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AB InBev Picks Active & Intelligent Packaging Tech Winners at AIPIA

AB InBev listened to a host of smart packaging tech pitches, but came away with these three winners as viable solutions to solve for on-pack 2D datamatrix challenges, semi-serialization for rewards programs, vision modeling, and more.

AlmaScience solves for AB InBev's desire for semi-serialization using datamatrix codes built right into Corona beer logos laser etched into the glass.
AlmaScience solves for AB InBev's desire for semi-serialization using datamatrix codes built right into Corona beer logos laser etched into the glass.

The AIPIA World Congress, held just before the holidays in 2023, served as a global epicenter for smart packaging technologies. The AIPIA Packaging Challenge held there, now a venerable fixture of the event, gives smart packaging technology suppliers a chance to pitch their solutions to a major brand owner in a lightning round of tailored presentations, each only three minutes. Major brand owner might be underselling it, since this year, Anheuser-Busch InBev was on hand looking to solve problems that only active and intelligent packaging can handle. (from left) Farida Bensadoun, global engineer, packaging innovation, AB InBev; Eef de Ferrante. managing director, AIPIA; and Luiz Andre Correa, global manager, supply chain of the future (digital innovation), AB In-Bev(from left) Farida Bensadoun, global engineer, packaging innovation, AB InBev; Eef de Ferrante. managing director, AIPIA; and Luiz Andre Correa, global manager, supply chain of the future (digital innovation), AB In-Bev

Packaging World caught up with the two AB InBev Packaging Challenge judges after the event to see why they chose the winners they did, and what tech stood out to them as viable and scalable. Luiz Andre Correa, global manager, supply chain of the future (digital innovation), and Farida Bensadoun, global engineer, packaging innovation, both of AB InBev, were at the AIPIA World Congress on the hunt for digital and connected packaging solutions. Bensadoun focuses on consumer-facing entertainment and engagement through packaging. Correa is tasked with understanding supply chain challenges, and learning how emergent digital tech can solve them. The pair made good use of the Packaging Challenge stage to vet smart packaging vendors.

“As a packaging innovator, I am always striving to find the best way to make our packaging functional, ergonomic, and appealing to the consumer,” Bensadoun said. “As we see an increase in digitalization, there is an opportunity to bridge the physical to digital through packaging. Packaging’s primary purpose is to protect the product it transports and to interact with the consumer. But packaging is so much more. It’s there to inform the consumer, help differentiate, and bring recognition to the brand. Most of all, it’s an integrating part of the consumer experience. So why not take it to a digital level?”

AB InBev has attended previous AIPIA World Congresses and Correa even spoke at the event in the past. As such, they’ve been able to watch the smart packaging market evolve over the years, chronicling its evolution and cataloging advancements that could scale, even at a massive beverage company like AB InBev. To Bensadoun, November 2023’s event might have been a threshold moment for smart packaging.

“Speakers and companies attending have practical and available solutions that are in-market (or close) that could be implemented in the short term and eventually at scale. We also look at emerging technologies, but there is a need to better understand how we can answer to our consumers’ experience expectations now,” Bensadoun said of this year’s event compared to previous years. “From my point of view, I see that there were more market executions, testing, trials, and practical ways to go forward. I also see a more consolidated way forward on some technologies, like using pack features to identify unique markers of packaging without the need of a dedicated tag—for example Alitheon’s technology [FeaturePrint, which takes a photo of a pack and uses AI to uniquely identify it through existing features rather than applied marks] or Systech’s [packaging coding, product authentication, and traceability tech that combats counterfeiting and diversion].”

Correa and Bensadoun had four distinct requirements of the Packaging Challenge supplier participants. They came into the challenge knowing that no single supplier could scratch all four itches—as previously discussed, this is just the reality in the nascent world of smart packaging. The first AB InBev requirement related to the 2D datamatrix (QR code), and how to improve readability with smartphones when laser-engraved on clear surfaces, like on beer bottles.Supply chian-scanable and smartphone-readable 2D datamatrix codes from Experience is Everything's pitch to AB InBev.Supply chian-scanable and smartphone-readable 2D datamatrix codes from Experience is Everything's pitch to AB InBev.

“The presence of 2D codes on-pack is increasing and it’s used in a plethora of applications. As a FMCG business, we have the possibility to use these codes for tracking and tracing, consumer engagement, transparency, etc.,” Bensadoun said. “With datamatrix codes, as you know, more information can be encoded in less space which makes them very attractive. In fact, they can be small yet easily scannable. It’s mainly used in supply chain activity (e.g. asset tracking) and it makes sense to leverage the same code for consumer engagement to prevent multiple codes on pack as this could be confusing for the consumers.”

Another task AB InBev sought to accomplish with smart packaging was semi-serialization for validation in rewards programs. The company wanted to execute a perfect hidden semi-serialization mark that could be validated with a photo.

“When connecting with the consumer, there is a need to have a frictionless way to do so. In rewards programs where proof of purchase is required, one needs to be able to confirm that the pack is from the right brand and only scanned once. Having it hidden or semi-serialized allows the always-on approach and keeps the cost down,” Bensadoun explained of the requirement. Engagement with legal-drinking-age consumers via augmented reality-based gamification was another desirable smart packaging feature.

“In the past years, previous campaigns have shown consumer interest in brand experiential marketing campaigns such as the one the Budweiser brand led during the 2022 Qatar World cup using a (serialized) QR code, or the Michelob Ultra Like a Pro campaign,” Bensadoun said. “This helps build a stronger connection between the consumer and our brands.”

Finally, Bensadoun and Correa sought a computer vision model without the need for real, physical samples when training the model.

“Computer vision, the way that I understand it, needs physical assets to train the model,” Bensadoun said. “Training through images or even technical drawings isn’t enough. This leads to a long lead time to get the model trained and to go live. The goal was to understand if there are advanced solutions that would remove the need of physical assets, which saves shipment time and cost.”

Correa and Bensadoun had the difficult task to shortlist three solutions out of the eight pitches. They say the winners that they selected responded to specific challenges that were put forward in a way that made the technology seem frictionless.

Sure enough, three supplier participants were able to deliver on what the AB InBev pair considered to be viable solutions.

With a submission from Alitheon, Correa and Bensadoun saw potential to accomplish not one, but two of its four requirements—computer vision without marking, and semi-serialization for consumer rewards. That tech is a patented capability that Alitheon calls FeaturePrinting. The term intentionally conjures images of fingerprints, but instead of tiny skin ridges on a human fingertip to ID people, it uses tiny, naturally occurring variations from pack to pack to identify unique items. The system uses an optical-AI that detects the authenticity of an item—such as a Budweiser bottlecap—by irrefutably identifying each original. The company pitched its ability to eliminate counterfeits, shut down grey market activity, and enable tracking and tracing, all with one photo using a standard camera. “Your item is its own identifier,” said Roei Ganzarski of Alitheon.

AlmaScience was another winner, earning high marks from AB InBev for its smart, sustainable (cellulose) solutions for datamatrix and semi-serialization. The proposed solution uses a sensitive, cellulose-based ink coating on the bottle, followed by laser engraving, to create high-fidelity images that are easily read by vision systems or even mobile phones, all while remaining mostly covert (invisible to the consumer).

And finally, Experience is Everything, a company specializing in “always on” connected packaging, caught AB InBev’s eye with an exciting consumer engagement piece. Bensadoun, who specializes in consumer experience and engagement, was specifically impressed with “the way they made 2D code visually appealing and versatile enough to match our brands visual brand identity. I appreciated their expertise in AR and gamification, and the way to do it seamlessly,” she said.

With her experience judging smart packaging vendors, Bensadoun now advises them “to put emphasis on the consumer, brand, or technical challenge one is solving. Focus on one strength that will set you apart and pitch it well and quickly. Live demos or visuals say a thousand words and showcase how your technology can make a difference. If you cannot describe your solution in three minutes or less, then it may not answer the challenge.” PW

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