When it comes to packaging, it’s not just about the material you use, but how you dress it up. Since products on display have only a few seconds to win over a potential buyer, presentation is everything. It represents your company, its people, and its values; it establishes expectations for product quality; and most importantly, it entices new customers and helps retain old ones.
No matter how long you’ve been in business, the most successful brands evolve alongside the ever-changing market. While the following examples are some of our favorite creative food packaging designs, their aesthetic, materials, and shapes are great examples of innovative branding principles that can be adapted to any industry.
To start off, we’ll take a look at a slew of designs from British firm FSG Design. What sticks out with this company’s style is its flawless combination of old and new imagery; it’s minimalist, crisp, and modern, but still has details reflecting packaging designs from days past. From its John Lusty soup and stock label design to the less-edible Corgi model packaging, the color palette, type, and aesthetic of these packages transports the customer to a different time and place.
These soup cans would look right at home in the pantry of world-class chefs…
…and these retro-style model boxes look as if they come straight from the toy catalog of that decade.
FSG’s packaging designs use visuals to tell a story, inviting the customer to imagine themselves as the protagonist (in these cases, a cook that knows what they’re doing and an avid car model hobbyist from the 1950s). But this firm does more than just harken back to bygone eras with nostalgic design elements.
As the design company exists firmly in the present, they’re unafraid to make use of the minimalism trend so prominent in markets of the 21st century. Any artist worth their salt knows that there’s often truth to the phrase “less is more.” In a world of market saturation and access to goods in volumes once inconceivable, getting your product to stand out in a quagmire of color from the dozens of others around it doesn’t need to be difficult undertaking. In FSG’s case, it seems to involve a lot of black and white with a dash of color, especially with their work on Vivia Crump brand chutney.
What’s especially eye-catching about these chutney labels is that they help a potential buyer identify what they’re looking for rather quickly. The black and white of the brand and the label’s background help distinguish the product from other competitors; the colored accents help distinguish each of the product’s flavors, based on the ingredients. For example, the lemon and mustard seed chutney is done up in a bright yellow, whereas the pear and walnut is accented with a muted green. In other words, a customer can zoom in on the brand and flavor in seconds just by color comparison for added convenience.
Ideas to Consider
So what should you take away from FSG’s examples in your own creative food packaging endeavors?
- Immerse your customers with symbols, images, and styles to tell a story. In the case of John Lusty, let your potential buyers feel like renowned chefs; with Corgi, you can transport older customers to a simpler time with nostalgic images or help younger ones see what things looked like in a different time with their own eyes. It’s one thing to fantasize being in a different time or place, but to actually physically interact with something from those dreams is another experience entirely — one that, if formulated correctly, could keep your customers coming back.
- Use colors to convey information and help customers make snap purchasing decisions. Find a simple color combination to help define your brand from its competition, then find an accent color to help pick out individual flavors within your brand.
- Use your product as inspiration for your color palette. Just like with Vivia Crump’s chutney, some foods are already vibrant and delicious-looking on their own. By forming a palette that complements your product’s natural appearance, it help buyers identify what they’re looking for (a customer looking for tomatoes will be attracted to red) without looking weird or out-of-place (having tomatoes in only blue packaging might be confusing).
FSG Design isn’t the only one that takes inspiration from the past. The Stillhouse Spirit Company‘s new stainless steel whiskey canisters are a throwback to the Prohibition era with a modern day flair: the 750mL whiskey containers sport a lacquered finish and hand-applied front labels and quality strips with different colors for each flavor.
Brad Beckerman, the founder and CEO of Stillhouse, told Packaging Digest they wanted to try something “disruptive” with the new containers: “We wanted to create something disruptive that has never been done before. Back in the prohibition days, whiskey was stored in alternative vessels. Inspired by the creativity from that time, we developed this can as a reflection of our independent spirit and brand personality.” In fact, this is the first time the spirits industry has seen a 100 percent stainless steel beverage container. And people love it.
Instead of the traditional glass bottles most spirits and harder alcohols come in, these stainless steel canisters are perfect for outdoor activities and parties. While glass is easily broken, you could sling a stainless steel container across your yard and — provided it doesn’t hit something sharper or harder than the container itself — it will come out unscathed.
Much like FSG, the whiskey container’s design takes the potential buyer on a time-traveling journey. Looking at it, it’s hard not to think about similar canisters of paint thinner or turpentine; given the toxicity of both substances, old containers would make for great places to store illegal brew during Prohibition. Luckily for today’s consumer, all you’ll have to worry about when you pick up a Stillhouse canister is how you’re going to enjoy the whiskey inside.
Ideas to Consider
Aside from nods to history and using only a few colors to distinguish brand and flavors, Stillhouse Spirits has a few other lessons the aspiring package designer can learn from:
- Keep things simple. Just like FSG’s use of black and white with colored accents, Stillhouse uses red and white as its base and colors to match its flavors: peach tea whiskey gets a peach label, coconut whiskey gets light brown… you get the picture. Simplicity keeps your costs down and keeps your customers engaged, letting them locate what they need quickly and without much thought. As you can see by these canisters, simplicity doesn’t have to mean dull either. The boldness of the red lacquer and the splash of color in each label gives the canisters a much-needed pop that’ll stand out on store shelves. Also, the container itself is enough to set the product apart from its competition, drawing customer eyes away from a sea of sameness.
- Envision your customers using your product and design packaging around that. Sure, canisters like these are fun throwbacks to a time when alcohol was illegal in our country. But nowadays as people enjoy their adult beverages outside in the fresh air, having a container that’s suited for warm summer days makes sense. With its hardy aesthetic, a canister of Stillhouse looks right at home amid camping supplies and other gear for outdoor activities. This kind of association between product and its intended use and environment make future purchases then seem natural. Just like you can’t have a campfire without s’mores (already you’re probably thinking of your favorite brands of chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows), what memorable associations can you build with your product’s look?
Where associating your products with certain activities or time periods is a clever way to attract new business, creative food packaging helps build another important customer association: the quality of your product. Delici, a Costco-distributed brand of dessert mousses (and Latin for “delights”), capitalizes on this with single-serve glass cups designed to mimic the product’s restaurant presentation.
It might seem odd selling single-serving desserts with actual glass, but Justin Johnson, a principal at More Branding (the design firm Delici partnered with), credits them with the product’s success: “The glass cups [have] been a huge factor in the success of this product. Real glass gives the product a high-end feel. They are reusable and it gives the package an unsuspected weightiness.”
When using something like glass, you’re no longer selling just the desserts, but the cups that contain them as well. Custom-made for Costco, consumers have said they love reusing the cups as “shot glasses, candlelight cups, [and] homemade dessert / appetizer cups.”
“Although glass is much heavier to ship than plastic,” Johnson continued, “we opted to use glass since this translates well to the premium Delici recipes. You feel like you are purchasing something substantial.”
Sure, the company could’ve used heavier clear plastic in lieu of the glass cups, though it wouldn’t have had the same effect. In fact, it might have actually worked against the brand. If a customer expects one thing and gets another, there’s only disappointment. If glass is what these desserts are served in at restaurants and you’re trying to emulate restaurant quality, glass becomes the expectation. Anything else might seem misleading or cheap. I’m not sure which would be worse.
Ideas to Consider
While associating your product and company’s brand with quality should be obvious, there are two other concepts to think about while redesigning your own creative food packaging with Delici in mind:
- Create packaging that can be reused by the customer in a practical way. I’m not talking about Schrödinger’s butter containers that are both butter and leftovers until opened; that’s more of an unintended side effect of having a durable, reusable tub for packaging. Instead, design packaging with intent for reuse. Delici does this by providing a half-dozen small shot glasses with a handful of neat little applications. Likewise, how can you guarantee your packaging a second (third, or fourth) life?
- Find clever ways to substitute plastic packaging. While reuse in and of itself is a sustainable practice, swapping out plastic for anything else is preferable to contributing to the millions of tons of plastics the world wastes every year. Though glass isn’t necessarily the most biodegradable material, it’s more likely to stay with the customer rather than be thrown out after a one-time use. You don’t have to be on the cutting edge and use solely green technology to be sustainable. You just have to be clever and creative, leveraging what resources you have at your disposal.
If the name wasn’t already enough to give away this brand’s love for creative food packaging, AmuseMints’ dozens of container designs show off artists’ and design firms’ unique styles without losing its own identity. Come to think of it, it’s the wide variety of images and themes that give AmuseMints its own style, not to mention turning something as mundane as a mint tin into a collector’s item.
From occasions like weddings and holidays to specific interests like art, music, science, and even politics, there’s something to attract every kind of customer looking for mints, it’d seem:
While this strategy caters to customer personalities and pastimes, there’s a whole other community that might appreciate AmuseMint’s take on creative food packaging: the artists and designers whose works are showcased on the tins. Take the Anderson Design Group for example. Instead of highlighting a love of Einstein or Van Gogh, ADG displays its own style reminiscent of old U.S. National Park posters.
As you can see, AmuseMints doesn’t need to rely on putting its name on its product. To them, a picture is worth a thousand words — and thousands of dollars in revenue from customers with minty-fresh breath.
Ideas to Consider
It might seem counter-intuitive to not include your brand name directly on your product, but AmuseMints manages to succeed in two major ways:
- Find a community or cause to support outside your brand. AmuseMints might target customers who are looking for… well… mints, but every artist it hires to create a new tin label gets their own platform to showcase their work. Supporting other groups and causes doesn’t have to stop at labels either. Saltwater Brewery’s entire brand packaging revolves around saving the oceans, from its seaworthy imagery to its edible, eco-friendly beer can rings.
- Turn your packaging into a collector’s item. If you can’t find a way to practically reuse your packaging, you can still convince your customers to hold onto it long after the contents inside have been emptied out. By turning packaging into literal art, there’s a greater chance the consumer will keep it — especially if it was given as a gift or associated with a special occasion like a wedding or graduation.
Heinz and Coca-Cola
You don’t have to have stellar artwork to emotionally appeal to potential buyers. Heinz’s line of soups and Coca-Cola’s latest marketing campaign uses words instead to entice their customers. In some cases, it’s as if these companies are calling out to them by name.
Oh, wait… that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Since Coca-Cola can’t hop on the fresh/healthy/organic bandwagon (what with all the sugar and other chemicals found in soda), it tries to appeal through familiarity. Though some might be drawn to their own name, others purchase the bottles with the intent to give them to someone else. You can even order your own customized 8oz glass bottles, which, in turn, make for decent collector’s items too.
Heinz, on the other hand, appeals through a different kind of familiarity: the common cold. With messages like “Get Well Soon, Grandma,” this kind of tactic doubles down on connecting emotionally with potential buyers. Not only does this prompt someone to buy a can or twelve with the intent of helping someone who’s sick, the package is also giving its own well-wishes to your mom, brother, or whoever else needs a warm bowl of soup.
Ideas to Consider
As you can see, imagery isn’t the only way to grab someone’s attention. Heinz, Coca-Cola, and a growing number of other brands have been using text in some clever ways:
- Use packaging to interact and have a conversation with your customer — but don’t force it. The two examples shown employ text in ways that make sense: Coca-Cola wants you to have a good time with friends and quench your thirst while doing so. Heinz wants its soups to be your go-to comfort food whenever you’re feeling under the weather. Just throwing different words onto labels randomly isn’t going to spark much interest. It has to feel genuine and have a reason for being there.
- Let potential buyers custom-make their own labels. As I just said, customized text needs to have a reason for being there. If your limited ideas on the store shelves aren’t enough, letting your customers determine what they want the labels to say on their own is a unique way to build brand loyalty. Not to mention the potential for collecting containers specially made for whoever’s name’s on it.
Burnt City Beer
Sometimes with a changing market, you might have to start your brand over from scratch. That’s exactly what Atlas Brewing Company did, shedding its industrial, masculine branding with something a little more irreverent. Reborn as Burnt City Brewing, the Chicago-based brewery’s new cans have a splash of color with interesting super hero-looking steampunk characters.
FSG Design and Stillhouse Spirits both tell stories with their creative food packaging, but those are based in history. Burnt City has a bit more fun, feeling like something out of a comic book. “We wanted to convey that Chicago was a Burnt City and rose from the ashes,” said Greg Lamacki, Chief Operating Officer for Burnt City Brewing in an interview with Packaging Digest. “We wanted to have a little fun and put characters on the can. We wanted people to look at our brand and have it clearly be a Craft Beer brand.”
Together with design group Mighty Few, they turned this brand…
While the new branding catches the eye better with the contrast between a black background and bright colors, Burnt City Brewing’s first life as Atlas lives on in the flames and art deco framing characters like Retrofit and Dick the Butcher.
Ideas to Consider
Just like their name implies, sometimes burning down your brand image (figuratively, of course) is necessary to breathe new life into your products. You can go one step further and reimagine your home city into a strange and exciting fantasy realm. That said…
- Build a new world to help market your product. I can’t speak to whether or not the make-believe denizens of Burnt City have access to the very beer they appear on. What’s interesting, however, is Burnt City Brewing’s use of world-building in order to build their brand as well. Lamacki said that coming up with the right subject matter was the most challenging part: “We wanted to be fun without being silly. Sometimes what you think is funny might come across as stupid. Getting that right is the hardest thing.” If you choose to give your brand a fictional backstory, make sure it has appeal. Use pop culture in movies, video games, and TV as a guide and come up with your own new world. All that’s left then is figuring out how to introduce your customers to it with the visual equivalent of “once upon a time.”
Certainly, factors like color, symbols, and text play their parts in getting the attention of a customer’s wandering eye. La Colombe Coffee Roasters ups the ante by experimenting with the packaging itself. In this case in particular, we’re referring to a special can that can produce foamy draft-style lattes on demand.
In partnership with Crown Beverage Packaging, La Colombe has come up with a unique proprietary technology that lets you pour foamy cold coffee beverages anywhere. Better yet, you don’t have to wait around for a cup with your name misspelled on it to enjoy one. Of course, if you want to be authentic, you can always spell it wrong on the can yourself.
“The sleek 10oz can combines Crown’s aerosol and beverage technologies using an aerosol valve adapted for beverage cans. The InnoValve can has a proprietary one-way valve/grommet at the bottom of the can that compresses a nitrous oxide gas into the drink upon opening, in this case creating a textured foam that gives the Draft Latte its distinctive café style quality. The can also has a ‘lip guard’ fitment that optimizes the drinking experience.”
With a can as interesting and eye-catching on its own as this, all La Colombe needs to do is stick its name and “Draft Latte” on it and wait. Even if you hate coffee, you have to admit you’d be just a teeny bit curious to see how this innovative modern drinking experience works.
Ideas to Consider
La Colombe and Crown’s InnoValve has two valuable lessons to teach:
- Find innovative inspiration from products and technology in other industries to formulate your own. Artists and creatives already know that all new ideas are just recycled and recombined from old existing ones. Observing draft beers in cans, La Colombe wanted to try the same technique with their coffees. And so, the foamy-latte-from-a-can was born.
- Mimic the real experience as best you can. Just as Delici’s dessert shot glasses emulate a night out at a fancy restaurant, the Draft Latte allows you to be your own barista, whether at home or on the go. Instead of just telling stories, you can immerse your customers in experiences instead. Interactivity — especially with weird new kinds of products like this — at least inspires curiosity. Provided your product’s quality is as high as the packaging it comes in, they’ll keep coming back for both.
As long as we’re on the topic of weird products, if this fruit spread tastes a little strange, it’s not your imagination. Orkla’s Danish Selection line of alcohol-infused preserves are as tasty as they are decorated; just as rum complements black currants and whiskey complements the taste of blueberries, the minimalist labels designed by Kontrapunkt complement the colors of the fruit spread inside.
Design website Branding, Packaging & Opinion weighed in on the adult jams, explaining the brand’s appeal:
“In response to an unusual product and new category, and a target market that would be primarily men, Kontrapunkt developed a label system with a bold typographic clarity, rather than ornament, a strong focus on fruit content, which is far higher than competitors, and a color palette that provided both impact and differentiation, where the market is saturated by white.”
Just like I’ve been saying before, good branding doesn’t require a whole Crayola box’s worth of colors. All that’s needed is something that sticks out from the competition. Naturally, that’s easier when you have an interesting product that stands out on its own but nothing seals the deal (or the contents) better than complementary packaging.
Ideas to Consider
Though us unfortunate souls on the west side of the pond can’t partake in these alcoholic fruit spreads, there’s still a few things we can learn from Orkla’s branding:
- Make your product stand out with packaging that complements it. When it comes to creative food packaging, your best asset should be your most delicious: the food itself. As some people drool leafing through cookbooks and websites of appetizing meals and delectable dishes, if your product is fresh, colorful, and vibrant, why not highlight its best feature (that is, its tastiness).
- Always be aware of your competitors’ branding strategies. You can plan designs and brand images until you’re blue in the face but if you’re ignorant to what your competitors are doing, you might as well be blind. By analyzing what you’re up against, you can compare your opponent’s tactics with your own and react accordingly. Just like how Danish Selection doesn’t conform to the standard white labeling of the preserve market, find ways for your product to non-conform. As the old saying goes, only dead fish swim with the stream.
To cap off this adventure into creative food packaging ideas, we’ve chosen Luterra Food Group’s line of farm-to-table foods to leave you with a few sustainable ideas in mind. Instead of fictional comic characters or lattes-on-demand from cans with aerosol valves, Luterra’s branding tells the story of the company and its values.
Los Angeles-based design company Drawing From Memory uses a mix of pastel colors, earthy tones, and cardboard labels and packaging to help display Luterra’s interests in sustainability and natural products:
“DFM created a look that is inspired by the farm-to-table movement, illustrating the core values of the brand through the use of natural papers and antique tones photography. The logo is reminiscent of vintage signage, translating ideas of a time when food was always free of preservatives and additives and was often purchased from the farmer directly. Food samples for interested buyers will arrive in a branded grain sack, further referencing a nostalgic era of food provisioning.”
Aside from the food itself, the packaging’s materials and color palette try to evoke the same feelings and aesthetic of the farm-to-table movement. Instead of something sleek and modern, this minimalist style tries to capture the essence of small farms with organic produce, the smell of freshly baked cookies and gluten-free bread drifting in the wind. The sky is blue, the fields are green and golden. Short of actually going out into the country and starting your own farm, Luterra’s packaging promises the same hearty, natural food without getting your hands dirty.
Ideas to Consider
Regardless if you’re in the farm-to-table business, Luterra’s packaging leaves us with this gem that can be applied to any other business. Arguably, it might be one of the most important facets of brand design in general:
- Use your packaging and brand to convey your company’s values. Colors, characters, and creative cans aside (I really can’t get over the idea of Draft Lattes), your packaging is your company’s seal of excellence, both literally and figuratively. You can have the best product in the world but if the packaging is unattractive, who knows how many customers would pass it by on the shelves. You can have the most attractive packaging and best product, but some buyers would still be hesitant not knowing what the company behind it is all about. By creating a brand that’s representative of your company’s values and goals, you’re not only selling a product, you’re exporting culture. Think of how Starbucks coffee cups, Mac laptops, and the status they convey; as silly as it might seem, some people do associate brand loyalty with status. The higher the brand’s quality, the more important its customers feel in comparison to inferior brand loyalists. Make something worthy of being shared on Instagram and your customers market your brand for you. But what that brand stands for is ultimately up to you to decide.
Hopefully by now, you’ve got a few ideas on how to answer that question. With that in mind, what do you want your brand to say about you and your company?[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]