Active and intelligent packaging

Both active packaging and intelligent packaging involve functions that go beyond the containment and protection of a product. The difference between the two is that while active packaging acts directly with the packaged product – by interacting chemically or biologically with it – the aim of intelligent packaging is to detect and communicate information about the condition of the product, without taking a direct action.

Packaging that is active and intelligent promises to extend shelf life, monitor freshness, improve safety and convenience. This is a market segment with huge potential for the future and analysts project active and intelligent packaging to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 9.25 percent, reaching $21.41 billion by 2019, from the actual estimate of $13.75 billion.1

Food and pharmaceuticals will lead the growth in this segment with the pharmaceutical industry expected to be the fastest growing, due to the changing health care needs of aging populations; the increased spread of chronic illnesses; and the increased use of temperature-sensitive drugs.2

Active packaging

Active Packaging aims to monitor the condition of the packaged goods. Active food packaging interacts chemically or biologically with its contents to extend shelf-life and maintain food quality for as long as possible.

Common applications:

Oxygen scavengers: the best known and most widely used of active packaging. Designed to eliminate residual oxygen from the package’s headspace or to attain zero-permeation. A chemical absorbent is integrated into the packaging material or added inside the package with a sachet or a label. Oxygen scavenger packaging is commonly used for oxygen-sensitive beverages, fresh products, snacks, and ready-to-eat products.

Antimicrobial agents: inhibit the growth of undesired micro-organisms on the food surface. The antimicrobial agents are either emitted directly onto the food or slowly diffuse themselves from the packaging material to the food.

Intelligent packaging

Intelligent Packaging aims to inform. It can sense an attribute of the product and communicate this information to users or trigger active packaging functions. Its main purpose is to indicate whether or not the quality of the product has deteriorated. In Europe and North America, strict regulations surrounding the use of active packaging have been encouraging the use of intelligent packaging.

Common applications:

Time-temperature indicators: are small measuring devices attached to the package surface that can indicate if a predetermined temperature threshold is exceeded. Such indicators have strong potential for pharmaceuticals, where high value, temperature sensitive biotechnology drugs are increasingly adopted.

Freshness indicators: immediately display the quality of the packaged food. They detect volatile or non-volatile compounds or changes in the product itself and can be embedded via optical detectors, labels and tags.

Tracking services: look to monitor the quality of perishable goods during transportation, storage and sale. For example, intelligent packaging can alert the end-user if the product has not been kept at an optimal temperature during the transport and storage phases.


1“Active And Intelligent Packaging Market – By Type, Applications, Geography, Vendors And The Challengers – Forecasts, Trends And Shares (2014-2019)”, PR Newswire, http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/active-and-intelligent-packaging-market-by-type-applications-geography-vendors-and-the-challengers--forecasts-trends-and-shares-2014--2019-300061598.html

2“Active and Intelligent Packaging”, Freedonia Group, http://www.freedoniagroup.com/industry-study/3117/active-intelligent-packaging.htm