Experts weigh in on emerging CPG package trends and when to use photos instead of windows

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Dreamstime
Source: Dreamstime

Related tags Marketing

Clear windows on packaged foods and beverages seem to be all the rage right now as manufacturers try to literally meet consumer desire for transparency and authenticity – but a well-placed photograph sometimes is a more effective marketing tool, branding and packaging experts say.

“Outside of the produce category, an illustration or photograph often does a better job of supporting the brand because it can carry with it much more than just the literal communication of what is inside, and do so without the inconsistencies of product settling or variation,”​ Scott Jost, vice president of innovation and design at Studio One Eleven, Berlin Packaging, told FoodNavigator-USA. 

“As an example,”​ he said, “seeing a cereal product through a clear window may communicate the texture, color and constituency of the product, but the emotional reaction to a well-staged photo or illustration of the product presentation in an evocative scene can connote a mood – essentially another tool to support the brand’s positioning as wholesome, indulgent, etc.”

Also, he noted, manufacturers must consider whether a clear window can adequately protect the product from light and oxidation.

One way to reduce this risk, but still show consumers the product, is with a small rather than dominating window – such as the one Bigelow uses on its new ready-to-drink line of teas​. The bottles are wrapped in a photo, but running down the side of the bottle is a small window shaped like the brand’s name. 

Creatively designed windows, like this, also can “bring more life, shapes and fun”​ to a product, adds Catalina Zaharescu-Tiensuu, senior editor at Dreamstime LLC. She adds shaped windows also can help differentiate packages from others now that square and circle windows are ubiquitous.

Selecting effective images

Brands that opt for images instead of or in addition to windows should consider the specific brand and category in which it competes when selecting photographs or illustrations, Jost said.

“Effectively grabbing and holding consumers’ attention is rather like walking a tightrope – it’s all about balance,”​ he said. “If our only goal was to get attention for a new honey brand, we could certainly put it in an aggressively masculine package, and in doing so our brand would immediately stand out from its neighbors on the shelf,”​ but consumers might not buy it.

He explained: “Our research shows that, when presented with a range of packaging from traditional to modern, purchase intent in the honey category is highest for traditional forms, so our ‘stand out’ packaging would get a second look, but not a first purchase.”

With that in mind, he recommends “building on an understanding of the visual language of the category so that our exploration is focused on categorically-appropriate options.”

Staying on trend

While staying within the framework of the category is important, so is staying on trend, Jost and Zaharescu-Tiensuu said.

In general, Jost recommends designers and manufacturers “monitor meta trends in color, texture and form that start in the fashion world, pass through automotive and consumer electronics then wind their way down to fast-moving consumer goods. This usually starts at the top-tier of fragrances and premium spirits and ends up in food and beverage.”

He added tracking and “applying these themes to food and beverage packaging is a way to elevate the perceived value of the products we’re offering.”

Specific trends that Zaharescu-Tiensuu says she sees emerging around the world include vintage images and styles, such as retro color themes and photography filters that mimic Polaroid’s iconic style.

She explains vintage fonts and images are popular now in part because they tie into consumer desire for natural, clean products and recall a time before foods were as processed as they are today.

“People tend to come back to home cooking and more healthy, clean eating. Or, if they don’t cook at home, they buy already made products that are produced with care, bio ingredients made with little intervention on them,”​ she said. “That is why most vintage photos or illustrations can be found on bio products, healthy products and superfood packages.”

Playful patterns also are trending on food and beverage packages, she said, noting: “Colorful, small elements on packs, such as dots, lines, spirals are lovely to see. They make people smile.”

Other trends she has noticed in her world travels are packages made from raw, recycled materials and simple designs with large logos that consumers can spot quickly.

Function is top priority

While colors and images are important elements of package design, ultimately the package must be functional in terms of protecting the product and easy to lift from the shelf, both experts said.

“Grabbing the product from the shelf should not be a fight in itself: small to medium sized boxes or bags, ergonomic shapes for the large packages”​ are best, said Zaharescu-Tiensuu.

J0st added: “Of course, the baseline is making sure the package protects its contents and efficiently moves through the supply chain. Beyond that, our goal is always to build a great experience for the consumer. The way a package feels in the hand, the way it dispenses, recloses – even the way the package sounds during those interactions all accrue to a branded experience.”

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