How smart packaging can help drinks brands ‘build deeper’ relationships with consumers

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12th April, 2019 by Edith Hancock

Last month db caught up with packaging giant Guala Closures, and learned how smart stoppers and screwcaps can help drinks companies stay ahead of key consumer trends.

Guala Closures Group came to ProWein for the first time this year as part of the “Aluminium Closures Group”, association belonging to EAFA (European Aluminium Foil Association) that represents a contingency of Europe’s largest aluminium closures manufacturers.

Guala Closures, founded in 1954, has made major strides in recent months, reaching €543 million in sales and listing on the Milan Stock Exchange last year. Now, the company, which recently introduced smart closures to its portfolio, is hoping to add value to its products by giving consumers a more in-depth brand experience, while letting producers trace their premium bottles.

The company’s e-Wak closures, which group chief marketing officer Paolo Ferrari showed us at the trade event in Düsseldorf, were presented to the market in January 2018. Since then the technology has been fine-tuned, and offered to potential customers worldwide over the past six months. Most recently, Guala Closures partnered with Copper Cane Wines & Provisions on their Böen wine brand, producing Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay from California, and will start using the e-Wak in the near future.

The caps carry a unique, serialised digital identity online that use Near Field Communication — a form of contactless communication between devices like smartphones or tablets — to record the ownership of a product throughout the supply chain.

The caps can also be used by consumers to find out more information about the product they’ve purchased by tapping their own smartphone directly onto the device. As the NFC is fitted directly into the cap, producers can “enhance their consumers’ experience thanks to useful contents available just by tapping a bottle cap with a smartphone.”

Guala Closures is one of a small handful of companies testing out smart technology on drinks packaging. SharpEnd, the company Guala Closures partnered with on its e-Wak closures, has worked with a range of drinks brands including Malibu rum, Jameson whiskey and Absolut vodka.

Cameron Worth, SharpEnd’s founder, told db that wineries and distilleries are “some of the first brand owners to see the potential of this technology as a means of engagement, but also as a strategic opportunity to gather new insights about how their products are bought and used.”

The smart closure also has the added bonus of helping drinks companies to track consumers habits, as well as safeguarding against counterfeiting, which Ferrari called a “never-ending story” within the industry.

Just under £220 million is lost from the UK economy each year thanks to counterfeit wines and spirits entering the market, according to research carried out by the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).

At the end of 2016, fake Scotch whisky bottles worth close to a total £1 million were removed from the market in what one broker called “just the tip of the iceberg”.

According to the International Center for Alcohol Policies, some 30% of alcohol consumed worldwide is counterfeited.

Ferrari said that working to prevent consumers from mistakenly buying fake products is a “never-ending story”. The company has five research and development sites in Mexico, Ukraine, Luxembourg, Glasgow and Italy respectively. The centre in Luxembourg is specifically dedicated to smart closure technology, Ferrari said.

The R&D sites’ team of researchers have to regularly rework their products to stay ahead of the counterfeiters. “After a few years launching a new closure,” he said, “a counterfeiter is able to work around and mimic our creation so you have to re-invent the device.”

Equally, the closures boss added that this means the company can’t “move too quickly” to develop new systems, and must stagger its innovation to prevent products from becoming faked too quickly.

However, while anti-counterfeiting is the “origin” of Guala Closures, Ferrari noted that adding smart technology to drinks packaging also allows consumers to learn more about their product while, at the same time, producers can learn more about who is buying their product, something the company calls the “internet of closures”.

“As the tech becomes an intrinsic part of the familiar ecosystem people use everyday – transport, Apple Pay etc – and it becomes more ubiquitous, brands are using the data they’re collecting through NFC on purchase behaviours to start building deeper, more relevant relationships with consumers.”

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