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Package Design That Works

Date: 11/01/11 | Source: Specialty Food Magazine | Author: Deborah Moss
Categories: Industry Operations; Suppliers
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Package Design That Works

Changing the look of your product can be a risky - and expensive - proposition. To help navigate your next redesign, we interviewed several specialty food manufacturers who've been through recent updates or overhauls, to see what we could learn from their experiences.

By Deborah Moss

Whether you’re updating a 100-year-old brand or trying to capture a broader audience at big-chain retailers, redesigning your packaging demands many considerations. Learn what these companies did when it was time for a change.

Oogie's Popcorn

Wanting a fresh look—and to make relevant information more visible—Oogie’s redesigned its popcorn bag with a trusted designer it had worked with before. It took less than 100 days to come up with the new look.

“We liked our original packaging but after several years it seemed a little dated,” says Eric Thier, president of Denver-based Oogie’s Snacks. “And there were other bits of information that we wanted to get to the consumer faster. For example, the product has always been gluten-free but that was on the back. Now it’s on the front of the bag.”

Along with the new messaging, the bag got a softer, folksier font and a design highlighting a single large kernel of popcorn. Each flavor now has its own colored bag, and the flavor names have been moved up, after the company noticed that they had been hidden from sight on most retail shelves.

Oogie’s went with its long-time designer, Elliott Leader. “We’ve loved the things they came back with in the past,” says Thier. “The company knew our brand and understood what we were looking for. It was remarkably painless and came together quickly.”

In fact, the repackaging took less than 100 days from the decision to change to the final designs. Thier believes that was largely because Oogie’s remained open and receptive to its designer’s ideas. “The fact that we went with one big kernel instead of a whole bowl of popcorn—we listened to them on that,” he notes.

Since the relaunch, Thier reports an uptick in sales. “We’ve also increased distribution and noticed it’s been easier to get that extra account,” he says. “While we were already redesigning, we came out with bilingual packaging for markets that require that.”

Though the new bag has been a success, Oogie’s continues to produce and sell the old packaging for international orders and various one-off opportunities.

Revolution Tea

The company wanted packaging that immediately explained the brand, allowing it to broaden its market base beyond specialty to larger retailers.

“Our existing packaging got us where we are, but we thought it would hold us back from getting to the next level,” says Jeff Irish, Revolution Tea’s vice president and creative director.

When the Phoenix, Ariz., business rethought its packaging last spring, it realized it needed it to tell a better story and anticipate consumer questions. “We needed to speak to [a shopper] who’s making a choice quickly,” Irish explains. The packaging needed to be literal, showing the full-leaf tea now available in a high-quality sachet rather than a bag.

“We don’t have the capital to do huge consumer outreach. In many cases you’re asking packaging to be the introduction, the ad and the close—to explain in seconds who and what you are as a brand,” Irish adds.

The new look features Revolution’s familiar white box but with new elements: an infuser bag with the new pyramid shape, a cup of brewed tea and a callout with the leaves encircled by a reminder that the product is antioxidant-rich.

The retail box dimensions and weight remained the same along with the UPC codes and item numbers and the new box costs the same to produce as the old one. The old look was phased out over eight months.

As a former art director with branding experience, Irish oversaw the redesign himself. “It works well if you have a good designer in house,” he says. “If not, outsource to a design studio that specializes in branding.”

Irish adds that the designer should be willing to focus on your company’s interests. “Great design for great design’s sake doesn’t always translate to sales on the shelf,” he says. “It’s possible to have it both ways, but sometimes great designs are missing key communications that will translate to sales.”

Irish says business has been trending up by 20 percent since the redesign. He notes that Revolution is now in 650 Walmart stores thanks to the new packaging and has re-signed some retailers that it had lost.

Ford’s Earth Family Foods

“We did everything in-house because we are so small,” says Patrick Ford, vice president of Ford’s Gourmet Foods. Controlling the process allowed the company the flexibility of continuing to refine the design. “The last day we go to press we’re still making changes,” he says.

With all the tweaking, the new design for Earth Family Foods took six years to create, but Ford is sure they got it right. The new look features a “more down-home font with a sprout instead of [the former] tree,” he says, ideal for the all-natural products. The new design—created by Patrick, his mom, Sandi, and in-house designer Tim Mitchell—was put to a vote before being finalized. “Everyone got a vote, in the office and in the warehouses,” Ford notes.

The company had started a file on what it would like on a new label as soon as it had finished the old one six years earlier.For outside help Ford advises seeking someone with a proven track record who fits your budget. “Remember that it’s not just the upfront cost,” he cautions, “but everything that goes into creating, printing and distributing the product with the new label.”

To avoid expensive surprises, “make sure the design agency keeps a running total to let you know how many hours in you are and where they are with the design,” Ford continues. Companies should also consider labeling issues for selling in foreign markets. “In some cases, we have to sticker over the nutritional panels,” he says, “so we made all the nutritional labels the same size whether on the gallons or small cans so we can re-use the same label to cover them up.”

Ford’s was able to use contracts with its other lines to get better pricing, making the new package design less costly than its predecessor. “The impact on sales has been significant,” Ford notes. “At an outdoor festival this past summer, we sold more dips and seasonings in one weekend than we did the whole
previous year.”

The company launched the new packaging as soon as it was ready but is still phasing out the old design. “We are using up the existing inventory so as not to waste any of the labels or packaging,” he says.

Abdallah Candies

This fourth-generation, family-owned confectioner had been using the same award-winning box for eight years until last spring, when it rolled out a new design for its everyday candies.

When seeking a packaging update for its line of chocolates and confections, Abdallah Candies wanted a cleaner look for display and also needed to maximize shelf space.

“Before, we had a Ballotin box with a hang tag and a loop with embossing on it,” says Steve Hegedus, president of Abdallah. “We changed to a velvet top with a print varnish finish. The new box shape makes it easier for retailers to stand it on end. Shelf space is a premium so a lot of people will stack candy boxes next to each other.”

This Minneapolis-based company entrusted the change to the design/branding firm that it had worked with for almost a decade. “They work mostly with bigger food companies so we are unique to them,” says Hegedus, who declined to name the design firm. “They like the freshness we bring as a specialty food brand and we like the experience they offer from working with bigger brands.”

Abdallah tried smaller design agencies in the past but found that they didn’t think about “stopping traffic and the full scope of things we wouldn’t have resources to do as a small company,” he adds.

Choosing a designer is like buying a house, Hegedus notes: “You just know when it’s right. You feel it in your gut.” But he says the designers can’t be expected to do all the work. “You need to get out and see how retailers are displaying your product. Even the best designers in the world can’t help if you don’t understand how your product is being sold.”

The new box design took about a year to create and costs roughly the same as the old one, which was phased out over a three-month period. But Hegedus notes that the change has helped grow Abdallah’s business. “It’s hard to put a dollar amount on it, but it’s easier to sell to our retailers—it’s the right size, shape, has consistent branding and credibility,” he explains.

“The displays block off nicely now,” Hegedus continues. “People who have never heard of our brand will pick up the box and look at it. We’ve made it easier for people to buy.” — Deborah Moss

Nielsen-Massey: Updating An Age-Old Company Brand

When this century-old company, based in Waukegan, Ill., decided to update its iconic packaging, it imagined big changes. But as it went through the design process, the business learned that small adjustments can still have a big impact.

The Problem: Customers recognized the apothecary-inspired brown bottles of vanilla, but they didn’t know the company’s name. The family-owned business decided to tweak the label to improve the brand’s visibility.

The Considerations: At first the Nielsens considered significant changes to the packaging, but the third-generation family members (CEO Craig Nielsen, COO Matt Nielsen and Chief Culinary Officer Beth Nielsen) were cautious about making alterations that might lead consumers to think they were looking at a new product. “We were initially looking at more radical changes, such as using illustrations and altering the shape of the label,” says Craig Nielsen.

Ultimately, the family decided it was important to keep the crest and the overall shape of the label for brand continuity. Also critical was simplicity. “There are so many things that have to be on the label,” he explains. “For example, translations are required for foreign companies. It’s tough to include all the information without compromising the label’s integrity.”

The Final Product: The Nielsens decided against a major overhaul. As you can see in the two labels below, they placed their name in an arch to give it prominence in both size and placement. Other subtle changes bear personal significance. “The orchid was added to represent vanilla, as was a tree to represent our family,” Nielsen adds.

It took over a year to get the new bottles on the shelf. The company is still phasing out the old labels and logo, a process expected to take about four months total.

At press time, the label has been out only two months but Nielsen says the response has been good. “It will be beneficial in the future to have people associate our well-known vanilla with our name.”

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Package Design That Works

Changing the look of your product can be a risky - and expensive - proposition. To help navigate your next redesign, we interviewed several specialty food manufacturers who've been through recent updates or overhauls, to see what we could learn from their experiences.

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