Category Archives: Internet of Things

Smart Packaging Conference 2019

There’s more than one kind of smart, but the key to sustainability in packaging is value. This week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Smart Packaging 2019 conference in Hamburg. This was thanks to the kind people at AMI, following an introduction by Ophelie Gourdou at Cairn Consulting. It was an engaging and well-attended conference, with an innovative format including a mini-showcase at the end of day one. This was a great way to keep the audience actively engaged when they had half an eye on the cocktail reception.

I confess I did not know what to expect. We have researched potential competitors, but from years as an analyst, I know that active engagement is really the only way to understand what’s going on under the skin of an industry, and this was our first real chance to spend some time talking to others who are innovating.

I came back with two main conclusions.

Firstly, the smarts going into smart packaging are INCREDIBLY varied. Everything from advanced and highly flexible tracking and provenance services, to connected devices, to chemical engineering that stops food from spoiling (on a small sticky label no less!). I was pleased to present the Vesta solution following an industry introduction from Tim Paridaens of Delloite. One of his slides showed a conceptual model of automated refill ordering packaging of exactly the kind Vesta makes, which is a reassuring sign that the solution we’ve been building for 18 months is beginning to enter the popular consciousness.

The second is broader, but covers something fundamental. There is a clear paradigm shift around packaging, from a view that cost is absolute and must be reduced, to an understanding that cost and value can be balanced. It’s this which gives me great hope that the economic philosophy behind Vesta’s mission – that we don’t throw away things we value– is on a solid footing. By making the vehicles in which our products move and function an essential part of the value of the products themselves, we should start to see a rapid move away from single use disposable behaviours. This is cause for hope.

Thanks to all at AMI for a thought-provoking couple of days!

How Packaging Innovation is Helping Tackle the Plastic Problem

We founded Vesta in October 2017 on the basis that we believe that technology can be built into packaging to help remove the need for single-use plastic.

Since then, global awareness and action relating to the plastic problem has expanded beyond anything we could have imagined. The dominant users of packaging; manufacturers and retailers, have started to change their businesses in more dramatic ways than even we could have hoped. We’ve been watching closely over the last 12 months, and I’ll attempt to summarise some of it here.

I’ve identified four main categories of innovation, though this is not exhaustive and there are several innovations that cut across categories:

New materials

There has been enormous growth in the availability of short life packaging, including plant-based options (seaweed is looking promising). The ability to produce plastic-like packaging from sustainable sources that are completely bio-degradable is vastly encouraging, and the potential is there to do so at scale.

Upside – potential long-term large-scale solution, producing non harmful plastics. What’s not to like!

Issues – lifetime of bio-plastics, carbon costs of production, ability to scale, challenges to bio-diversity

Reuse

This year, and to great fanfare, Terracycle launched Loop, the first e-Commerce platform based on the ability to return packaging for cleaning and reuse. We at Vesta have already raised our concerns over the viability of Loop and I won’t do so again here, but if nothing else, it should be loudly applauded for its originality and the bold attempt to change consumer behaviour.

Upside –  increasing the number of uses of a plastic package has the potential to ENORMOUSLY reduce the amount of plastic we use overall. Put it this way – use the same package 10 times cuts plastic use 90%.

Issues – economics of pickup, increased demand on consumers, lack of convenience

Self-refill

Waitrose in the UK, along with a whole variety of others have started using the kind of refill stations we have only previously seen in health food shops. Ecover have also grown the availability of in store refilling stations.

Upside – similar to reuse. Plastic is not, in itself, the problem. It is that we misuse it.

Issues – taking large numbers of empty containers to the shop each time does not feel like a mass market sustainable solution. I believe a lot of us would like to do this, but it asks a lot of consumers.

IoT

Vesta obviously fits into this category, where connected packaging is used to help manage supplies. To date, we are the only packaging company we’re aware of that combine IoT technology with the drive to eliminate the requirement for single-use plastic. However there are other connected device companies out there using RFID and other tech primarily for provenance and tracking (if you are using IoT for packaging, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!).

Upside  – the meeting of sustainable reusable solutions with a convenient consumer proposition could mean self-refill achieved entirely in the home.

Issues – this is a new technology approach, so consumers will have to be willing to adopt new behaviour. Short-life refill packaging should close the loop allowing for manufacturers to avoid single use plastic all together, but we’ll need to make sure its impact is minimal. It should not be a surprise that we at Vesta think this is the way to go, but we are not complacent on the amount of work that needs doing to yield the benefits.

I am really excited by the number of companies making big strides in this area (including those we’re working with!). Honourable mentions also go to Iceland and Morrisons for both taking major initiatives to cut their plastic use.

However, it’s not all good news. Amazon are something of a laggard when it comes to a sustainable approach to packaging, and this week’s news that their latest envelopes are not even recyclable comes as a massive disappointment. We know now that in most markets, a sustainable approach to packaging is so popular with consumers that it comes with a price premium. It seems likely therefore that companies unwilling to make changes to help the environment will suffer correspondingly.

Dash runs out of road

How value exchange is key when designing a disruptive service

We at Vesta were never much fans of the Dash button, and we weren’t alone. When you have to assure the world that your product isn’t an April Fool’s joke, it must be a rough day to work in marketing. Now the dash buttons are being withdrawn, there is value in assessing why this ambitious and bold, but flawed product missed out on mainstream adoption.

Dash was never claiming environmental credentials to be fair to it, but the rather glib one-button re-ordering of all that packaging was one of the things that inspired Vesta’s creation. However, the main reason behind its demise is about the experience and value it offered. A consideration of value exchange offers a useful way to understand service adoption, and we’ve voiced our concerns about Terracycle’s Loop in a similar way.

What did Dash offer? Simple ordering and a potential time saver. Sounds good, but what did it ask for?

  • Own a button per product
  • Don’t lose or break any of the buttons
  • (at some point) recharge the buttons (we never quite understood how that would work)
  • Restrict button access to responsible individuals
  • Buy the buttons in the first place

Listed like that, the convenience Dash was trying to deliver was clearly more than offset by the  demands the service made on its users. A really disruptive service must offer more than it takes to be successful. The iPod is a wonderful example of this. It asked us to effectively burn most of our invested capital in music collections and go digital. For those of us with a giant pile of CDs (we might be showing our age here!), there was a process of copying them all to MP3. One by one. Which took hours.

But we did it, because it offered more. All of everything we wanted to listen to. Anywhere. It outweighed the inconvenience of the change.

At Vesta, our packages offer fully automated re-ordering that is completely integrated. A single scan of our packages through Vesta’s store room application is the only step end-users need to take, and everything else is taken care of. It remains to be seen if our value exchange is the right one for mass adoption, but we believe that combining real convenience with the chance to eliminate single-use plastic is one that will work.

Amazon scraps Dash buttons

Amazon scraps Dash buttons

Amazon stops selling its Dash buttons because shoppers are using other methods to buy products.

Source: www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-47416440

Amazon Dash breaks German consumer protection rules

It hasn’t been such a happy new year for Amazon Dash in Germany, which has lost a case brought against it by an advocacy group on the grounds of consumer protection.

As reported in Gizmodo , the watchdog was concerned that Dash buttons made it too easy to buy Amazon products, enabled the company to substitute ordered products, and failed to protect shoppers from buying things they were not fully informed about.

At Vesta, we’ve always been skeptical about Dash. Whilst we welcome IoT solutions that further empower the connected home, we worried about its environmental credentials. We feel that Dash embraces the technical and commercial potential of IoT – on-demand consumerism – without addressing glaring issues of sustainability. These range from the proliferation of the buttons – themselves made of plastic – to the abundant cardboard and plastic in which orders are delivered.

As a marketplace and distributor, Amazon is one of the giants of the linear economy (make-store-sell-discard). This has long been the dominant mode of fulfilling consumer needs, but its key players may begin to find, as Dash has done, that its structure and fulfilment models areincompatible with the evolution of a circular economy.

Vesta smart packages address both the need for consumers to have what they want when they want it, and an efficient and circular mode of fulfilment. By introducing intelligence to the edge of the network, we will help our customers provide the service their customers want – on demand, exactly as much as they need, and in no unnecessary packaging.

Vesta selected for IoT Startup Bootcamp 2018

Vesta is thrilled to have been selected for Startupbootcamp IoT’s 2018 acceleration programme!

After a gruelling but great 3-day selection event in London, we were delighted to be invited to join the 3-month programme, working to make our smart refillable solutions a reality and helping consumers, merchants and most importantly the environment.

The next few months are going to be intense and very exciting as we prepare for formal trials with some of our merchant partners. We’re especially looking forward to getting to know the SBC partner network, and to learn from some of the best business mentors, hardware professionals, corporate partners, and investors around.

We can’t wait to get started. The countdown to October 15 begins!

UK Supermarkets 1 million tons of plastic per year

In a damning expose, The Guardian has revealed that Britain͛s leading supermarkets ͚create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year͛. And, more worryingly, the paper suggests that the firms go to elaborate lengths to hide

the extent of their plastic footprint. What is clear is that their use of contractual loopholes to obfuscate the scale of plastic use prevents clear calls for change. Supermarkets were the first to be obliged to charge for plastic bags, and supermarket delivery services are often touted as a green option. However, until the products they supply are encased in less single-use plastic, they will continue to act as huge catalysts for pollution.

In the face of this, startups are setting themselves the challenge to combat the plastic epidemic. And it͛s working. A paradigm shift is coming from the world of smart refillables—smart containers can be integrated seamlessly into homes and refilled with the goods we use the most.

For the first time, the Internet of Things allows household goods to order themselves, and to be delivered in a refillable and sustainable way. Of course, Supermarkets could get in on this too, but they first need to face up to the dangers of feeding the nation͛s plastic addiction.

Nearly 1m tonnes every year: supermarkets shamed for plastic packaging

Nearly 1m tonnes every year: supermarkets shamed for plastic packaging

Exclusive: Guardian investigation unwraps truth about supermarket plastics after big brands refuse to divulge packaging secrets

Source: www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/17/nearly-1m-tonnes-every-year-supermarkets-shamed-for-plastic-packaging

 

The Internet of Things in the Home

As long ago as 2015, an Institute of Analytics whitepaper on the Internet of Things recognised that its architecture offered ‘the technologies for transformative business applications’. Yet although the uptake has been high in the energy and manufacturing sectors, Jian Yang’s Silicon Valley smart fridge is probably as close as most of us have come to seeing these technologies in our homes.

And it’s not hard to see why. The caricature of a fridge with irritating banter represents the comedic side of a real concern with the encroachment of technologies and companies into our homes. Yet with proper management and minimal interfaces, the IoT offers unparalleled opportunities for waste reduction, and for streamlining busy lives. Iot is the future, but offers real challenges around consumer confidence and identifying genuine need.

As Jason Mann, Director of Industry Product Management at SAS has said, ‘the essence of IoT resides in the source of the data, which are the sensors. Those smart devices generate data about activities, events, and influencing factors that provide visibility into performance and support decision processes across a variety of industries and consumer channels.’ When properly developed and deployed, these sensors assess use of consumer products, and offer supply and delivery solutions which eliminate waste and extraneous packaging. When it comes to combating the plastic epidemic, these technologies offer real solutions, but must be installed at the point of need, preferably without a chatty robot voice.

See the white paper here: https://www.sas.com/en_au/whitepapers/iia-internet-of-things-108110.html