When we think of Whiskey, the mind always wonders to the ageing process, old barrels and traditional techniques that are passed down through generations of workers. What we do not think about is the use of complex and revolutionary technology.
However, Diageo and most notably Johnnie Walker, are doing just that, utilizing new technology to improve the experience of their customers throughout the process from initially buying to drinking the bottle.
Through a collaboration with Thinfilm Electronics, they have created a label that will create one of the first ‘smart bottles’ for use with their whiskey.
The idea behind this is to give consumers more information on the whiskey before they buy, then receive different information as they move through the lifecycle of the bottle.
Within the label there is technology that can communicate with smartphones to give specific information about the whiskey, helping consumers choose which would work best for them. Once this choice has been made and the bottle has been bought and brought home and opened, the function of the label is deliberately ‘broken’ to indicate that the bottle has been opened and the information it provides is changed accordingly.
This has multiple uses as it not only provides information about the whiskey inside the bottle for sales, but also means that people can identify whether or not the bottle has been tampered with before they drink it. This can have a profound effect on the amount of fake whiskey being produced as it is a failsafe way to assure that the product is genuine. Matthew Bright from Thinfilm claims ‘We can identify a trillion products a year every year for a trillion years without duplication’ meaning that if there is a duplicate, it can only be a fake.
The sensors themselves are read only, meaning that nothing can be written to them, only tracked or read, which also makes it very difficult to clone as they cannot be easily cloned and even if they were, it would be difficult to access the source code to make them look realistic.
Another benefit of this is within the supply chain, allowing the company to see exactly where each bottle is and whether it is arriving on time or if it is held up in transit. Within this, it also becomes possible to note if any bottles have been stolen, where they gone and at which point in the route they were removed. It allows people to have the opportunity to reduce supply chain waste and identify any areas that may be corrupt.
The smart labels can even have a temperature monitor within them which can be set off when a product exceeds a certain temperature. With consumable goods and especially medicines this could prove to be one of the most important elements as it would mean that medicines maintained their effectiveness and within food could reduce the chances of containing illness causing bacteria.
Whether these kind of labels become more mainstream is an important question though, as with products like whiskey the price of the labels can easily be absorbed into the price due their high value. With cheaper products it may not be as much of an option as being able to include this within the price could be more difficult. It is also questionable whether this kind of technology would be useful for short shelf life items as the information on these would be limited and therefore beyond the temperatures that the food is kept at, other information may not warrant this kind of tech.
So will this take off? Amongst higher value items there would certainly be a market for it as the cost of the labelling could easily be absorbed into the price and the cost of fraudulent products could persuade companies that it would have a good ROI. Whether this is something we are likely to see across a broader range of products is yet to be seen, the costs would need to be clearly noted not only in label production, but in the infrastructure surrounding it.