Design experts also explain why a unique brand identity is so crucial and why thinking small is thinking big.
Savvy CPG marketers know that packaging is one of the most powerful mediums for conveying a brand’s message. In the natural products industry, it’s sometimes niche brands who are the biggest packaging disruptors on the shelf. Packaging is an invaluable way for a small brand just starting out to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace-and to attract the core consumers who identify most with the brand. In short, packaging is an effective way for smaller brands that may not be able to rely on name recognition to make that critical initial connection with a consumer.
Without question, unique, disruptive branding is one of the biggest assets a company, big or small, can have. Representatives from branding firms interviewed for this story tell Nutritional Outlook that no matter the size of the company, the type of packaging likely to find success with both a niche audience as well as a mainstream audience is packaging that clearly conveys a brand’s values and voice and that reflects the kind of marketing trending in natural product packaging these days, driven by a generation of Millennials who appreciate boldness, cheekiness, and sustainability.
Of course, first figuring out what that unique brand message should be can be a challenge. Today’s consumers, including those in the mass market, want to feel a personal connection with a brand. Determining how best to appeal to the individual on a personal level, while also appealing to the masses, is a tricky line to walk.
Sophie Maxwell, futures director, London and New York, Pearlfisher (London), says it’s important to remember that consumers today want “personalization and personal engagement, and all brands need to think about how they target the ‘mass individual’ from the start.”
But, she says, “while startup and challenger brands undoubtedly have a clear purpose to bring about change,” established brands, too, can benefit from an evolved mentality when it comes to packaging that appeals on an individual level. “And building desire between a brand and its consumer-whether niche or mainstream-is vital to creating a thriving and long-term relationship,” she says.
Richard LeBlanc, owner/principal, B12 Group (Dallas), tells Nutritional Outlook that an essential part of forging that first connection between a consumer and a brand involves designing packaging “from the inside out, starting from the brand’s values, personality, and voice, then building outward to the identity and messaging.” If those boxes are checked, he says, “the packaging will reflect what’s most important-the brand attributes with which the right consumers will find affinity.”
The natural products industry, in which innovation is the name of the game, is especially primed to reap the benefits of bold design choices. Innovation is one of the biggest drivers of this industry, with consumers constantly on the search for what’s the next big ingredient, the next big product, and the next big brand. Product designs that tell a “future-focused story” are more likely to win with consumers, Maxwell says. “It’s definitely about celebrating difference and inspiring desire by taking pride in an outsider status,” says Maxwell.
The brand experts we spoke to highlighted some of the biggest disruptive design trends happening in the natural products market today. Ahead, we take a look at a few of those.
Designed with a Modern Consumer in Mind
As in other industries which have seen design disruption in recent years led by forward-thinking consumers, smaller brands in the natural products industry have likewise carved out niches and garnered cult followings. In an ever-expanding dietary supplements industry where innovation is integral to growth, Maxwell says, “boundaries are increasingly blurring and contiguous categories are being created, meaning consumers are seeking both simplicity and clarity-and packaging is responding with a focus on singularity and specificity.”
She says that this trend toward clarity and simplicity has resulted in more products launched with aesthetics that are pared back but still extremely striking. The key design elements that resonate with consumers who have too many choices are “more diverse, single-minded, and more confident (but no less creative) designs that better reflect and communicate the brand purpose and belief,” she adds.
But pared-back should not be taken to mean muted, Maxwell notes. “Color, bold naming, and purposeful graphic expression-through symbolism or infographics-are all becoming more prominent and paramount.” She points to Kalumi Health’s functional Beauty Food collagen snack bars which embrace a minimal yet “quite Vogue” identity, bridging the gap between the food and beauty sectors.
In the functional drinks sector, she says, kombucha company Jarr has “married a traditional and apothecary-style bottle with a bold and contemporary graphic identity to make this a stand-out and desirable choice.”
Consumers are also looking for more transparency in both the product itself and in the packaging. One way to achieve transparency is through translucent packaging that allows consumers to see exactly what the product inside the package looks like. Maxwell points to nootropics manufacturer HVMN’s Nootrobox of four cognitive-health supplements, which are “summed up by four distinct mission/benefit–driven names and supported by contemporary graphics and translucent packaging to clearly and creatively communicate the product offer.”
Yadim Medore, founder and CEO of Pure Branding (Northampton, MA), says that designing with an eye toward transparency can also help a brand realize greater financial reward. Medore cites Pure Branding’s work with Gaia Herbs’ Meet Your Herbs traceability campaign, which pioneered transparency-and QR codes-on supplement packaging. For Gaia, it was a success: “It tripled sales for them in a short period of time,” says Medore.
Maxwell adds that now, more than ever before, “consumers are also more mindful in their brand choices and know-and want to know-more of the detail of the brand and the who, what, and where from of its story.” For instance, she says, London-based eco-startup brand Snact “is not just a range of fruit jerky and bars made from surplus fruit, but is now available in 100% home compostable packaging. Added to this, the brand is on a mission to build a global movement of ‘snactivists’ to create a better food system and healthier food culture and community, perfectly in tune with today’s agenda and environmental obligations.”
Sustainability Is Key
In fact, the notion that today’s consumers are more conscious of sustainability, traceability, and issues of supply-chain transparency than ever before is a frequent topic of conversation in the natural products industry. It should come as no surprise, then, that those same consumers find packaging that hits on these same messages of “clean label,” sustainable, or “all natural” especially enticing.
Monika Cascone, creative director, SmashBrand (Eden, UT), tells Nutritional Outlook that consumers are more aware than ever before about issues of sustainability, and are moving away from plastic packaging-which has come to be associated with images of bottles littering the oceans-whenever possible. She says that some of SmashBrand’s recent projects have included packaging “that specifically had to be recyclable, to not only fit with the overall brand story but to target the younger and more responsible consumer.”
But while consumers are driving the trend toward more sustainable packaging, Maxwell says that the onus to deliver innovative designs in a way that aligns with sustainable packaging trends is on designers: “Sustainability is now a growing end-to-end issue for the manufacturing and supply process. We are seeing the removal of secondary packaging and scaling of innovation to make products both easier to shelve and a more conscious and convenient choice for consumers in terms of portability and disposal.”
The important thing to note here, says Maxwell, is that “sustainable design expression” no longer has a single accepted look. In other words, packaging doesn’t need to look “granola” to be sustainable. “Whereas it previously perpetuated a ‘worthy’ expression, sustainable design is now more original, sleek, and fit for purpose, as function now drives its form,” Maxwell says.
She adds that finding sustainable packaging solutions means that brands must think outside the box-or outside the plastic bottle. “We need to look at new bio materials, work towards less standardization in materials, and focus on smart, sustainable design thinking. BPA-free, reusable water bottles are the popular choice, but we still need to push the boundaries and look for new packaging innovations.” Even massive brands like Pepsi, with its new and entirely reusable Drinkfinity system, for example, are blowing with these winds of change.
Finally, packages that encourage personalization and engagement are also on the rise. Take subscription brands, Maxwell says.
“Not only do these subscription brands conveniently deliver tailored health and nutritional offers to our doors and desks, but the opening of the packaging dials up unique brand experiences that play to our desire for surprise, discovery, creativity, seduction, and interaction.” Here, she points to the VITL personalized nutrition letterbox brand, which delivers personalized daily nutritional supplements and advice “with the convenience of practical, portable, and space-saving daily vitamin strips packaged up in a letterbox-sized box.”
Investing in the Future
It’s a truth universal: small or startup brands have less money to spend on unique or disruptive packaging; unfortunately, at the same time, clever packaging design is one of the most crucial ways for these brands to stand out. But for brands who might be worried about the bottom line, Cascone emphasizes that standing out doesn’t necessarily always have to require big budgets. Sometimes, even simple changes can make a difference.
“Think about Boxed Water,” she says. “When the [water-in-a-box brand] first came out a few years ago, everyone was talking about it! All they did was package water in a paper carton, and it immediately stood out next to every other brand whose water was in a clear plastic bottle.”
And on the investment front, B12’s LeBlanc adds that while some investors may fear packaging that strays too far from the conventional, he believes that “the more mainstream and familiar a brand seems, the more likely it is to get lost in the crowd.”
Ultimately, says Pearlfisher’s Maxwell, all brands-whether established or new-should prioritize product packaging that conveys a clear message while also “challenging existing paradigms to create new thoughts and expressions for brands-and redefine categories-as they move into the future.”