On 1 July, Kellogg's announced the launch of a ground-breaking solution to accessible packaging across its entire range of cereals in Europe beginning in January 2022. With the help of the RNIB, they have taken a 'way finding' navigational technology solution, NaviLens and reshaped it for the retail sector. We spoke to Marc Powell, Strategic Accessibility Leader at the RNIB about NaviLens, the revolutionary retail app for blind and partially sighted people that offers both greater independence for the user, as they navigate the store, and more accessible information about the products they are purchasing.
What prompted the packaging revolution?
At the beginning of 2020, the RNIB began working with Kellogg’s on a project to find a solution for making packaging more accessible. Packaging is currently exempt from the Equalities Act, mainly due to the fact that there has previously been no easy solution for packaging manufacturers to implement. There is, however, important information included on a box for a reason. It's there because it's important, and if it's important, then surely it should be easily accessible to all? This is something that both the RNIB and Kellogg's recognises. Thanks to this shared desire to bring about change, what started out as a small trial and an awareness raising exercise, has since grown into a world-leading project.
The relationship began when Kellogg’s wanted to create a special edition Coco Pops box to mark World Sight Day in 2020. Knowing that nine in 10 blind and partially sighted people find it difficult or impossible to read packaging information, their aim was to increase the understanding of sight loss and use the accessible edition as a trial to show what could be achieved in this space.
The original trial, which took place in over 50 Co-op stores across the UK, featured new Coco Pops boxes which not only had braille, larger print and simplified artwork, but also featured a UK-first technology that allows smartphones to detect and playback labelling and allergen information to the user.
How does it work?
The new technology, NaviLens, is similar to a QR code. But unlike a QR code it's colourful, on the Kellogg's boxes it's about the size of a postage stamp and it can be detected in a fraction of the time and from up to three metres away. Once you activate the NaviLens app, your smartphone can either tell you what products are closest to you, if it's set to browsing mode. Or alternatively, if you are looking for a specific product, say Special K for example, it will only look for that specific item and alert you when you are within three meters of it. The NaviLens codes can also be scaled up to the size of an A4 piece of paper which enables them to be detected by the camera function in your smartphone from about 25 meters away. As the technology was originally created to provide navigational assistance, this means that it can help the shopper to find a product's location within the store, as well as relaying the list of ingredients and nutritional information provided on the side of the box. The technology can also tell you what to do with the product once you take it home; if it's a food item, NaviLens will relay the cooking instructions; if it's a cleaning product, the directions for use and safety instructions. Essentially, the NaviLens technology uses your smartphone camera and relays the information, either audibly or in text format, that someone without a visual impairment would be able to read.
In addition, if you find yourself shopping abroad for your morning bowl of cereal, the NaviLens app will also translate the packaging information into the language of the smartphone holder.
Where else can you expect to find this technology in the future?
The NaviLens technology is already in place on some international transport networks such as the Barcelona Metro system and in the US across both the New York and LA Metro systems. Marc couldn't reveal too much, but he has hinted that we will be seeing this technology introduced within the travel & transport sector here in the UK in the near future. Marc is hopeful that this technology will also be adopted by many other brands across the retail sector. A number of organisations are already in contact with the RNIB as they look to implement a packaging solution that will provide equal access for all.
How is this technology changing the lives of visually impaired people?
The NaviLens technology enabled Marc to independently navigate his way around Barcelona, as it is not only available across the Metro and bus network, but also available within one of Barcelona's museums. For the first time in his life, Marc was able to navigate completely independently, at his leisure and decide what he wanted to look at. This left a co-worker of Marc's with tears in his eyes, he had never witnessed someone with a visual impairment experience such independence. In that moment, it dawned on him just how this technology will have a profound impact on the lives of those with visual impairments and sight loss.