From container to content: digital packaging in the Food industry

Interview with Tommaso Cattivelli, consultant and expert in Food Marketing

Tommaso Cattivelli
Project Manager @CRU Agency

What’s the role of content in the supply chain of digital products? How can food companies manage this information in an integrated way? Food Marketing expert Tommaso Cattivelli of CRU Agency will explain it in this interview.

Digitization is making food companies rethink their information flows towards an omni-channel model in which the product, the entire production and distribution chain, the digital channels and the stores must find total integration in order to communicate value and generate new business opportunities. How? Let's delve deeper into the subject with Tommaso Cattivelli.

Q: With the advent of digital, packaging is transformed from container to content. Why does the content accompanying food products play a fundamental role in improving the shopping experience on a company's digital channels?

A: We need to consider that we live in an age where data and information are a fundamental resource. Throughout the agri-food industry, information is what mainly helps companies produce better and cheaper, with unquestionable advantages in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. 

When it comes to marketing and communication, the same information used in production, logistics or technical departments, can help better communicate the value of a product, especially when this information allows us to confirm a claim on the label. With this information, a consumer can choose a product more consciously, or live an experience that goes beyond the mere consumption. 

In a continuous user engagement logic, the package of a product can provide further information, taking the user on the owned channels such as the website (maybe in landing pages only accessible through the product) to engage them again with other actions.

Then again, it is possible to create real experiences of great impact via augmented reality, like the recent example of Coca-Cola in Mexico (see here).

But even without talking high technology and big brands, sometimes companies would just need to concentrate on better describing their products through the label and the content published on their web channels.

Branding and poems and hedonism are all good, but often this is not what makes a product unique, especially when it comes to SMEs.


Q: Given your experience in Food Marketing, how do you think the communication of the big brands in the large-scale retail trade will evolve? Can you tell us about a use case where content has been decisive in making a food product stand out?

A: The communication of the large-scale retail trade is changing from year to year. Large-scale distribution brands are reshaping their positioning, enriching it whit the development of an ever-closer relationship with their customers.

Think about Conad which, partly because of the nature of its distribution and partly for its choice, has positioned itself as a neighbourhood shop, a supermarket-format shop. You can feel this from the offer of local products that change from area to area, from an obvious greater autonomy in the store management (as a sommelier, I observed the selection of wine change from store to store).

A most recent case is the spot by Esselunga, where the brand is no longer just a distributor selecting and offering products, but it has transformed into a real food company: bread, fresh pasta and gourmet food is produced entirely in store, with great attention to the raw material.

Another interesting case of product enhancement comes from Apulia, with Cantina Volpone. Through an integration between the information collected in the vineyard and in the cellar, EY and EzLab have developed a solution to dynamically track wine, with precise information on its production, any refinement and the miles it has traveled from the cellar to the shelf. All encoded on blockchain and accessible through the scanning of a QR code.

The only question here is: how will users be stimulated to scan the QR code? But that's another story.

Still another example comes from 19Crimes, a Californian winery. The whole brand is based on the 19 crimes and 19 criminals who were exiled to Australia between the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition to the fact that each bottle tells its own story, by framing the label of a bottle you’ll see the animation of the character depicted (see here). Really engaging!


Q: The production and distribution of the product must therefore be accompanied by a management of content and product information that involve all the actors in the food chain. How do you think technology can promote omnicanality and break down data silos between producers, retailers and consumers?

A: In the logic of omnicanality and, above all, traceability, this is perhaps the most delicate issue. The lack of integration between actors in the supply chain is a problem that does not only concern technology, but it embraces the culture of each individual and company involved in the production, distribution and communication of agri-food products. The simple exchange of data and information is not as obvious a matter as it seems.

The application of new traceability systems based on blockchain for very long supply chains would be an exceptional event, because it would not only mean a technological integration between the various actors in the chain, but a much more complex cultural change

It takes a cultural and formative effort to achieve real collaboration. Technology has never been the real issue. 

Examples exist, however: in addition to the well-known case of Carrefour, the first in Europe to make product traceability accessible through blockchain, in Japan and China there are cases of effective enhancement of the meat supply chain

In the first case, the project involved the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture in the traceability of game. Once hunted and subjected to the necessary controls, the characteristics and origin of the meat are traced until it arrives on the shelf. In this way, a problem (the massive presence of wild animals) was transformed into an asset (bringing value to the origin of the product). 

In China, on the other hand, through one of the programs to combat poverty in rural areas, the government financed the opening of a farm for free-range chickens. Data on the distance travelled, the humidity of the air and soil, as well as the amount of food consumed, were tracked by sensors placed both in the farm and in small bracelets on the animals’ legs. 

Until recently, data and live images of the farm could be viewed at this link. The chickens were then sold in large-scale distribution at four times the average cost, justified by the quality of the farm and the possibility to access very intimate information on the farming process and meat production.