Snack on This: Five Design Trends That Improve Packaging Performance

By Kim Gaskins, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Design at Designalytics

Let’s face it: looks matter—a lot. In recent years, new market and consumer dynamics have turned the consumer-packaged-goods (CPG) industry on its head, further elevating the importance of strong package design. These include media fragmentation and the role of social media, an explosion of bold, new challenger brands enabled by eCommerce, and the rise of design-conscious Millennial shoppers—to name a few.

Despite the fact that it’s more important than ever to win over consumers at the shelf, there are still many ineffective, if aesthetically pleasing, designs in the marketplace. So which recent trends, when executed well, have actually led to strong design performance for many food and beverage brands?

  1. Maximalism

Over the past several years, minimalism has enjoyed rising popularity, dazzling consumers with clean typography, concise copy, and white space for miles. However, dynamic designs are making a comeback. These days, more packages are packed with long claim lists, layered elements, and large illustrations. While minimalism often lends a refined, premium air, maximalism’s strength can lie in grabbing consumers’ attention and communicating big personalities more emphatically. For example, Ben & Jerry’s “louder” design outperforms Talenti’s notoriously stark appearance on measures of standout, findability, and communication, according to data from Designalytics. Notably, Ben & Jerry’s ranks number one in the ice cream pints category for communication of “authentic”—an increasingly important attribute to younger consumers.

Ben and Jerry’s grabs more consumers’ attention and leads other category contenders on communication of several key attributes, including “authentic.”

Despite the growing popularity of less minimalistic designs, it’s important to remember that competitive context matters—in a category that predominantly adopts maximalist designs, it may be the minimalist contender that stands apart.

  1. Quality-over-quantity product photography

Food and beverage manufacturers know that, regardless of their specific product category, taste appeal is invariably one of the most important attributes to communicate. With this in mind, some brands have begun to employ larger, more detailed food photography on their packaging—often featuring a delectable close-up of one chip or one stunning square of chocolate in favor of an entire bowl or bar.

For example, Boulder Canyon recently redesigned its packaging, replacing its pile of potato chips with three high-definition specimens. The new design’s food imagery proved to be more engaging and well-liked, with consumers citing strong appetite appeal. Incidentally, Boulder Canyon’s redesign also succeeded in halting a significant sales decline and returning the brand to growth.

Boulder Canyon’s recent design adopted a quality-over-quantity approach to food photography, resulting in more positive reactions to this design element and strong associations with good taste.

  1. Large and legible branding

Every designer has encountered those clients who will inevitably ask, “Can you make the logo bigger?” While this strategy isn’t always advisable, it’s hard to argue with certain benefits of outsize branding, such as improved findability and mental availability. In the case of think! (previously thinkThin) protein bars, shortening the brand name meant that the logo could be enlarged on the package. This reduced the average time it takes for consumers to locate the brand within a competitive set by nearly six seconds—from 8.5 to 2.7 seconds. This is significant, given that most consumers are willing to spend a relatively short span of time scanning store shelves, and products that can’t be found can’t be bought.

think!’s recent design featured a much bigger, bolder logo, significantly reducing the time it takes for consumers to locate the brand within a competitive set.

Krave, a newer challenger brand in the kids cereal category, outperforms category leaders such as Rice Krispies, Frosted Flakes, and Fruit Loops on measures of standout and findability, thanks in part to its uniquely oversized logo.

Krave, a lesser-known kids cereal brand featuring a large logo, outperforms top-selling competitors on measures of standout and findability.

  1. Unique package formats

For brands willing to consider creative package formats, shape can be a powerful differentiator. Moreover, it can reinforce a particular design aesthetic, provide functional benefits, and signal specific usage occasions. For example, single-serve cups are a relatively new package format in the macaroni and cheese category—and brands who adopt this format, including Velveeta and Kraft, are top-performers on measures of standout, and more likely to evoke associations of “convenient” and “easy” from consumers.

Novel package formats and shapes are generally more likely to grab consumers’ attention and communicate specific attributes. In the case of macaroni and cheese, single-serve cups are more likely to conjure associations related to “convenient” and “easy.”

  1. Names that allude to a specific benefit

It’s tempting to focus only on visual elements when developing designs, but words play an important role too. On-point names that explicitly evoke a functional or sensory benefit serve as mental short-cuts for consumers, and can have a profound impact on how well a package communicates. For example, consumers are much more likely to associate the word “refreshing” with Corona Refresca than with the typical hard-seltzer brand. In the frozen entrees category, Healthy Choice Power Bowls outperform nearly all category competitors when it comes to communicating “healthy,” “balanced meal,” and “filling.”

Consumers are more likely to associate the aptly-named Corona Refresca with “refreshing,” and Healthy Choice Power Bowls with “healthy,” “balanced meal,” and “filling.”

These trends are certainly worthy of consideration by all brands, but it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to effective design. Design success depends heavily on the specific category in question and the competitive context, as well as a particular brand’s positioning and design objectives. Perhaps the most important trend, increasingly adopted by design-led companies, is making evidence-based design decisions—which rely on having a firm, data-driven understanding of one’s current design performance, established brand equities, strengths, and areas of opportunity. With this foundation, strong creative talent can work wonders, and ultimately deliver significant design-driven brand growth.

About the Author

Kim Gaskins is the senior vice president of marketing and design for Designalytics, a company that provides design analytics to consumer brands. She launched the Designalytics Effectiveness Awards and the Nielsen Design Impact Awards in partnership with Dieline—programs designed to spotlight the incredible impact that effective design can have on brand growth.