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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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Brand Purpose: The Key to a Cult Following

It’s no secret that everybody yearns to be a part of something greater than themselves, their loved ones and their work. But it does seem to be a secret to many brands.

So let us tell you: not only can brands do well by doing good; they can, in fact, create devoted, avid cults around them if they commit to a deeper mission or raison d’etre. People respond to brands that inspire, give back and work for more than profits.

Who doesn’t want to support brands that do good things within their communities or to the larger world community? Some brands that started small grew in a big way due to the quality of their product, their business practices, and their philanthropic bent. Don’t kid yourselves: all of these things matter.

For example, Ben & Jerry’s support of environmental and social causes is legendary; it goes to their earliest days and the heart of their brand. They also practice sustainability within their business and give back to the local community. The consistent quality of their product, and the innovative way in which they launch quirky new products are hallmarks of their brand. These are all of the ingredients in the secret sauce that keep a brand relevant… a brand that continues to grow and maintain a cult following.

Our friends and fellow Seattleites, PCC Natural Markets, support local and organic farming, embrace sustainability and work to establish standards of the highest quality for the food products that it offers to the community. PCC is also a major donor to the PCC Farmland Trust, a non-profit that seeks to preserve farmland and move it into organic production. The brand talks the talk and walks the walk.

It’s transparent and it’s authentic; a top priority if brands want to create a cult following. Note that PCC is also deeply committed to a cause that’s greater than doing business profitably. Even cooler: it’s set up on the co-op model with 10 stores and 52,000 members and counting, who have a stake in PCC Natural Markets. Nothing inspires a community like having direct ownership in a brand that has a larger mission.

Why B Corps Rock

We’ve always been fans of Benefit Corporations, better known as B Corps, because inherent in their brand DNA is the desire to do business at a higher level. Sure, they’re in business to turn a profit and that’s great because if they’re not profitable they’re not going to stick around for very long.

These are brands that show the value of “conscious capitalism”. They build sustainability into their business models. They support worthy local, national and worldwide causes. Many support Fair Trade initiatives and small producers locally, nationally and abroad, and in doing so help to create shared economic growth while taking better care of our planet. These kinds of initiatives resonate with consumers and employees. In a big way.

There are other benefits, too. B corps can lead new movements. They differentiate their brands from competitors and pretenders – the brands that talk in a big way but do little in reality, other than an occasional local donation to a worthy cause. B Corps also have a way of generating PR without having to do all of the grunt work themselves. And they attract and engage real talent; people who want to work for them and contribute in meaningful ways because of who they are.

There are many solid-performing B Corps aside from Ben & Jerry’s. Method, Patagonia, Etsy and Warby Parker are all rock stars within the B Corps constellation. Almost 1,000 companies, large and small, from across the globe are certified B Corps, and the movement continues to grow.

New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado is a new breed of B Corp. Founded in 1989 by Jeff Lebesch and his wife, Kim Jordan, they set out with a core mission of crafting world-class beers while being environmental stewards. The company states that they “Look for ways to be less wasteful, be more efficient, recycle and reuse”. Reducing waste and water usage while lowering energy costs are cornerstones of the brand. Employees and owners work together to give grants to organizations that support sustainable agriculture, environmental advocacy and water conservation, among other worthwhile causes.

To top it off, New Belgium Brewery became 100% employee-owned in 2012 after the company set up an ESOP or Employee Stock Ownership Program and is all about full transparency in its business dealings and financials. Quality and innovation are equally important. To reiterate: all of these things taken together are components of the cult brand value equation. And it’s proof that you don’t have to be the size of a major corporation to create a cult. Local and regional companies, small and mid-sized, can create their own rabid fan bases.

Corporate Karma

There’s no mystery as to why brands like these create enthusiastic cults around themselves, right?
Their uniqueness starts on the inside and draws attention and devotees from the outside, making these brands grow exponentially.

You know the adage: “It’s better to give than to receive”. Ironically, those who give the most tend to be gifted in a far more significant way. We call it corporate karma.

And, hey, if your brand is lacking the richness and core meaning that lead to creating a meaningful cult and greater value, no worries. It’s never too late to reinvigorate your brand with a deeper purpose and mission. If the guys at Unilever are reevaluating their business model and becoming more community-oriented, why aren’t you?

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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Conventional is the New Specialty Grocer

If you’re the owner of a natural/organic food brand you know the roller coaster. Natural product stores, from Whole Foods to the smaller independents, might love your brand today and discontinue it tomorrow. Let’s face it, shelf space is always at a premium and brands are subject to getting bumped for a variety of reasons. If turns are slow at first, out you go. If another brand comes along that looks sexier, you’re gone. If the retailer decides on private label offerings in the category, finito. It isn’t easy to get into most retail stores to begin with, but it’s easy for them to give your brand the boot.

These are the scenarios at retail. You know it and we know it. The question is: what to do about it? You have to recognize as the entrepreneur of a small brand that distribution is key to survival and that means having a presence in different channels. You might not like the idea because you think your natural/organic brand belongs in natural product stores, but that kind of thinking will hamper your chances of success. In 2015 the number of organic items available in traditional grocery stores was up between 35 percent and 50 percent, according to estimates from investment bank Piper Jaffray.

Never put all of your eggs in one basket, right? While the traditional natural product shopper continues to buy at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and their local health food stores, there are plenty of other customers who are buying natural/organic products in other channels. They may not be as hardcore, as educated about the products, or as dedicated to buying whole foods and clean products all of the time, but there are millions of these consumers shopping in mainstream retail stores. And having access to products that they know are intrinsically healthier choices influences buying decisions.

That’s why your goal has to be to take your natural/organic brand and cross over into mainstream retailers both online and off. Sure, some conventional shoppers are dabblers. However, others will try your brand, like it, and become loyal consumers. They’ll tell their friends and that buzz will help build your business.

With eggs in multiple baskets, it isn’t a disaster if a major player in the natural/organic industry drops your brand, either. You can sustain that and look for more distribution as you go along. Revered brands like Traditional Medicinals did this a long time ago. They’ve got a presence in natural food stores and supermarkets, including Wal-Mart, specialty/gourmet stores, drug stores, and among e-tailers. More recently Alden’s Organic Ice Cream and Hilary’s Eat Well – purveyors of veggie burgers, salad dressings and snacks – made the same leap. They have gone from exclusive distribution in natural product stores to stocking their products in supermarkets. Smart.

The natural/organic category is no longer an afterthought for retailers, but a powerful part of their over overall merchandising strategies. There’s a commitment to expanding these categories like never before.

Enter the trendsetter for non-traditional consumers: Target

We all know that when Target gets behind a category and niche, the retailer has the power to move the needle in a big way; it’s been no different for consumers seeking better-for-you alternatives. In a recent article in Business Insider, Target CEO Brian Cornell is quoted from a November conference call: “We’ve been very focused on assortment changes and bringing more natural, organic, local items into many of our categories, and we’re seeing the guest react very favorably.”

Given its M.O., Target will experiment, bring in the unusual, merchandise creatively, and go after natural/organic in a meaningful way (i.e. go after Whole Foods in a meaningful way). They’re not alone, although they’ll likely do it best. Hence the title of the article in Business Insider: Walmart, Target and Aldi are addressing a huge weakness—and it’s turning into Whole Foods’ worst nightmare.

Reread: There’s great potential growth in mainstream retail stores; the consumer is primed and ready for it. Natural/organic can be attractively priced against specialty retailers without sacrificing quality while still enjoying much better margins than the average fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands.

There’s an interest among the nation’s largest food retailers to source more local products and brands, as well – the former bastion of natural product retailers. With the lines continuing to blur, consumers expect to find these products where they shop in their daily life. Things are going to get even more interesting; stay tuned.

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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Sports Authority: A Name without a Brand

A recent article discussed the woes of Sports Authority with the headline: Sports Authority Is Sinking Under Discounts And Naming Rights.” Really? There’s no doubt, as the article cites, that Sports Authority has some major problems. What the article doesn’t explicitly say, however, is that these problems are of their own making. But they are.

In a nutshell: deep discounting to move out merchandise due to slow sales, paying a whopping $6 million per annum to have its name—Sports Authority Field—on the Denver Broncos’ stadium, and a $20 million default on its $343 million dollar debt all led to the company’s declaration of bankruptcy under chapter 11. These are the reasons given for the company’s demise. The company itself cites increased competition, as well.

And then of course, the lamentable state of retailing is yet again pointed out in other articles discussing the demise of Sports Authority. After all, retail giants like Macy’s, Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, Sears, Barnes & Noble are all going the way of the dodo bird; and with good reason in every case.

But coming back to Sports Authority, there’s more to the story than the company’s sinking under discounts, debt and naming rights. Let me ask you this question: what comes into your mind when you hear the name “Sports Authority”? Summarize their brand in a few words. Can’t, can you? Nor can I. And that is really the crux of their problem more than anything else.

Not saying they haven’t made bone-headed business decisions here, but Sports Authority is literally a name without a brand.

Make No Excuses

Brick and mortar retailers are finding it harder to pull in customers. Etailers are taking their customer base away from them. Competition is intense in every category. To all of that I say this: too many retailers aren’t giving customers a reason to believe. Too few are giving customers unique and compelling experiences. If they did, they’d have fans pouring into their stores. People can buy merchandise anywhere, but what they’re hungry for is the experience more than the product. Let that truth sink in.

Now think of this. Think of the sports names that represent meaningful brands. You know: brands that have meaning, substance and values, that they live and breathe up and down the line. In spite of a tough economy, in spite of increased competition, these brands are in it for the long haul. They can withstand tough times. They can even flourish because they attract customers and then turn them into brand fans. Their fans do purchase from their websites but they also enjoy coming into their stores because it’s always a great experience.

Who am I talking about? REI comes to mind. LL Bean. Cabela’s. Bass Pro Shops. Eastern Mountain Sports. All of these companies are brands. Brands with a clear position and value proposition. Brands with a vibrant story. What’s Sports Authority’s position, proposition and story, anyway? Hmmm, can’t seem to recall… isn’t that the larger point?

And here’s the thing: when you own a brand, it dictates business decision making. It actually helps you to avoid making bone-headed mistakes that could derail your company because anything that isn’t brand-centric and customer-centric simply isn’t done.

Naming a famous sports complex might stroke the egos of the inhabitants of the C-Suite but it doesn’t do much else. Don’t tell me that wasn’t why Sports Authority chose to fork out millions to put its banner in the Denver Broncos stadium. After all, competitor Dick’s Sporting Goods did it, so the mentality was likely one of not being outdone.

Strong sports brands help to support and underwrite events in their local communities—the ones that make sense for them and their fans. No need to blow millions on extravagant stuff. And you know what? I’ll bet legions of Denver Bronco fans bought their team jerseys, hats and sweats online or from a competitor—not from Sports Authority. That makes this tale even sadder.

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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The Unrealistic Luxury of Conscious Consumerism

The idea of conscious consumerism is inherently elitist. It’s a first world club for city dwellers who make enough money to be worried about where their $300 tee-shirt is sourced from.

Yes, sometimes worrying is a luxury.

For a much larger portion of the world, worrying is devoted to making sure there is enough food on the table, enough money for rent, heat and clean water. They are not actively supportive of the terrible labor conditions or havoc wreaked upon the environment in order to manufacture a cheap pair of sneakers. But sending their child to school without shoes doesn’t feel like an option either.

In a world where “consciousness” is commoditized and “sustainability” is a buzzword, how can we make sure the world doesn’t disintegrate before our great-grandkids take their first steps?

The answer lies in businesses themselves. Instead of an elitist club of “conscious consumers” we need an overall enlightenment of the world, particularly in the companies that keep it turning. The truth is no one wants to be responsible for killing the planet, but similarly it shouldn’t be so absurdly difficult to avoid it.

If that thrift store dress you need to scour the racks for is the same price as the mass-produced romper from Forever 21, can we really blame anyone for choosing the latter?

Many consumers have woken up. They want the things they buy to be less traumatic to produce, but they need help.

Efforts such as Everlane and Toms Shoes prove it can be done successfully. Data from the National Resource Defense Council detailing the cost of cutting water, energy and chemical use, demonstrate it can even save companies’ money.

Obviously businesses can’t adopt new practices overnight. So if you are one of the lucky members of the enlightened who know too much to justify spending money on cheap mass production, it is also your duty to spread the word.

Refrain from judgments and share the wealth of knowledge.

Encourage people to buy local, shop at farmers markets or Community Supported Agriculture, and make a sport of finding those hidden gems at the thrift shop. Help them realize that while the dress at the independent boutique might cost more upfront, it will last for ages, compared to a few washes. In the end it’s better for them and the planet.

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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Dear McDonalds: Ads are Band-Aids and Your Injuries Require Open-Heart Surgery

Let’s turn our attention to Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s new CEO. He’s been in the position for less than two months, so we will give him the benefit of the doubt and say he is not a bad guy (or at least not yet). There is still time to change the direction of the company.

It is easy to say sales at McDonald’s are on the decline because consumers have changed tastes. That’s obvious. People are increasingly demanding transparency, healthy options and better labor standards. McDonald’s is struggling to keep up.

But that is far from the whole happy meal. They are in trouble because they cannot define their own brand or what their company stands for, aside from increasingly futile attempts to make a profit as a junk food in a health nut craze.

The past six months has shown a flurry of haphazard contradiction. They have both trimmed many items from their menu to speed up their service and added “Create Your Taste”menus to a host of locations. It may yield a more delicious, guacamole smothered burger, but at the price of waiting 7 minutes in the restaurant and hefting out $8.50 – a far cry from the quick drive-thru and dollar menu that once made them a staple.

Determined not to let the lovin’ die, they’ve recently staged a host of publicity stunts around “I’m lovin’ it”. But advertising will not solve their problems if they cannot define their own brand.

How can we love you if we don’t know who you are?

“When Ray Kroc helped found McDonalds in the 1950s, his business philosophy was that of a three-legged stool. One leg was the franchisees, the second suppliers and the third employees.”

Looking at the company objectively, we can see McDonald’s gives back to local communities. They do this through the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which helps children with medical support. It even offers tuition and education assistance to some of its workers. Their Corporate Responsibility Statement spouts on about how they are aiming for sustainably produced beef, coffee, palm oil and fish as well as fiber-based packaging by 2020.

Yet the associations most Americans equate with McDonalds are employees who are paid wages so low they cannot afford basic living costs and must result to welfare. We also hear tales of employees who are told to use condiments as burn ointment and returned unopened Christmas gifts for extra cash.

Their franchisees are not very pleased with them either, amid forced restaurant upgrades and mandatory advertising fees.

While McDonalds recently conceded to a $1 an hour pay raise, it only affects company-owned restaurant workers, which accounts for just 10% of their employees. Franchisees are arguing this will force them to raise wages as well, but without assistance from the corporation.

When Ray Kroc helped found McDonalds in the 1950s, his business philosophy was that of a three-legged stool. One leg was the franchisees, the second suppliers and the third employees. It seems they have lost their footing.

Companies like McDonald’s don’t know who they want to be or what they stand for. And the American public doesn’t either.

McDonald’s image and sales have slumped so badly they are closing 700 stores around in the world this year. In the US even Wendy’s and Burger King are passing them by. But Mickey D’s is the original – how is it being surpassed by its copycats?

It’s a conundrum we’ve seen too many times a company creates its own category, then sits back in horror as new companies move in and set up shop on their turf, some even making more money at it.

Give us a call, Easterbrook. Let us help you prove you are a good guy by quelling your company’s attempts to hurl money at dated advertising. Ads are Band-Aids and your injuries require open-heart surgery.

Focus that money on realigning and redefining your brand values. Stand the stool up again, and make your ethos value over profit as opposed to your current model of profit over value.

We may refuse to wear your Big Mac thermals, but we know we can help you fix your broken brand.

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