Understanding near-field communication coffee packaging

Janice Kanniah
July 21, 2022
Understanding near-field communication (NFC) coffee packaging

The digital payment industry is constantly evolving, and more businesses are relying on mobile devices to quickly and conveniently share data.

As a result, technological advances such as near-field communication (NFC) have become increasingly popular. Near-field communication technology uses short-range wireless connections to transfer information between devices with a single touch, thanks to NFC chips present in both devices.

NFC technology reduces the chance of human error and the risk of criminal hackers, as it requires deliberate access and permissions. While NFC technology is popular in contactless payment platforms, other industries are using it.

Many packaging manufacturers are now using near-field communication as an interactive customer engagement tool. A customer can scan their coffee bag to access detailed product information, as well as verify the product is authentic and has not been tampered with.

This could be particularly useful for roasters and coffee shops, as transparency and origin information are aspects of specialty coffee that customers often look out for.

Find out more about near-field communication coffee packaging and how it can affect sustainability efforts.

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Image of customer using NFC to pay for coffee, showing how near-field communication on coffee packaging can help increase sales.

What is NFC packaging and how does it work?

Near-field communication is a subset of radio-frequency identification (RFID), and the technology has been available since 1983.

As more devices and users began using it, an official NFC forum was established in 2004. This forum established the standards all near-field communication devices must meet to ensure they remain compatible with each other.

Usually, devices are equipped with NFC tags or stickers to facilitate this, and many popular smartphone brands now offer NFC-equipped phones.

More so, the technology has advanced across numerous industries, such as medical and air travel.

For instance, hospitals have begun using NFC-patient wristbands, so doctors have quick access to all patient information, such as when the patient last received medication and who administered it.

Airlines have integrated NFC instead of paper boarding passes, allowing travellers to reduce the boarding process by up to 25 minutes.

Additionally, many major payment gateways, such as Mastercard and Paypal, have integrated NFC technology into the processes. This allows customers the option to “bump” their devices together to make or receive payments.

Including NFC tags or chips in packaging seems like a natural choice, as today’s generation of shoppers tend to spend more time on their mobile phones. They also frequently use their mobile devices to research products and brands.

As a result, brands can use near-field communication to provide customers with detailed product information, such as how-to guides, videos, and promotions, without taking up space on the packaging material.

The most popular form factor for NFC tags is 85.60mm by 53.98mm (3.37in by 2.12in), making it easy to include on the smallest packages.

Another factor driving the popularity of near-field communication technology is its ability to act as a traceable and secure product identifier.

It has become useful in markets prone to counterfeiting issues, such as the cosmetics, pharmaceutical, and wine industries.

As each NFC tag has a unique code that cannot be duplicated, it makes it easier for the packaging to be verified. Additionally, this code makes it challenging for counterfeiters to duplicate the packaging.

More so, some NFC tags also allow customers to track a product purchase through its delivery process.

Image of two multilayer coffee bags on table with coffee bean samples, showing how near-field communication on coffee packaging can convey transparency.

Should roasters consider NFC coffee packaging?

Near-field communication and coffee packaging seem like a natural pairing.

That said, it may be an option that suits certain roasters more than others for many reasons.

The first is cost: roasters will have to purchase a physical NFC tag in order to test it. Conversely, they are able to generate and test a quick response (QR) code for free online.

QR codes are square barcodes that store information using black and white squares, and are used to direct customers to various content, including company websites and social media pages. 

Additionally, the costs of adding a QR code to a section of coffee packaging is minimal, while integrating NFC chips or tags can increase costs, depending on the manufacturer and volume required.  

Second is eco-friendliness. Flexible packaging is responsible for large volumes of the world’s current plastic pollution problem. To address this, many roasters have switched to using recyclable coffee packaging.

That said, many countries are still developing comprehensive waste collection, separation, and processing facilities. As a result, recyclable materials often end up alongside plastic waste in landfills. 

This means customers and recyclers will need to know how to remove NFC tags in order for them and the packaging to be properly recycled.

A typical NFC tag consists of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), aluminium, or copper, and a silicone or gold chip circuit. These materials will need to be separated to be recycled – which can be challenging considering their size, and reduces their cost-effectiveness.

Third is practicality. Notably, counterfeiting is a major problem with geographically designated products, such as olive oil. That said, its impact on the specialty coffee sector is different for many reasons.

Roasters will often combine several origins into a single blend, or work with several farms across various origins to source their beans.

This coffee would have been evaluated to determine whether it meets the criteria for being a specialty product. Once purchased, roasters will taste it to confirm this.

Additionally, a coffee’s quality can be affected by the roast process. As coffee has a relatively small window of enjoyment post-roast, there is little chance for roasters to pass off old coffee as being new or costlier, as the taste difference will be immediate.

Close up image of multilayer kraft paper coffee bag with QR code, showing how near-field communication on coffee packaging is still evolving.

What packaging options exist for roasters?

As it becomes more affordable and easier to recycle, NFC coffee packaging may increase in popularity.

Notably, the global NFC market was valued at $15,351 million in 2019 and is projected to reach $54,521 million by 2028.

That said, the high cost and traceability of NFC tags are better used by businesses selling high-value or high-end limited edition products.

Particularly where counterfeit goods can be dangerous or lead to illness, and where packaging is often reusable, such as wine bottles.

Until near-field communication technology becomes more accessible to smaller businesses, coffee roasters may be better off using QR codes to share additional information.

QR codes are not only a more practical and cost-effective option, but better for the environment, as they can be recycled along with the empty coffee bag.

Close up image of multilayer kraft paper coffee bag showing how near-field communication on coffee packaging can be used.

To provide customers with complete transparency, all roasters will need to do is verify their coffee’s origins and journey through the supply chain. 

All this information can be accessed through the QR code that will direct customers to a roasters website.

The team at MTPak Coffee are able to digitally print QR codes onto sustainable coffee packaging, with a 40-hour turnaround and 24-hour shipping time. Furthermore, QR codes can contain as much information as a roaster or coffee shop desires.

Our range of sustainable packaging is made from eco-friendly materials, such as kraft or rice paper with a LDPE or PLA lining, and we are able to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material. 

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging with QR codes, contact our team.

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