US military sniffs out active packaging technologies
14 May 2004

A sweet smelling oatmeal bowl and fruit-scented bottle caps could entice Natick, which develops non artillery equipment for the US army, to embark on a project for aromatic packaging earlier than intended.

The US services including the Army, Navy, Airforce and Special Operations have given the go-ahead to fund the proposed Olfaction Ration Packaging project in 2008. But Natick Department of Defence food science expert Lauren Milch believes the services will miss out on being at the forefront of the technology if the organisation waits four years before doing anything.

Meanwhile, Milch and her team at Natick have begun two studies in May 2004 to try and prove that enhanced aroma packaging supports increased consumption by military officials of their rations.

Both studies will run until July 2004. Milch will then go back to the service representatives and, providing the results are positive, use the data to justify moving the start date of the project forward. Natick is working with ScentSational, the US-based developer of flavour and aroma-releasing packaging, on both studies.

The first involves military and general consumers.

Two bowls will be filled with oatmeal. One bowl will be a normal plastic bowl and the second will contain an aroma additive diffusing a maple brown sugar aroma.

The study will record whether an aroma-enhanced bowl makes the oatmeal more appetising and encourages consumption. ScentSational provides a variety of aromas that are integrated into bowls, including tomato and basil.

The second study is being conducted with military consumers to monitor the effect a variety of aroma scented bottle caps have on enticing them to drink more water by disguising the chlorinated odour that is a result of the liquid being treated.

Natick works on the principle that more than 90% of taste comes from smell. Using this theory plans to integrate smells into military packaging to make the rations, which are often over three years old and can lose flavour over time, more appealing to soldiers.

Milch explains that incorporating a new technology into a ration is a long and timely process and involves a number of tests and development in order to meet the military's unusual regulations.

A few examples of Natick's stringent criteria include camouflaging the pack to meet military colours and incorporating the technology into the existing package. A series of tests are also conducted on the pack to see if the new technology effects the product’s shelf life, if it can be air-dropped and if it is insect and rodent proof.

If the pack passes the stringent criteria it is then field-tested with soldiers for two years before a final proposal is put forward to the US services' officials.

Copyright Pira International 2003