Technology Enhances Wine, Spirits and Beer Labels

What’s the purpose of a wine label; or for that matter a label on spirits and beer? Obviously, the first response to that question is: to satisfy the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) regulations. Once that is accomplished, the label space remaining may be used for branding and marketing copy. The fact is, there is very little space on bottle labels to get creative with messages. Now technology is helping solve the limited space on labels by way of RFID (radio frequency identification/ID) technology. Tap a smartphone on a NFC (Near Field Communications) tag embedded on a bottle and see what comes up on your smartphone; assuming there is currently a tag on the label.

Depending on a winery’s budget and the number of smartphones enabled with RFID tag readers (newer smartphones have built-in reader capability), wine, beer and spirits producers can communicate directly with the consumer while they are standing in front of the bottle or can. These electronic tags can impart information in any format. The information can be audio, a message or automatically opening a website page; the choice is up to the winery or craft beverage company. The most economical tag option is to use NFC tags embedded in a label or a very thin flexible film adhered to a bottle.

This NFC technology has different names such as Smart Labels, Tags, and OpenSense Tags; the moniker I use is “Tap Tags”. Smart Labels (originated in the consumer products industry) are starting to appear on food, personal care and pharma items. Although extremely limited, spirits, beer and wine are recent joiners. In fact, companies using smart label tags are not just the big players in the food and personal care space but are also used by small start-ups. Basically, tags are a means for producers of products to give the consumer more information than is possible to print on a label. But, the benefits of such tags aren’t just in dispensing more information, it is also about branding, loyalty, increased sales, etc.

QR codes have been around for decades. They can do some of the operations a NFC tag can perform but are limited. More on QR code versus NFC follows.

Twenty years ago, I was involved with a gentleman who is an expert integrator of RFID (radio frequency identification/ID) tag technologies for casinos. His patented technology is used today in allowing casinos to authenticate and track their gaming chips within a casino. Ken Smith, writing for Blackjackinfo.com on November 5, 2012 reported that Wynn/Encore Casino’s in Las Vegas starting using chips embedded with RFID tags in 2005. Point being: the level of sophistication offered by “tag” technologies allow companies to communicate with consumers, even before they buy the product.

Decades ago barcodes started allowing companies the means to track inventory, monitor parts and adjust pricing instantly. Then RFID tags came along which expanded the capabilities of product monitoring passively and actively; reading and writing information to a RFID tag. Depending on the capabilities of an RFID tag, information can not only be read from a tag, but that tag can also be written to; adding more/different/updated information on the tag. We don’t want to forget the QR (Quick Response Code) that most smart phones can read optically and provide an on-screen response via a link to a landing page. The QR code, invented in 1994 has a similar application as the barcode. Smartphones today come with QR reading capabilities and more recently antenna to communicate with NFC tags.

A derivative of RFID technology that is gaining acceptance rapidly is the NFC tag. A strong proponent of NFC technology is coming from Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute-the SmartLabelâ„¢ group. They formed an alliance called Trade Partners Alliance to explore ways to be transparent with quick, reliable, actionable, in-depth product information for the consumer. One of their applications involves NFC tags which takes the consumer, via their smartphone, to a navigational landing page. All the consumer is required to do is tap their smartphone on the NFC tag on the product packaging.

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