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Taking Your Packaged Goods East: How to Achieve Success in the Chinese Market

With the ever-shifting marketplace of consumer packaged goods, more and more brands are looking to take their products to a different market on the east side. And no, we don’t just mean on the east side of town but the Eastern hemisphere — namely China. There is a booming market for strategically designed packaged goods across a variety of industries, mainly food and beverage, household goods, and of course beauty products.

In order to be successful overseas, it is important to know the key drivers of purchase intent for Chinese consumers — what they are looking for in their packaging, and inversely, what would make them walk away from your product on shelf.

How and Why the Chinese Shop

The first step in understanding how to design or market your product and brand to succeed in China is to understand their consumption habits. One of the key purchase drivers for the Chinese consumer is social recognition. They shop to be seen more than they shop for necessity. Given this fact, a brand’s ability to be connected and shared on WeChat (which is the Chinese’s version of Facebook but with a lot more features) is paramount to success on and off shelf. Because they are shopping for what will look ‘coolest’ to their friends, the Chinese have become extremely emotional shoppers, like Americans but even more so. Therefore any sort of marketing campaign that leans heavily on occasional uses (like Dove’s campaign targeting Chinese consumers that played on the concept of chocolate indulgence) has the potential to be very successful in this arena.

Another factor to keep in mind is that foreign brands are regarded as premium goods in China. The unique look of American package designs automatically signals quality without having to modify many more elements than language. Take this Nabisco packaging for example. Its simplicity and bright, prominent colors are foreign to those familiar with traditionally cluttered snack packaging that is more common from Chinese-owned brands (on the right). Therefore, without too much change to their existing design language, American brands already have a leg up on the local competition.

Because of this, American brands should absolutely market to a younger generation. According to a McKinsey & Company article, those born before 1985 in China mainly used the Internet for work. Those born after 1985, referred to as the Generation-2 (G2) consumer, are the first real generation to use the Internet for every aspect of their lives, and do so for everything they purchase.

Cultural Considerations in Symbols and Color

Since we just learned that when taking an existing brand overseas, the main element you need to focus on is the language, it is important to mention that this process involves more than just using a translator to change it from English to Mandarin. Symbols, words, and numbers have different connotations in Western vs. Eastern culture. For instance, in the Chinese language, the verbal English of the numerical “eight” sounds very similar to the word meaning “make a fortune.” As a result, Chinese people often try to make connections with the number eight whereas, in western cultures, the number seven is viewed as a symbol for good luck.

Color is another interesting factor to keep in mind since color theory and meaning are very different between American and Chinese cultures. For instance, the color red in Western culture produces a viscerally negative emotional reaction. However in Asian cultures, red symbolizes luck, joy, and happiness. The color white also presents an interesting split in meaning. In the US white is often a color used to symbolize newness, cleanliness, and happiness whereas, in China, white is the color most often worn at funerals and is a symbol of death and mourning.

Overall Packaging Considerations

A dichotomy exists within the Chinese consumer where they want their packages to be bespoke and unique in order for them to stand out in the crowd, but packaging must not be wasteful in their form factor. Starting with the first aspect of this separation, studies have shown that younger shoppers are more often shopping the periphery of Chinese stores. Mintel noted how the use of transparent materials, contemporary design, recyclability, or unique shapes can help draw in younger consumers to the store center. In general, packages with more puzzling form factors or multiple elements that make “unboxing” a longer and more exciting experience are highly valued.

Despite this desire though, China was the first country to pass an ‘Excessive Packaging Law’ in 2011 that prohibited companies from using environmentally dangerous and excessive retail packaging elements. The key rules put in place from this law are:

  • Packaging layers are limited to three.
  • The permitted headspace (void-space) volume is restricted.
  • A maximum ratio is specified between the cost of the packaging and the retail product price.

Therefore, the challenge for American brands is to do more with less in both form factor and differentiation.

Overall, whether your brand’s first application will be viewed in the Chinese market or you are a traditional American brand that is toying with the idea of bringing your product overseas, there are many factors to keep in mind. Social engagement, emotional ties, cross-cultural symbols, proper color use, and unique but not excessive packaging forms are all very important to make that transition a successful one.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Food Trends & Innovation: Branding Will Decide the Winners at Expo West

Trends. Are you tired of following the whiplash of what’s next in food? No? Me neither. My favorite trade show of the year, Expo West (or better known as the Natural Foods Expo), is just around the corner. This show touts itself on being “the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event,” and it is frankly THE trade show for food, beverage, health, and wellness right now. I love seeing our clients and partners, but I’m mostly excited about innovation – real innovation, not just flavor profiles. I’m talking about revolutionary thinking about food, nutrition, and extensions that align with brand positioning.

Plant-Based Protein

We can probably call this a mega-trend at this point. The continued desire to eat more plant-based foods is part earth sustainability, part health, and part animal-welfare related. The bigger guys are doing it well (I’m looking at you, Tofurky, Field Roast, and Amy’s – you guys are killing it with line extension right now), but we see a lot of up-and-comers continuing to move into this space too, like our friends at Hilary’s. Specifically, Beyond Meat has caught my attention. Yes, it’s super kitschy that the burger “bleeds,” but the strategic merchandising next to ground meat in the meat department is freaking brilliant. I’d like to shake the hand of the salesperson that convinced Kroger to do that. There’s your zag. This trend is going to be around for a while, and we are excited to see how it grows beyond soy-based products and outside some of the basic products.

Sugar-Free or Low-Sugar Beverages

I’m not talking Stevia or some other sweetening substitute. I mean removing sweet flavors from the palate completely. The continued sugar backlash is creating quite the demand for alternative beverages (AKA not soda or traditional juices). Add the sugar tax and you’ve got a beverage consumption shift happening that is going to bring us whiplash. I anticipate 2018 to be just the beginning. I find it interesting that many traditional beverages like water (yeah – the clear stuff) and tea are rising in popularity. I suppose that’s to be expected, everything old is new again. Add sparkling beverages like DRY and drinkable soups and broths and you’ve got a full-on rebellion happening. Coke and Pepsi are certainly watching and taking note – as is evidenced by Diet Coke’s recent rebrand, but I don’t know that they are moving fast enough. My bet is there will be several portfolio acquisitions in their future to offset decreasing traditional soda sales. If you’re a brand considering a purchase, now might be a good time to clean up your books.

Ethnic Flavors

Consumers’ demand for something interesting and new is extending away from earlier trends of Mexican, Chinese, and Thai. An infusion of Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, and African flavors are showing up on the shelves. As these are new flavors to the traditional American palate, it’s easy to position these as healthier options to the traditional Americanized version of our current “ethnic” options. While Korean and Vietnamese have been in my rotation for a while, I’m excited about the influx of “legit” Middle Eastern flavors becoming more accessible.


As consumers become more comfortable with the idea of using science to maximize the benefits of food, we are now seeing biohacking cross over into more conventional diets. From the more conventional Whole 30 to intermittent fasting, eating well has become a lifestyle. While Bulletproof and Soylent are my current brands to watch, I have a feeling Expo West will produce more food and snack options for those that have become comfortable with hacking their food for performance purposes.

Root to Stem

Eating the leaves of beets or the roots of cilantro doesn’t sound very exciting to me. However, if you are a foodie or a person interested in your environmental footprint, this might be for you. The flavors and nutrition from fruit and vegetable parts we have traditionally thrown away are becoming vogue. This trend is so new that I’m not sure I’m going to see any Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) on the floor just yet, but it is picking up speed in restaurants and homes of the more adventurous chefs. What I do expect to see are the beginnings of these conversations in the fresh produce sections of the show. How it will manifest for the average consumer (outside of maybe food delivery services and the produce section) is yet to be discovered. I’ll be curious to see how this trend might manifest in the next 12 months.

Meal Delivery

In the beginning, there was Schwans. Yeah – they’re still around, but being first to the market doesn’t make you the winner. Newer and hipper brands like Martha & Marley Spoon (sorry – Martha is my queen) will continue to grow. This category is getting incredibly crowded, and the winners won’t be the ones that have the best recipes, cheapest meals, or fastest delivery – it will be about the brand. Other than Martha (who is already a titan in the foodie world), the others will need to figure out their brand in order to stay in the game.

Instacart, Amazon, and even Kroger and Walmart will likely disrupt this category. They already have strong existing brand equity, supplier partnerships to support this area, and a robust operational infrastructure. They can deliver exactly what Sunbasket and others are doing with little heartache to their business. In the case of Instacart, the Uber of grocery shopping, they have a lot of flexibility because they are not limited to one retailer. The consumer that stays with them will be the one that wants to shop but is fickle about their commitment to a single retailer or brand and doesn’t mind paying for the convenience of having someone else do the shopping. (I love that my shopper texts me during their shopping trip to help me navigate inventory!) The newer brands will need to figure it out quickly and buckle up. It’s going to get bumpy through this transition. These brands will likely not have a booth at Expo because they sell direct to consumer, but they are on-trend and competing for those grocery and CPG dollars. They’ll probably be walking the floor looking for ideas or partner vendors.

Cannabis and Hemp Infusion

OK, OK, cool your jets. I am actually not sure this is a mainstream trend yet. However, with the growing number of states legalizing marijuana and the number of people that are warming up to the idea of it not being “the Devil’s drug,” cannabis and hemp seem like the next frontier for CPG. There is still a lot of research and development going into learning the health benefits of this product outside of recreational use. But one thing is for sure: It’s not going away, as evidenced by the financial investment into the high brand and packaging that is hitting the market. It will be interesting to watch how (and if) the recreational and functional (I’ll call it) parts of the product break apart for the different product shoppers. I fully anticipate Expo to be the place for this trend to break out into the CPG world.

As you can see, some trends may not be ready for CPG primetime, but it’s fun to watch the genesis transform. Sometimes you need to hit the floor and see the brands live before you really know if they’ve got legs. I’ll be sure to follow up after the show to reveal what mattered on the floor – not just what stood out.

By the way – if you are interested in seeing our work at Expo this year, here are the brands you should visit: Wedderspoon, Essentia Water, Second Nature, DRY Sparkling, Hilary’s Eat Well, Sahale Snacks, Living Intentions, Teton Waters, Alden’s Ice Cream, Atlantic Naturals, and Derma E. And if you want to meet up to chat, book a time today!

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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Diet Coke’s Rebrand: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Article after article has praised Diet Coke for making this “bold” move. However, most fail to recognize the flawed strategy behind the design and potential dangers in some of their design and messaging decisions.

Diet Coke’s new look aims to attract health-conscious millennials by adding four new flavors, modernizing the typography of the Coke logo, adding color and illustrations to the package, and introducing a slimmer 12 oz. can.

Although the brand seems to have good intentions, Diet Coke misses the mark in our books. This is a classic example of a brand attempting to target a particular audience without really understanding said audience and using faux innovation to cover up gaps in their brand strategy.

The Good: What They Got Right

The move to a sleek, slimmer can heightens the illusion of a “diet” soda being a healthier choice. This move, reminiscent of Sparkling Ice, gives off a lighter, high-end feel. Additionally, in most of their messaging the brand leaves out the word “soda” completely. Reframing the brand as a sparkling beverage instead of a soda positions it to seem healthier and more adult-friendly. The brand seems to have taken a page right out of DRY Sparkling’s book with this move.

As we all know, bottled water sales now far outpace soda sales in the U.S. and sparkling water is rapidly approaching that milestone as well. Strategically introducing four new fruity flavors to the Diet Coke line potentially threatens to grab market share from millennial LaCroix lovers. Targeting this booming demographic – although not necessarily revolutionary – is a smart move. Millennials hold tremendous buying power, so it would be foolish for a brand to ignore this influence.

“From the vector illustrations to the ‘fresh’ new flavor names, they’re screaming at a Millennial and Gen Z audience saying, ‘Hey, remember Diet Coke, the original diet beverage? We’re not a normal soda, we’re a cool soda.’” – Kat Simpson, designer at Retail Voodoo

Unfortunately, we’re not sure those “hip” new flavors (like twisted mango) will be used for what Diet Coke intended. Instead, we feel they’re just one step away from partnering with Smirnoff. These “feisty” flavors scream college party mixer. From their messaging, it seems like they’re trying to give consumers “what they wanted.” but it feels more like they are trying to re-engage those consumers that have already grown out of the soda phase of life. Although we don’t see the new flavors being consumed in a way Diet Coke intended, we can see them being used a bit more than the classic flavor is being used currently. But hey, at least we can see the flavors being embraced on some level – even if it’s not the intended one.

The Bad: What They Got Wrong

In terms of identity, Diet Coke failed to meet our expectations. The design and messaging changes feel disjointed and misleading. The flavor illustrations feel like an afterthought and destroy the only interesting new element of the can: the stripe.

“You can start to believe that the reduction of graphics and exposed can is like wearing a bikini after a diet, but those illustrations stop any dreamy visions you have like that.” – Eric Wyttenbach, senior designer at Retail Voodoo

The flavor naming conventions try to be young but just seem confused (twisted mango, zesty blood orange, feisty cherry, ginger lime). What’s so feisty about cherry Coke? They really feel like party drinks, not healthy and refreshing alternative beverages. And although as we stated before, this might potentially give a bump in sales, it won’t be among the target demographic nor will these flavors expand Diet Coke’s reach into new realms as this redesign intended.

The Ugly: The Bottom Line

A pretty new package, strong advertising, and fun messaging might be enough to briefly drop Diet Coke back into this audience’s consideration set. But when this audience takes one look at the label and sees that aspartame is still present, they’ll place it back on shelf and avoid it like the plague.

“News flash: Millennials and Gen Y are label readers.” – David Lemley, founder & chief strategist at Retail Voodoo

Although messaging and design updates attempt to communicate health, the brand still uses the harmful ingredients that repelled these consumers in the first place. Ultimately, Millennials will never replace their LaCroix (or any sparkling water for that matter) with soda.“This feels like a disingenuous move driven by a desire to pander to younger audiences and health-conscious consumers, but I predict both audiences will see through it and shun the can as a poser.” – Jacob Carter, design director at Retail Voodoo

Diet Coke’s VP of marketing is quoted in AdAge as saying that they didn’t want to change the formula for fear of risking their current loyal audience. They ignore the fact that nutrition and ingredient labels are important to most young people. Looking on-trend doesn’t matter when the product is full of unhealthy ingredients. If Diet Coke really wanted to make a bold move, they would have removed aspartame fully.

Diet Coke’s redesign is a prime example of why diet soda sales continue to fall. Brands focus on the exterior appearance of their products without addressing the real issues lurking beneath the surface.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana
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The “Old” Versus “New” Design Language of Healthy Brands

Up until the last several years, there was a specific formula for the package design of natural and healthy food products. The target market of conscious consumers was small and looked for a very particular set of design cues to signal the niche natural food category.

However, nowadays, these brands are making healthy living more accessible to the average consumer. The claim of all-natural or organic is no longer a differentiator because it’s all over the shelves. Natural is no longer a luxury – it’s an expectation.

So, how do brands redesign their brands and packaging to stand out among these cluttered shelves of sameness? As the target market has expanded and evolved, so has the design language. These new cues speak to consumers in new, disruptive ways. For the brands not speaking this language fluently yet, it’s time to make some bold changes and reimagine the way they communicate their product’s benefits on-shelf.

Bob’s Red Mill vs. Lark Ellen Farm

Bob’s Red Mill used to scream healthy. Only the stereotypical health nuts would go straight for their bags when they saw them on-shelf. Now, it just screams outdated and makes you feel like it has been sitting on the shelves for a few months. The natural colors now feel dull and flavorless. The picture of the elderly Bob used to signify longevity, now it translates to all of the negative connotations of the word old. Instead of thinking, “Wow, if I eat this, I’ll grow to be that old someday,” people think, “Wow, only old people eat this.” Quaker Oats went through a large rebrand to make their mascot Larry appear younger for this exact same reason.

Bob’s Red Mill used to signal healthiness because it had a lot of information all in one place. The cluttered design and small text told the consumer there was a lot of health talk going on. With all those words, they must know what they’re doing – right?

For a consumer who is not naturally inclined to pick up a healthy product, this high density of information on-package can be a huge deterrent. It triggers the thought, “I don’t have the time to learn about this!” so they just grab the comfortable, unhealthy brand that doesn’t make them read or think too much. More modern natural brands have positioned themselves now to be far less overwhelming. To show their transparency and the simplicity of their ingredients, they don’t make consumers work to get the answers or information they need. It’s a reduction in information and increase in simplicity that communicates benefit and lifestyle clearly in-store.

Lark Ellen is the perfect example of this level of simplification. They have three clearly marked areas of information – the most important ones being readable from a few feet away. It also helps that it feels bright and lively while maintaining a healthy vibe. The hand-drawn ingredients contrasted with the window to the real ingredients shows whimsy and transparency. The playfulness of the illustrations is an invitation rather than a distraction.

Lay’s Natural vs. Uglies

You see the Lay’s logo, and you immediately think unhealthy. It’s hard for the brand to have any semblance of health because of its reputation for salty, fatty snacks. The illustrated farmland in the background originally signaled to any shopper it was more natural than the usual, regular old chip. Showing cues of farmers or farmland is one of the oldest tricks in the “Make This Product Look Natural” handbook. However, that’s about it. The packaging differentiated the natural product from the traditional just enough. Nowadays, health-conscious consumers skim over this package—it blends into the product line and doesn’t offer any value besides “natural-ish.”

Uglies, on the other hand, educates the consumer through creative copy and visual storytelling as to the value of the product beyond just a chip. Many natural products originally look funky and weird before they’re manicured for consumption. It used to be common practice to hide this by showing the prettiest, most perfect chip on the package, which left the concept of authenticity at the wayside. But now, there’s this celebration of ugly. That’s why this packaging works so well. It’s embracing natural for what it is and finding joy in telling that “imperfect” story. Not only that, but it also promotes the reduction of food waste and makes ugly food more appealing to the average consumer. The simple colors, unique typography, and cute illustrations work together to communicate a trial-worthy product.

Adams vs. Wild Friends

Adams—western, wild, natural. The gradations of color and old western style typography gave you a sense of nostalgia to simpler times. When this packaging was designed, the big “100% Natural” probably jumped out at customers from the shelf. Now, we just expect to see that label. Most consumers hardly even notice it.

In stark contrast to that aesthetic, Wild Friends nut butters jump from the shelf into the consumer’s cart because of the vibrant colors and friendly illustrations. It makes the customer feel youthful and playful. There’s an immediate whimsical feel when you view this packaging. Whimsy is a cue many natural brands use to help consumers understand they can feel good about what they eat while also having it taste great.

It’s uplifting – you can tell by the craft design cues that whoever makes this product feels a sense of pride in their product. Wild Friends tells their origin story upfront in a relatable way. This squirrel acts as a mascot of clean, delicious nut butters and leaves an emotional (and therefore long-lasting) impression on consumers.

Mountain House vs. Patagonia Provisions

Mountain House was one of the first brands to pioneer the category that answered the consumer need for portable, practical, and tasty backpacking food. At the time, they had a great idea. They put beautiful photos of a place anyone would love to set up a campsite, large and prominent on the front. It was all about the activity of the consumer and did not say too much about the product itself or the lifestyle associated with it.

As this category of packaged goods continues to expand to accommodate a wider audience of backpackers and people looking for more from their snacks, Patagonia has stepped up to the plate. Being a premium brand known for having a triple bottom line and a deep understanding of their consumers, Provisions was a natural brand extension for them to move into a new outdoor category: food. They come with a promise—one they don’t have to shout from the package because they use purity of color and youthfulness to communicate it. The vintage style illustrations and simple typography communicate the natural and pure elements of their food, rather than drool-worthy photos of mountains. In the case of Patagonia Provisions, if you took the Patagonia name and logo off the package, their packaging looks like a kick-starter, “the food chain needs fixing,” kind of brand. It harkens back the same feeling you get when you look at something from the Audubon society, but with more joy and celebration about the ingredients.

The natural category used to rely on complex packaging. It needed to scream “outdoors” or “natural” or “healthy” from the shelf, and need to explain itself far more than it does now. And as the natural sector has evolved, so have the design cues. Healthy and natural foods have become far more accessible to the average customer, which means the packaging must speak on that same wavelength. Simplicity translates to transparency and makes information easy to understand and find. Bright and vibrant colors evoke joyful feelings of youth and vitality. Illustrations and unique typography show how the product amplifies and enhances the consumer’s lifestyle. And finally, this concept of a celebration of natural builds an emotional bond with the consumer and feels extremely authentic. Understanding these changes and anticipating the next evolution of design will keep your brand ahead of the curve in the healthy food category.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana
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How to Use Form Factor to Powerfully Transform Your Brand and Disrupt Your Industry

Form factor can either be part of your brand’s selling mechanism or integral to the functionality of the products. In either case, it dramatically impacts how customers are attracted to and interact with your brand.

We can all recognize Coca-Cola’s signature glass bottle silhouette anywhere and can spot a Pringles can from a mile away. Coca-Cola’s glass bottle was created to sell. They wanted to disrupt on-shelf and throw off copycats. The company wanted to be so memorable, someone could feel it in the dark and instantly recognize the brand. The classic Pringles can, on the other hand, was born out of necessity. They wanted a resealable chip vessel to keep their product fresh and a cylindrical, structured shape so their chips would remain aligned and avoid being crushed.

Strategy-driven form factor does not always look this dramatic. Small, subtle changes can influence consumers on a large scale and revolutionize your brand or even your industry. The following examples of how brand strategy can translate into form factor show both sides of this.

Form Follows Function, Right?

Hilary’s Eat Well veggie burgers had a form factor problem the aisle audit revealed during our brand strategy work. Hilary’s veggie burgers were packaged in two-pack, freezer safe pouches. Once the customer purchased a package, the remaining pouches on the shelf fell over (often face-down). This posed a very large problem in terms of visibility on-shelf .

And while the company was aware of this issue, their previous attempts to remedy the situation were engineered too costly and received push-back from Whole Foods and other natural grocers.

The outcomes and goals identified during brand strategy drove the design of the simple recyclable box. This solution improved sustainability (after all, it is a vegan brand), shopability, flavor appeal, and provided room to tell the more compelling story of the brand’s true point of differentiation. The packaging educated customers about the product being convenient culinary and made free-from common food allergens. Who knew a cute little chipboard box could do all that?

Form Informs a New Way to Effectively Reach Your Target Audience

Reaching new audiences is all about understanding how consumers interact with your product. DRY wanted to be known as the go-to sparkling beverage for tastemakers but struggled to gain traction with key bartenders and chefs. This wasn’t because these culinary masters didn’t like the product or refused to use it, no. It was because of the limiting form factor. The small, non-re-sealable 12-ounce bottles made it difficult to work within a hospitality setting. To combat this, DRY created a larger resealable bottle.

Not only did DRY’s new form take off in the hospitality industry, but major retailers took notice as well. Now consumers who wanted larger bottles for parties or entertaining could purchase a re-sealable bottle as well. By changing the form factor, DRY reached new, powerful audiences and provided them with new ways to consume their product.

Form Informs Emotional Connections

Form factor can also be effective in communicating practical uses of products through storytelling. For example, Ruffwear’s mission was to create a deeper bond between people who love the outdoors and their dogs – allowing their companion to accompany them on their epic outdoor adventures. They made mountaineer-quality gear for dogs, but nobody knew this because they cost-engineered their packaging to be as thin and small as possible. It didn’t tell the story. Our brand strategy pulled at the powerful bond between owner and pet. Through emotion-driven customer education on the product attributes, we told their story.

Form Informs the Revolution of Your Industry

The wine industry notoriously feels stuffy – embracing exclusivity and the culinary elite. The beer industry’s reputation, on the other hand, feels more inviting and approachable. A large part of this is form factor of the two beverages. Canned beer is portable and seen as less sophisticated. Wine is known for being bottled and corked; saved for fancy glasses and sit-down dinners.

Underwood effectively flipped this norm on its head. The brand saw the craft beer industry beginning to infiltrate wine’s territory by becoming more of a gourmet, culinary experience – even paired with food on occasion. As the craft beer industry threatened to steal market share, Underwood decided to steal it back by canning their wine – subsequently making it approachable, portable, and unstuffy. Younger audiences can now have quick, adventurous experiences that involve wine without the barriers typically preventing them from consuming wine conveniently. Underwood used form factor to completely upend the industry.

Califia revolutionized their industry as well through form factor. Any shopper can recognize their signature bottle shape with just a quick glance. Their unique, elegant plastic bottle shape disrupted the milk category because the product no longer lived in just the paper carton anymore. The brand wanted to move into the natural, organic, alternative milk category, so their form factor emulated characteristics that would communicate those qualities and shared values to customers. The graceful and iconic shape feels reminiscent of glass milk bottles – evoking a feeling of farm-to-table and reminding customers of the benefit of organic farming. The brand elicits this emotion right from the aisle. Now, customers can find everything Califia (from cold brew to almond milk to juice) in the same form – building a brand connection between completely different areas of the grocery store.

We often get so caught up thinking about graphic design or digital experiences that we forget about the engineering of products and the vessels they live in. Form factor plays just as large of a role – if not more – in influencing consumer’s purchase decisions. It provides the canvas for storytelling and the correct mechanics to optimize performance. Shape, structure, and function can revolutionize an entire brand and even an entire industry.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
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Four Packaging Trends to Look for at Expo East

We’ve been on the lookout for the most compelling packaging trends coming up in the food and beverage industries. Just as consumer behaviors constantly change, so do design trends. Oftentimes, we identify trends after they’ve come and gone. Brands must think one step ahead at all times. Being a leader of an emerging trend gives your brand an enviable competitive edge.

As the better-for-you food and beverage industry continues to boom, it’s no wonder why CPG brands are fighting tooth and nail to stay relevant. Packaging is often the first (and only) touch-point connecting consumers with brands right from the shelf.

With Expo East right around the corner, we’ve pulled together our top predictions of what you’ll be seeing this fall.

1. Overhead Photography

The Instagram flat-lay knolling trend has crept out of the digital world and taken over CPG. There are two key strategies within this trend – detailed, slightly messy table setups and strictly ordered, grid-like layouts.

The messier setups emphasize the authenticity and home-cooked feel of products. Instead of overly edited and produced close-up shots, consumers see the food as how they might actually see it as they prepare it in their own kitchen. This point of view transports the product from the shelf right to their table.

More organized, structured overhead photography shots play to the consumers who love order. They associate clean lines and organization with wellness – both in the mind and body. Timbuk2 pioneered this concept with their unpacked bag flat lays. Each item to be packed into one of their stylish bags lay on the ground, organized in a neat grid. This simple, clean photography style illustrates the capacity and functionality of the bags. The same concept applies to food and beverage products, so we expect to see plenty of this style of photography in the coming months.

2. Natural Colors are King (Still)

Pantone declared “greenery” the color of the year for a reason. Color is a universal language we can use to communicate with customers. Certain colors activate appetite, signal danger or emulate peacefulness. Triggering emotions through the use of colors builds a stronger connection between a product and its consumer.

Green represents health, well-being, eco-friendliness and sustainability. Earth tones signal natural and wholesome ingredients. These colors heavily impact the perceived healthiness of the product.

The one caveat to this trend is that consumers expect these colors in the specialty food sector, so it is important for brands to innovate their packaging to stand out on the shelf. Thinking beyond color will be crucial as the specialty food sector continues to grow.

3. Keep it Simple

While minimalism has been a packaging design trend for a while, there is a difference between minimalistic design and simple design. Minimalistic design can be trendy and clever whereas simple design is more straightforward and honest. Ultra-trendy packaging screams desperation. Brands embracing extremely complex or hyper-minimal design are perceived as try-hard and unsuccessful – especially in the specialty food sector.

Health-conscious consumers tend to be more skeptical of packaging. They are more likely to pick up the product to read the label. When brands revert back to simplistic design, it is asking the consumer to do less work to get what they want. They do not have to decipher a clever design or illegible text to understand the product’s function and contents. In today’s busy world, consumers find relief in design simplicity because it takes less time to translate into information.

Now, simplicity does not mean you have to put “HERE IS A BAG OF CHIPS ” in black text on a white bag. Simplicity can even be unique geometric patterns or an interesting texture. The packaging just needs to elevate the product instead of distract from it.

4. Breathe Authenticity

The word “authentic” seems to be the buzzword of 2017. Anyone and everyone is scrambling to crown themselves the most authentic of their category.

In the packaging world, authentic means unique and honest. Hand-drawn lettering, for example, signals the natural and hand-crafted nature of the product. When lettering looks like handwriting, it humanizes the brand more – enabling consumers to emotionally connect.

Narrative illustrations conjure playful and nostalgic feelings of innocence. Using illustration to create a narrative tells a story to the consumer. As consumers seek for a deeper connection to the brands they purchase, a product telling a story will pull at their heartstrings.

Vintage inspiration is another piece of this trend that resonates with consumers. It comes from diving into the roots of history and uncovering the greatness that lies there. When we think about authentic food, it often comes from specific regional recipes or family traditions passed down from generation to generation. Vintage design and authenticity go hand-in-hand.

We’re looking forward to seeing lots of authenticity, simplicity, natural colors and overhead photography on the shelves this fall. If you’re going to Expo East, let us know – we’d love to meet you there and chat all things marketing! Shoot us an email or give us a ring to set up a quick meeting.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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What’s Your Language Saying about your Brand?

If language builds and binds cultures, why shouldn’t it be used to build and bind cults around brands?

Think about the power of words. If I use specific words in a specific way, it builds an image in your mind. It paints a picture. It has meaning. Words tell stories and humankind responds to storytelling, as we all know, in an emotional way.

Now think about some of the world’s top brands. They know the secret of using the right kind of language to amplify who they are and what they’re all about.

That’s why it’s puzzling to see that so many brands aren’t effective communicators. If you’re going to use bland language, don’t be surprised when your target audience isn’t energized. When has lackluster, uninspiring language ever gotten people excited?

Another big no-no is misused language. You know: words that say one thing while the brand proves it’s something else in every action that it takes from the inside out—with its employees and with every customer facing aspect of its business. Look, nobody’s perfect and maybe we have a brand mission that’s tough to live up to 100% of the time, but misleading is never acceptable. Because then the brand is labeled as a fraud and avoided like the plague.

So moral of story: be selective about the words you use for your brands. And find the right ones and use them in the right context, too.

What about the grand majority of brands, the ones who aim to be compelling but cannot seem to supply the language? Well, brand language has to come from the creation of a unique, one-of-a-kind brand to make a meaningful impact. So let’s start there. And let’s have a real proposition to offer; one that can inspire. Then our words and story will fall into place.

Oh, so you have a commodity product line and there’s just no way for you to generate the kind of excitement we’re talking about? Think again.

Let’s talk about Johnny Cupcakes. What kind of cupcakes are Johnny’s? They’re not cupcakes at all. They’re T-shirts. T-shirts with cool art and wording on them. They happen to be sold in the brand’s own retail stores that happen to look like old, funky bakeries. They’re also sold online. And they’re packaged in bakery boxes.

A 19-year-old kid named Johnny Earle started up the brand in 2002. He had an idea, and a passion. He knew he could sell his T-shirts and he did; out of the trunk of his old, beat up ’89 Toyota Camry. Then he opened his first retail shop in 2004.

“When it came time to open a store, I really wanted it to be an unforgettable experience,” he said.

Some people just get branding in their bones, don’t they? And then more shops opened. And then Johnny got the idea to do some fun events and pop-up shops around the country.

It took a while but the way he used language, visuals and ideas to build a brand is pretty breathtaking. And you know what happened? Johnny Cupcakes developed a cult following around the country. By 2006, JC was getting all kinds of press—radio, TV, print—all about his brand. Free PR that has only fueled more interest in his brand. Wow—right?

“What blows my mind even more is that Johnny Cupcakes brand has been a case study in several branding and business books,” Earle is quoted as saying on his website. Maybe he’s surprised, but once you see his website and understand his vibe, you won’t be.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Earle is busy collaborating with a host of other brands: musicians, famous people and licensors to crank out more unique T-shirt designs.

As the icing on the cake, Johnny Cupcakes donates its time to community organizations in need and supports sports teams and other local groups in their hometown of Hull, Massachusetts as well as local charities. Plus: they donate T-shirts to fundraisers across the country.

Yep, we’ve always said it: the truly great brands are good corporate citizens.

So there you have it. Quirky brand, quirky brand owners and employees, cool tees. What’s not to love? Check out how to create and really rock a unique brand at But remember: this language set is taken. Just use this to get inspired and go find your own.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Delivering Brand Promises Through Great Packaging

In his latest article, Mr. Lemley challenges marketers to go beyond adequate packaging. To think beyond drowning people with feature and benefits that appeal to the customer’s rational thought process but to their emotions.

Mr. Lemley: “Well-executed package design not only appeals to consumers’ rational thought process but to their emotions which trumps features and benefits every time.”

As the article progresses, Mr. Lemley discusses the importance of creating package design within the context of a well-executed brand strategy based upon your organization’s core values.

To support his statements, Mr. Lemley gives examples of package design in several consumer product categories that deliver strong, brand-driven storytelling based upon the brand’s core values.. “It’s really crucial for brand owners to get it now; packaging isn’t about selling products. It’s about selling the brand as the one and only.”

Read full article at

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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All Beauty, No Brains: When Graphic Designers Fail to Understand Packaging Hierarchy

We here at Retail Voodoo are big fans of ProBar. Do you know it? We’ve been buying them for sometime now. You can find them in your local Health Food store, Whole Foods, or REI. They are very wholesome, filling and just plain yummy. That said, I’m confused…like shopper confused. A couple of months ago, I went to buy my favorite, the Superberry & Greens, but what happened next is a tale of packaging tragedy, a story of beauty over brains. I saw new packaging, quite lovely new packaging, but all of a sudden, greeted by a wall of orange, everything looked the same. I had to squint and spend time discerning if I was buying the correct bar.

The whole label hierarchy broke down, and while I meant to leave the car double parked and grab my fav, I ended up getting a big fat ticket instead (*LIE*). Don’t let beautiful packaging override brains. Make sure you manage the information hierarchy correctly, and for goodness sake, change colors, or include high contrast visual cues to make it easy for those of us too addled to read on the fly to buy our favorites.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana
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From Bland to Grand: Packaging that Does More than Sport a New Look

You’d think that when it comes to sports and outdoor merchandise, packaging would pack a punch. But we’re just not feeling it. Can’t even bear to look at the sea of wimpy, tired-looking packaging examples out there that trying to drown consumers with feature and benefit claims. So much packaging to refresh; so little time to get it done before the products they contain—and their brands—fail.

Rather than pointing to failures, we’d rather focus on packaging that’s gone from tired to inspired hoping that brand managers might reconsider their own packaged products and take them from bland to grand. Caveat: adopting the latest graphic design ideas and pretty imagery might give packaging a face-lift but as we all know, that’s only skin deep. Refreshing a packaging system is about more than proving one’s design chops.

The brand has to be at the core of new or refreshed packaging to be meaningful. To speak with an authentic voice. To clearly illustrate why it’s unique. To engage consumers and hold them in thrall. The right packaging has the power to do all of this. But first it has to appeal to customer emotions quickly and convincingly prompting purchase and loyalty. In the case of sports and outdoor gear, it’s crucial to capture the most emotive elements that tie the customer to the activities themselves via packaging. As marketing researcher Martin Lindstrom points out: aligning fans’ emotions about favorite sports and aligning them with sports-related products triggers the same response in the brain and cements their importance and desirability by association.

The Universality of Archetypes

Brand implementation based in an archetype has great power. Archetypal brands have compelling stories that are universally or globally understood, memorable, and persuasive in their appeal to specific consumers who become emotionally invested in them. Storytelling is as old as mankind, yet there are only a small, finite number of universal themes, so it is crucial for brands to first identify themselves by archetype and then to weave a unique story within that framework. For example, there are a number of cult brands that are based on magician archetypes, but there is only one Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap; only one Disney.

They have unique stories based on their founders’ visions. Those visions grew as posthumous chapters were written that began to weave their founder’s unique point of view and history into brand’s new frontier. Even with new, invented landscapes Dr. Bronner’s and Disney magician archetypes success comes from being so single-minded that they are willing to ignore everyone for whom the brand’s core values and belief systems don’t resonate. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, they have built their brand by focusing on a small, but dedicated group who value what’s important to the brand, and who strongly believe that, through and with them, dreams do come true.

Lindstrom daringly declares that this has the same effect as religious imagery for fans. Preach on, Brother Lindstrom!

Revitalization comes in different forms: repackaging the blasé and ineffective that’s already out there; rethinking the utilitarian turning it into something more; reimagining the way the entire category is packaged for better functionality. When it comes to sports and outdoor activities having the right gear to achieve performance goals matters. So why doesn’t the packaging that’s selling the gear perform?

Case in point: LIV Organic

The USDA certified energy recovery drink for athletes had a good product. But its original packaging didn’t do anything to sell the product or brand. In fact, it worked against it. Since organic drinks don’t feature neon, artificial colors, they fade with light exposure. Even worse: a non-descript bottle structure and generic-looking labels did nothing to reinforce the brand, merely stating: “Organic Sports Drink” under the brand identity, followed by the flavor. A package refresh was needed.

LIV Organic’s original packaging might have passed for artifically flavored juice drinks.

We love the new packaging. Shrink-wrapped sleeves over PET bottles are color-coded to flavors while protecting the integrity of the product. The sleeve literally has sports written all over it. Action verbs like “pedal”, “score”, “pump”, “swat” and “rappel” tell the story at a glance. On the bottom of each label: “Re-fuel”. Enough said. Genius. The newly designed package structure is easy to hold and drink from, even in the midst of activities. Yeah! Now consumers see all the good stuff about this branded product at a glance—in a few seconds flat. That’s all the time brands have to make an impact on retail shelves, so how cool is this?

LIV Organic’s new packaging makes a promise that the recovery drink inside will get you back into the action.

Speaking of cool, who saves the packaging after purchasing new athletic shoes? What happens to shoe boxes? They end up in the recycling bin. PUMA reimagined the utilitarian with more sustainable packaging that would prompt reuse. Now its athletic shoes come in box bottoms that get tucked inside of a reusable “clever little bag”. Lidless is beautiful. So is the bag in brand signature red with white puma. This makes us wonder: why hasn’t this solution been thought of before? Every time consumers reuse the bag they’re walking ads for PUMA. Nobody sees the packaging until they buy the product but everybody sees it afterward. Think of the buzz this can generate. This works: love it.

Puma’s Clever Little Bag is a great example of packaging innovation that gives the container an afterlife.

Athletic and outdoor gear packaging brands ought to be champions of innovative packaging. After all, they’re all about innovating products, even the most basic, so why should packaging lag behind? Perfect example: what’s exciting about fishing line? Pretty mundane, huh? Not to Pure Fishing of Iowa. Its Berkley brand NanoFil fishing line is pretty innovative: minimum diameter, maximum strength, it was awarded top new product overall at ICAST 2012, the world’s largest trade show for sports fishermen. Now for the best part: innovative new packaging. A twist-off blister is caught between two paperboard halves with a flange. This allows fishermen to replenish line on a fishing reel and easily return the rest to the package for future use on additional reels. No impossible-to-open clamshells. The package is easy to open, stores the product and allows consumers to recycle each portion: paperboard and blister very easily. The graphics on pack separates the man from the boys, too. This is terrific translation of branding on the package.

Berkley’s NanoFil follows the notion that form follows function.

Better functionality for basic, heavily purchased needed products? Yes! Creating brand preference among consumers and turning them into fans? Yes! Rocking an entire category and taking ownership of it? Priceless.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David