Milk cartons that change colour when left out of the fridge too long are to go on sale courtesy of Tetra Pak, the world’s biggest packaging company.

Smart cartons are an example of growing innovation in the $400bn packaging industry, which has been forced to reinvent itself alongside the consumer sector it serves.

Makers of packaging are big spenders on research and development: Tetra Pak has patents on 5,500 packets and spends 4 per cent of sales on R&D. That compares with the 2-3 per cent spent by manufacturers of the food and personal care goods in these packages.

Companies are using less material to cut costs, meet sustainability criteria and serve new markets. In the Gulf demand for packaged liquid food has doubled in six years.

“Resources are becoming scarcer and, with costs being higher, it is important to …do more with less,” said Dennis Jönsson, Tetra Pak chief executive.

The privately held group, which on Monday will unveil a 5 per cent rise in turnover to €10.36bn, is working on a chip that can be embedded in packages to provide information – such as how long a carton has been outside the fridge – on a scannable label. Mr Jönsson said cartons using the chips would be on the shelves next year.

Working with Aurora, a Brazilian food co-operative, Tetra Pak has devised a code that, when scanned with a mobile phone, can indicate which cow on which farm produced the milk, and other processing and packaging information.

Mr Jönsson said the Bric countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China were the most concerned about sustainability, especially climate-conscious Brazil.

In a recent Nielsen survey about 90 per cent of Latin American respondents fretted about climate change and said their shopping habits were influenced by the use of raw materials that are harmful to the environment.

These concerns have prompted Tetra Pak, together with Nestlé Brazil, to launch two milk brands in aseptic cartons with caps made from green polyethylene, which uses sustainable resources and reduces carbon dioxide emissions.

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