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 Now, it just screams outdated and makes you feel like it has been sitting on the shelves for a few months.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.