Connected Packaging and Serialized QR Codes Are Here to Stay – So, Why Aren’t You Using One?

There’s a lot of competition out there, no matter what industry. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling mentholated toothpicks or vegan chocolate chip cookies; someone’s always got a hustle. The internet democratized how we shop in many ways that are frankly incalculable. What were once fringe ideas of “maybe someone would dig this” evolved into full-blown empires touching areas of fashion, food, drinks, and everything in the known universe for niche products and businesses. 

One of the coolest ways companies breakthrough and link up with their consumers is through connected packaging. Connected packaging takes the brand to the next level because it connects the consumer and drives awareness thanks to jumping into our phones as we’re jumping into their branded worlds. 

You’ve got to stand out

You’ve seen QR codes, and they’re on everything. It’s like they fell from the sky overnight, and boom, they’re on our water bottles, doggie bags, and sunscreen. Thanks to Apple updating our iPhones to read the code back in 2017 by just turning on the camera to scan it, the world had one less thing to worry about during the pandemic. This small technological win was a lifesaver for restaurants when we figured out what “contactless” truly meant. 

Restaurants put a code on the table, and everyone could scan it with their smartphones. Now, QR codes are popping up everywhere and on everything. So while yes, the technology works for ordering cheese enchiladas at your neighborhood spot, it’s also effective for selling just about anything from high-end toothpaste to backpacks. 

Enter serialized QR codes

Now there’s a next generation of QR codes, called serialized QR codes. It’s like your regular QR code on the outside, with a unique serialized code in the middle. Each one is as different as a thumbprint, and they’re connected to a unique database record to help you authenticate your product, engage your customers with personalized messages, and deliver traceability information, to name a few benefits.

When a consumer scans it, they can get information about what particular batch the ingredients that made that product came from, who packaged it, what route it took, and if it’s the real deal or a fake.

Where information and fandom collide 

Say you’re selling tortilla chips and trying to compete with the power of Frito Lay and their Doritos empire. What’s cool about a serialized QR code is that by putting one on the bag, a consumer who’s enjoying the chips can scan the packaging and now can take a deep dive into whatever information you’d like to share. 

This information could be a fan-driven experience, information about the brand, how to reorder directly from the company, as a marketing tool for asking for signups, contests, or even free stuff. Whatever you want the customer to know about your chips, if they come in other flavors or if they’re coming to a town near you, you can provide this information however you like. 

Serialized QR codes promote curiosity. If someone chooses to scan the code, they intentionally want to know more about your brand, and this is the perfect way to convert them from interested into devoted followers.  

You can inform them about other products they might enjoy or if a new product lineup is coming out this fall. You’re offering information that matters. 

Change the game with connected packaging

One of the most innovative ways to use connected packaging is through sample sizes. We’ve all seen the sample energy drink powder for $0.99 or the single granola bar at the gas station – by adding a serialized QR code to the packaging, the customer can order direct from the company – cutting out the middleman on full-size products. Even if they can’t order direct, a link can be added straight to an online retailer like Walmart or Amazon.

Environmental impact explained 

Given today’s cultural climate, people want to know how your company impacts the world, and they want to know the details and connected packaging allows for that. If your company is dedicated to producing products that don’t affect the environment, a serialized QR code could provide detailed information for curious consumers. 

Packaging, but smarter

Connected packing blurs the lines between digital and physical retail experiences. Brands using serialized QR codes deliver unique experiences in different settings, and by adding a digital element to packaging, consumers can use the tech to reorder items directly from their phones.

Because buyers want to know more than ever, the serialized information on these new types of QR code offers the chance to inform because once a code is scanned, the information provided can be endless – the fight for space on the product is irrelevant. Third-party platforms charge a small subscription fee to create, track and manage the codes for your packaging. 

If you’re interested in how your company can take branding to the next level through connected packaging, we’d love to talk. 

What is Smart Packaging?

If you are looking to leverage your packaging as a way to boost consumer engagement, track and trace products, or even help to create efficiencies in your supply chain, selecting a packaging manufacturer that offers digital printing technology is a great option.

Smart packaging, also known as connected packaging, is packaging that utilizes unique QR codes, barcodes, or other digital identities to engage with consumers, verify authenticity, and trace a product’s journey. This unparalleled technology transforms what was once a simple package into a digital tool, while delivering valuable insights and information to brand owners and consumers alike.

The global smart packaging industry is growing as more brands turn to this cutting-edge technology. In fact, a recent report by Data Bridge states that the global connected packaging market is expected to grow at a rate of 7.4% from 2020 to 2027, to USD 31.94 billion by 2027. 

How Smart Packaging Works

Using digital, variable data printing, a unique code is printed on each individual package. Each code connects to a digital experience that the brand owner controls and can update at any time, even after the product is in circulation.

These serialized codes give each and every pouch a unique digital identity. This can be helpful in guarding against counterfeiters and grey market diversion. Since each package has a unique code, you are able to trace each pouch or bag throughout the entire supply chain and provide customized digital experiences to individual consumers through a mobile interface. 

Additionally, since each product has its own special code, brands can associate specific data to a specific package. In the case of a recall, this can help brand owners easily remove only the affected product. Serialized QR codes also allow brand owners to obtain metrics on market and supply chain activities. 

Types of Smart Packaging 

There are three main types of smart packaging:

1. Consumer Engagement

There are endless opportunities for consumer engagement with connected packaging; be it educational, fun, or used as part of a loyalty program. All consumers can take advantage of this engagement by simply using their cell phone camera (no app required) to scan the code. Using the code, consumers are instantly directed to a specific experience, like a webpage. There, they can view a recipe, video, promotion, join a loyalty program, sign up for a newsletter, play a game, or even download a coupon. 

One example of this is with meal starter products like sauces and seasonings. Utilizing a QR code on these types of products allows consumers to scan the code and read a suggested recipe, or even watch a cooking tutorial using the product. And, if you want to swap out recipe videos weekly, you don’t need new packaging. It’s a win-win!

2. Product Authentication and Brand Protection 

These functions can serve both consumers and brand owners. For brands looking to highlight a product’s authenticity or sourcing story, connected packaging can be used on the package to deliver detailed information unique to that individual item. 

QR code product authentication examples could be a product verification page to confirm the authenticity of the product, or a page highlighting where and when it was produced, as well as batch number, manufacturing location, date, and time. 

For brand owners, secure QR codes have an added layer of security so that with every scan, the authenticity is evaluated and verified. The technology can detect when a code is copied and counterfeited, and brands are then alerted to the issue. The digital code also allows brand owners to follow the product as it makes stops throughout distribution. For high-end products that may be vulnerable to counterfeiting (think premium herbals, cosmetics, or supplements), this allows the brand owner to see where the product has been scanned along its journey to its customers and allows them to detect foul play along the way. 

3. Track and Trace

Track and trace is following a package’s (and product’s) journey from the beginning to the end. Consumers can use track and trace by scanning the code and learning about a product’s sourcing ingredients, as well as the product’s journey from farm to table (or store). Brand owners can use it to obtain critical information about the supply chain that will help to strengthen logistics.

For example, with coffee, track and trace capability allows consumers to follow the package from where the coffee beans are harvested, roasted and packaged through its journey to their local grocery store. Brand owners can track the coffee package’s journey to the point of purchase and beyond, all the way through to disposal or recycling. 


ePac’s smart packaging solution, ePacConnect, allows brand owners to personalize how they engage with their consumers, verify authenticity, and trace their product’s journey, all through their own digitally enabled, flexible packaging. It also allows brand owners to collect information all the way down to the individual product level to enhance business intelligence like never before. Our technology is based on variable data composition only possible through the digital printing process at ePac. 

Whether your goal is to improve sales through consumer interaction or uphold brand integrity, with connected or smart flexible packaging the opportunities are endless. Contact us today to learn more about ePacConnect and how we can help you leverage smart packaging.

Variable Data Printing: 6 Ways It Can Enhance Your Brand

Your packaging is one of your brands’ most powerful tools. Packaging builds brand awareness, communicates your brand’s message, attracts new customers, and more.

But how can your packaging build your brand? As we get closer to the fall and winter holidays, how can it make your holiday products stand out? What can you do to make all of your special edition products fly off the shelves? And how can you build brand loyalty and consumer interest, with just the design of your packaging?

The answer to all these questions and more is variable data printing (VDP). 

Whether you’re looking for a way to differentiate yourself on the shelf, boost consumer engagement, utilize track-and-trace for security and/or authentication reasons, or even improve your supply chain, digital print technology can help take your brand to the next level. With the help of variable data printing, brands of all sizes can easily take advantage of a variety of different technologies.

In this post, we’re going to dive into:

  • What is variable data printing and how does it work?
  • The different types of variable data printing solutions: both design-based solutions and track-and-trace/consumer engagement based solutions.
  • How brands can utilize each of the solutions.

So how does variable data printing work?

VDP is a form of digital printing that uses information from a database or external file. With VDP, elements such as text, graphics, and images may be changed from one printed piece to the next, without stopping or slowing down the printing process. There are no printing plates, so it’s just as simple to print one SKU, or design, in a print run as it is to print 10,000 unique designs. 

Variable data printing helps consumer brands take an innovative and unique approach to their packaging, both with design and consumer engagement. There are many ways to utilize VDP and we’re discussing just a few of those options below:

Variable Data Printing: Design Options

It’s no secret that today’s consumers love personalization and customization. Consumers respond to variety in their products, be it flavors, colors, designs or package sizes. With digital printing and VDP, you can easily create a variety of package options all in the same run — whether it be personalized packaging or seasonal packaging with unique design features that shift and change from package to package. 

Product Differentiation

VDP can help brands create product differentiation across the whole package line-up. Think of the popular Coca-Cola campaign with the different bottle labels printed with various names on each. This is created using variable data printing. Each label features a different design, and the process is not slowed as each unique label is printed.

Source: Coca Cola


Randomized Designs

There are other design solutions that create randomized designs on each package for a unique experience. At ePac, we leverage HP’s two different technologies to create highly customized designs: mosaic and collage.

With mosaic, there is one seed pattern (or file) that is automatically randomized to print a unique design on each package printed. It works by rotating, zooming, and transposing the colors of that file to create individual designs. Skratch Labs, a Boulder-based nutritional supplement brand, teamed up with ePac to use the HP Mosaic technology to create 10,000 unique pouches for the EF Education First Cycling Team in celebration of the teams’ involvement in The Tour. Click here to read the full story.

Collage automatically randomizes too but differs in that you can control various elements, so that there is some consistency on each package. Both deliver highly visual, entirely unique packaging for each SKU in the run.

Image Source: HP

Variable Data Printing: Interactive Options

The next four solutions are interactive solutions that use unique digital identities, such as a visible QR code or hidden watermark. These marks allow brands to securely track individual products throughout the entire supply chain, and provide customized digital experiences to individual consumers through a mobile interface. These track-and-trace solutions give each product its own special number so brands can associate specific data to a specific package.

Consumer Engagement

Want to increase consumer engagement with the help of your packaging? Using VDP, you’ll be able to print a unique QR code on each package that will take consumers to a specific location, like a webpage or video. There, they can view a recipe, video message, promotion, product instructions, or play a game… the options here are endless.


Brand Authentication

For brands looking to highlight a product’s authentication or sourcing information, a QR code can be used on the package to deliver detailed information unique to that individual item. Things like a product verification page, to confirm the authenticity of the product, or a page highlighting where and when it was produced, as well as batch number, manufacturing location and date/time. This also allows consumers to trace a specific product’s journey, from ingredient sourcing to retail.


Interactive Recycling Instructions

With interactive recycling instructions, you’re helping consumers learn how and where to recycle your product. The consumer would scan the QR code on the package and go to a webpage or video highlighting information on how to recycle the product. You can also include a rewards program to incentivize consumers to participate. 

Supply Chain Analytics

While the other four solutions are consumer-facing solutions, the fifth one is brand facing, meaning the code is meant for you, the brand owner, not the consumer. With supply chain analytics, you’ll have real-time supply chain data, business intelligence, and anti-counterfeit/diversion intelligence. With this solution, you can capture data at the point of purchase, as well as information from when it was scanned at the warehouse to distribution, all the way to retail. This will enable you to see where the package is and whether it went to the appropriate places. This is all captured and conveyed in an analytics dashboard. Plus, you have the ability to capture consumer data to build a consumer profile, to better understand their purchase habits.

Variable data printing allows you to track the lifecycle of each package that you produce, from where it moves within the warehouse and distribution chain, to how consumers engage with it, and even where it ends up in the recycling stream. You’ll also enjoy endless personalization and differentiation options to create packaging that is as unique as each of your consumers. Plus, you’ll create an engaging experience from a mobile interface, all in your consumers’ hands. 

Partnering with a Digital Printer for Your VDP Project 

Variable data imaging and printing are only available with digital printing. With digital printing at ePac, consumers enjoy all of the solutions VDP has to offer, plus low minimum orders and fast turnaround time. This allows you to be more reactive to market trends, and create personalized or unique packaging for different regions, consumer demographics, or seasons and holidays. At ePac, we can help you with variable data printing services so you can have the right package functionality that your brand needs. Contact us today for a free quote.