Bot­tles that just spout off

Pack­ag­ing will have a speak­ing role in an in­creas­ingly high-tech mar­ket­place.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BRIEFING -

There’s no need to send a mes­sage in a bot­tle any­more. Soon you can put it on the bot­tle.

“Ev­ery­one likes to see their name in lights,” says Bran­don Laid­law, pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Pleasan­ton, Calif.-based Medea vodka, which re­cently in­tro­duced a liquor bot­tle equipped with an LED mes­sage band that can be pro­grammed to scroll any mes­sage via a free smart­phone app.

Blue­tooth tech­nol­ogy is chang­ing the way drinkers — and bar­keeps — are in­ter­act­ing with their bot­tles.

This new use of tech means con­sumers can cus­tom­ize mes­sages on the bot­tles they are drink­ing. Dis­trib­u­tors and bar own­ers can also use the tech­nol­ogy to track pur­chases and get sales data. Global drinks com­pany Di­a­geo even is work­ing on smart sen­sor-equipped bot­tles that com­mu­ni­cate with con­sumers’ de­vices once a bot­tle is opened, per­haps of­fer­ing recipes or pro­mo­tions.

The idea is to give pack­ag­ing a speak­ing role in an in­creas­ingly in­ter­ac­tive mar­ket­place.

“Ev­ery con­sumer is walk­ing around with a very pow­er­ful com­puter in their pocket,” says Venky Balakr­ish­nan, global vice pres­i­dent of dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion at Di­a­geo.

The new tech­nol­ogy isn’t lim­ited to the bot­tle. Cur­rently avail­able de­vices in­clude wire­less pour spouts such as Smart Spout, from Phoenix-based BarVi­sion, which con­tains RFID tech­nol­ogy and elec­tronic tilt sen­sors to mea­sure and re­port on ev­ery ounce of liquor poured.

BarVi­sion Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Joe Nolan ex­pects bot­tles will only raise their in­tel­li­gence lev­els as more pro­duc­ers bring pack­ag­ing into the “In­ter­net of things,” i.e. ap­pli­ances or other ob­jects that are able to com­mu­ni­cate wire­lessly. “We’re ex­cited about the prospects, that’s for sure,” he says.

The Smart Spout can in­ter­face with most point-of­sale sys­tems and de­liver au­to­mated re­ports to bar own­ers on things like which hours are heavy, which brands are be­ing called for and whether pours are “heavy” or “light,” says Nolan.

The ini­tial Medea vodka LED la­bel band was man­u­ally pro­gram­mable; you pushed but­tons to key in letters. The sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion bot­tle, ex­pected to launch in June, can be pro­grammed from a wire­less de­vice. The app can im­me­di­ately de­tect which bot­tles are in the vicin­ity so users don’t have to search bar racks.

The vodka in­side Medea bot­tles is im­ported from Hol­land and has won awards for taste as well as pack­ag­ing, says Laid­law. Ini­tially re­leased in lim­ited dis­tri­bu­tion in 2010, Medea was re­launched in Au­gust 2014 and has sold about 25,000 cases through­out the world.

A 750-mil­li­liter bot­tle costs about $30, and the Blue­tooth LED band will last for about 50 hours. Once con­sumers are done with the bot­tle, the band can be peeled off for dis­posal at a bat­tery dis­posal/re­cy­cling fa­cil­ity and the glass bot­tle can be re­cy­cled as usual. The next step is work­ing on an LED band la­bel that can com­mu­ni­cate in other lan­guages.

At Di­a­geo, the “smart bot­tle” was show­cased at the Mo­bile World Congress in Barcelona in March, us­ing John­nie Walker Blue La­bel. The bot­tles aren’t yet on the mar­ket, and of­fi­cials aren’t ready to give a re­lease date since the tech­nol­ogy still is be­ing worked on.

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