On-pack security gets smart


Packaging security is more intelligent and multifunctional than ever. Kitty So reports from the front line in the war against the counterfeiters

As technological security features in cosmetics and personal care products packaging become increasingly sophisticated and harder to beat, they will offer more intelligent and multifunctional security. From authentication to tracking and tracing products during distribution, and preventing and detecting tampering, these systems help brands access their global distribution network, ensuring products move smoothly from production to consumer.

France-based Prooftag is working on embedding its security technology in shrink sleeve packaging used in the cosmetics and personal care industries, for instance, Prooftag’s Ramdot – a unique set of randomly dispersed, coloured particles that can be attached to substrates such as textile tags and metalised foil. The pattern is linked to a database of codes that match the brand to the product, and Prooftag can attach trace and tracking software to the technology. This can catch and prevent product diversion: “Some brands don’t authorise retailing into, say, supermarkets or over the internet… when they find their products in a location that is not the right location, they are very curious about who has their products,” says Franck Bourrières, Prooftag’s Sales and Marketing Director.

“What we can see now is demand for statistics from [the time of] production – what did I produce? When? Where? What type?… It’s a global view of the production and distribution channel,” he adds.

Prooftag serves France-based cosmetics and personal care product clients, but expects to export in future.

The growing demand for intelligent, secure packaging is leading long-standing packaging companies to explore offering such solutions. For instance, the Spain-based Quadpack Group is investigating options in security technology in packaging, says Tim Eaves, the company’s CEO. “It’s something we’ll be looking into to offer to our clients, as it’s becoming an increasingly pressing industry issue,” he tells SPC.

Track & trace

Meanwhile, security and identification solutions provider Databac Group Ltd (UK) is considering introducing its brand authentication technology into the cosmetics and personal care products industry. Databac offers an ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology that allows for the scanning and reading of an RFID chip from a distance of up to four metres, says Charles Balcomb, Databac’s Managing Director, who has “been looking at bringing it into a cosmetics-type sector”.

The company offers UHF for tracking products in warehouses using an innovative aerial (or antenna) so that a handheld reader can pick up the signal of a distant RFID tag or label. The system is also fitted with an ‘anti-collision’ feature allowing the reader to follow continuous signals from hundreds of products simultaneously without signals mixing and becoming confused. Balcomb notes UHF has been used in warehouses to easily locate and authenticate certain products, such as expensive bottles of wine, and could be applied to high-end cosmetics and personal care products, such as luxury bottles of perfume. The reader can also easily and efficiently check if the correct number of products are in a specific location.

UHF can also prevent theft as an RFID tag can be attached to a product, and with a reader by the door it would alert the relevant security if someone removes that product from the area.

Balcomb adds that cosmetics and personal care product producers could also use the tags to create an intelligent tracking system through the entire distribution process. “There’s so much money spent in investing in the product itself, not only in packaging but advertising, promotion, everything… you have to make sure the market’s not going to be eroded by counterfeit products coming in,” he says. “So it’s very important to have something such as RFID to make sure that a product is exactly what it is, wherever it is.”

Such tags can communicate the location of products and at what time, so companies can be sure of a shipment from factory to point of sale.

The chips in the tags can also store this information with a high level of security, with some requiring different cryptographic keys restricting access to different information on the chip. For instance, a company could give certain people access to a read key to view information while restricting them from making changes. “It’s intelligent… it’s not like a barcode, where you can scan it and you’re relating to a database; [the chip] actually carries the information and you can change the information, add information,” he says.

Balcomb says the company is working with different manufacturers to assess how it can be embedded, and followed up with market testing. One possibility is embedding the tag in tubes or jars. The tags can be embedded in materials such as cardboard, plastics, polyesters (such as polyethylene terephthalate – PET) and even wood. Databac is planning to further test different packaging materials and develop ways to embed them with an UHF RFID tag. For instance, “you have to have a special barrier between a metal surface and the tag’s antenna because otherwise it could affect the signal and you can’t get the read range off it. So we have a material that will direct the signal from the antennae away from the container so it’s not absorbed into the container,” he says. Balcomb explains that metals, plastics, woods, liquids and perfumes “have different densities and these could affect the signal”.

He argues such tags could offer tamper-proof security as well. For some chips, the aerial (or antenna) works even when in contact with liquids. It is possible that chips could be placed in a container during manufacturing and record when a liquid product fills the container, authenticating the contents. Additionally, brands may embed a chip in the container’s opening, such as a bottle, to record when a product is opened.

Databac also offers specialised inks called ‘taggants’, created to be an exact wavelength of colour that, when scanned with a reader, authenticates the product. The taggant could be added discreetly into the overall design of a cosmetic or personal care product package and be less expensive compared to RFID technology when used in a large number of packages.

Under regulation

These innovations are underway as the European Union (EU) attempts to tighten regulations protecting intellectual property rights (IPR). “If the product is tagged using a variety of security devices… then this could help towards ensuring that the product complies with this regulation,” says Balcomb.

The EU’s regulation 608/2013 on customs enforcement of IPRs came into effect this year. “The enforcement of intellectual property rights protection in the Union is a top priority for the European Commission,” an EU official tells SPC.

The official notes the regulation amended procedures to streamline the destruction of goods suspected of being fakes in all member states “on the basis of agreement or deemed agreement between the parties concerned, without having to necessarily initiate costly and burdensome legal proceedings”.

He added that the regulation introduced a new procedure for small consignments containing counterfeit and pirated goods sent by post and courier, which IPR holders can request so that customs may destroy the suspected goods without a direct request by rights holders.

In 2013, EU customs detained €55.3m in retail value of perfumes and cosmetics and €6.9m in retail value of other body care items including razor blades, shampoo, deodorant and soap. While Turkey was a key country of origin for counterfeit perfume and cosmetics to the EU, Hong Kong and China remained the main exporters to the EU of other suspect body care products.

In the fiscal year October 2012 to September 2013, US customs seized US$79.6m (manufacturers’ suggested retail price – MSRP) of pharmaceuticals and personal care products, 5% of the value of all goods seized in 2013, according to US Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Intellectual Property Rights: Fiscal Year 2013 Seizure Statistics, down from 7% the year before. Mainland China supplied the overwhelming majority of the value (based on MSRP) of items seized in 2013 at 68%, followed by Hong Kong (25%).

Layer upon layer

Steve Stein, Global Technical Account Manager of Kodak Brand Protection Solutions, notes: “Not only are our clients worried about counterfeited goods but also about products being diverted… with diversion, you have a willing buyer and willing seller, and if that seller can’t get enough of the diverted product, it acts as a mechanism to start slip streaming into counterfeit goods.”

He suggests that brands use multiple layers of security, both overt and covert, to impede people from replicating products or removing security features. Kodak has applied, for instance, overt QR codes (which consumers can scan with a smartphone application) with more subtle security including its Traceless Ultra Covert – a secretive security feature that is extremely difficult to find and counterfeit or remove (the company would not give more details).

One solution Kodak is continuing to improve is Traceless AD anti-diversion technology, which uses an invisible ink coding system. The ink is applied to the package and the code is logged in a database, which is revealed and verified using a specific Kodak handheld reader. “We’ve had a great deal of success working with cosmetics companies and health and beauty companies on this,” Stein adds.

Kodak has customers in the health and beauty sector globally, and has worked on perfumes, topical cosmetics and personal care products. Stein notes one challenge for multinationals is tracking and protecting products exported to various countries: “The best approach a brand could have would be to have a unified approach, an end-to-end brand protection strategy that encompasses the entire world.”

He adds that cosmetic and personal care companies in regions including North America, Europe and Asia have similar needs for tracking and authentication technologies. And while some regions face greater counterfeiting activity, such as Asia, “the concerns are pretty consistent from continent to continent, region to region”.

Inspiration from elsewhere

Meanwhile, US based Imagemme offers innovative packaging features that could be useful to the cosmetics and personal care products industry, says Tate Sherman, a spokesperson for the company.

For instance, the company’s tamper-proof packaging for EarSkinz headphones could be adapted for cosmetics and personal care products, as it features a unidirectional opening system that, once opened, prevents it from being closed again.

This feature can be adapted to any plastic package in cosmetics and personal care as long as there is a flat face for dye-cutting, says Sherman: “The physical geometry or topography of the plastic is only limited to the skill of the thermoforming manufacturing and their tooling capabilities, along with the skill of the designer and the product’s intended use.

“Our overall method of design was to give a clear path of sight to the product inside… it’s also clearly evident if the product has been tampered with,” he says.

He notes that the design is also difficult to copy, giving added protection: “Our packaging design protects itself against counterfeit by virtue of its innovation. Many of our designs defy convention, so that the process of discovery we had to go through to reach them would be too difficult and costly to replicate.”

Sherman adds that Imagemme could also apply its infrared technology to cosmetics and personal care products, as “the technology could be easily adapted and applied to that industry”. A sticker is placed on the package and reveals an authentication of a product when checked under infrared light. The stickers are difficult to replicate, helping anti-counterfeit policies.

“Consumers are paying for a product, so in a sense, they’re victims when they aren’t getting the product intended. Whether the product is stolen and the retailer takes the loss, or the product is tampered with and the consumer takes the loss, both parties have to be equally protected,” says Sherman.

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