchain technology is unpredictable, particularly when the existing, highly mature supply chain system has been used for so long. Finally, manufactures are generally concerned about what data should be shared across the supply chain. Without a clear policy on what data to reveal, they may stand on the wrong side of the trends line (Galvez et al. 2018).

Conclusion

Our research found limited empirical studies that have investigated consumer acceptance or trust in the context of intelligent packaging technologies. Studies have so far focused on only a few of  the technologies such as time-temperature indicators, barcodes and labels. There is an opportunity for future research to study the barriers of the remaining technologies that make up the domain of intelligent packaging as each might present end-users with a different barrier.  

Author

Dr. Nyi-Nyi Htun

Department of Computer Science
Celestijnenlaan 200 A box 2402
3001 Leuven
tel. +32 16 37 67 49
http://augment.cs.kuleuven.be