Process and control today | Protect the integrity of the Premium Food & Beverage brand

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Counterfeiting in the luxury food and beverage industry has long been a multi-million pound industry. The pandemic has added to these pressures, with strong demand for high-end products coupled with disrupted supply chains and fewer physical audits amplifying the risks of opportunists and illicit smugglers profiting from disruption.

Sumitomo (SHI) Demag UK Packaging Specialist Ashlee Gough examines how closure and thin wall molders are applying the latest precision injection molding and in-mold labeling (IML) techniques to step up their fight against creative food and beverage counterfeiters to mitigate risk and preserve brand integrity.

In a recent survey of senior food and beverage industry executives, Lloyd’s Register, only a third admitted verifying suppliers against a recognized GFSI standard. One in five said no checks were made as part of procurement decisions[i]. Yet despite these widespread risks – 97 percent said they had been affected by food fraud in the past 12 months – few in the industry consider product authentication their highest priority.

In this context, the UK food and drink market remains one of the most affected by counterfeiting. Purposely packaged to deceive consumers, the National Food Crime Unit of the Food Standard Agency estimates that the combination of adulteration, substitution, theft, misrepresentation, illegal handling, waste diversion and document fraud costs $ 11. 97 billion pounds a year.[ii].

Seizures of counterfeit products are a good indication of the extent of the problem. In 2020, Operation OPSON IX seized 12,000 tonnes of illegal and potentially harmful products, including 1.2 million liters of alcohol.

In a converted effort to crack down on groups that profit from illicit versions of branded spirits and premium foods, manufacturers are making labels harder to copy and bottles harder to fill. “One way to fight counterfeiting and falsification of products is to design innovative packaging that cannot be easily copied,” says Ashlee.

“Until recently, that could involve putting a shrink or aluminum sleeve around a luxury drink brand, for example. Stampers in particular are redoubling their efforts and investing in dedicated cells to produce high quality, anti-refill caps made of a number of complex parts. Due to the complexity of these closures, molding precision is paramount.

A significant investment in high-quality tooling, automation, machinery and expertise can be another major deterrent, says Ashlee. “In reality, few counterfeit operators would make the level of investment required to replicate this level of technical precision.”

Other overt packaging methods to deter counterfeits include concealing unique identifiers, such as a QR code, holograms, or labels in the IML. While these can help with tracking and tracing, Ashlee says they really only help validate the origin of a container and tend to be more widely deployed by luxury food brands, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and wellness.

“To outsmart quick-witted counterfeiters, manufacturers may need to deploy multiple tactics simultaneously to prevent brand value from being diluted, including tamper-evident tapes, secure closures, snaps, labels and tags. barcode and batch codes, and even chemical markers.

For packaging moulders producing thin-walled containers, caps and closures by the millions, profitability remains vital. Sumitomo (SHI) Demag’s El-Exis SP range typically achieves between three and five percent more productivity when compared to other packaging machines on the market. Now in its fourth generation and still in line with changing market trends, the EL-Exis SP series is designed to withstand the stresses and higher injection pressures that are so essential to achieve the repeatability of closure products and thin-walled packaging, while maintaining comparable mechanical properties. Centralized monitoring of real-time machine performance and power consumption is also essential to reduce machine downtime.

[i] https://www.lr.org/en-gb/resources/food-fraud-beverage-sector/

[ii] https://www.food.gov.uk/safety-hygiene/food-crime

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