It’s an all too familiar scenario: You had to get up earlier than usual for an important meeting, you need a latte, but you're too sleepy to remember when you bought the milk and too bleary-eyed to read the expiry date. Luckily, the actual packaging has been designed to ‘sniff’ the milk and can tell you, via an app on your phone, if it's still fresh.

“There are a host of technologies that can add value to primary, secondary or tertiary packaging, from smart codes and sensors to innovative inks and materials," says Chris Houghton, partner and head of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) at Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP). “Smart packaging describes technologically enabled packaging. Two sub-groups include intelligent packaging, which provides a digital exchange, and active packaging that responds to environmental changes,” he explains. “Smart packaging has been growing over the past decade with beauty, food and beverage brands pioneering, and recently sectors like healthcare are taking an interest."

At the design and communications firm Grow, Markus Wulff, the digital innovation director, draws up a long list of active packaging solutions, such as antimicrobial packaging and biochemical active films, and even the use of nanotechnology. “Packaging is relevant in all steps in the consumer journey," Wulff says. “If we break down pre-, during and post-purchase into digital touch points, the role of packaging is to support the consumer in each step – awareness, consideration, acquisition, service and loyalty."