Designers weigh in on Hampton Creek’s new look: ‘It's anti-branding, it's simply food’

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: Hampton Creek
Picture: Hampton Creek
Hampton Creek has unveiled a colorful new look for its plant-based brand. But what do branding experts think of the redesign? 

The new packaging – created by Sean Wolcott​ - was informed in part by founder Josh Tetrick’s encounter with a shopper at a Dollar Tree store who confidently informed him that his flagship egg-free spread Just Mayo (with its brown paper label) was Dollar Tree’s private label.  

However, it also reflects a desire to stand out on shelf and better communicate the "essence​" of the brand, which is about pure, simple, good food and "a sense of justice,"​ according to chief design officer Sean Wolcott, who told FoodNavigator-USA that the new packaging takes some cues from the best retail brands such as IKEA. "Sometimes private label is some of the best functional design out there, so we're hopefully somewhere between private label and big brand, but in our own space." 

The different lines (egg-free mayo, cookies, cookie dough, dressings) also each have a distinct visual identity within the overall branding, he said, as "some shelf stockers were mixing up the mayos and the dressings on shelf ​[because they didn't look sufficiently distinctive]." 

The new look waves goodbye to the "drab​" brown label, which was evidently sending out different cues to shoppers in different retail outlets, and features a white background with color illustrations and photography and an emphasis on the word ‘just’ (which emerged as integral to the brand identity during a run in with regulators in 2015​).

Hampton Creek complete range May 2017

‘just’ serves as a consistent brand across all products in Hampton Creek’s portfolio, and features heavily on the redesigned – and significantly pared-down - website​, which doesn’t mention Tetrick or Hampton Creek by name.

The insights driving the work are very smart but I personally feel the execution is off target

Blake Mitchell - president of Boulder, CO-based strategic branding, and packaging firm Interact Boulder​ told FoodNavigator-USA that he saw the new look as “a continuation of a big design trend we are seeing right now in letting the food speak for itself.

 “It's anti-branding, it's simply food. We have seen the ‘clean’ movement take hold in food, why wouldn't it follow in branding and marketing as well?”

But he added: “I believe this is an example of design outperforming design thinking. I believe the insights driving the work are very smart but I personally feel the execution is very off target, especially given they want to broaden their consumer base at retail. This design style could work amazingly were it being created for e-commerce like the Dirty Lemon brand but Hampton Creek is not an e-commerce-centric brand.”

It’s just another stripped away design, void of any personality

Simon Thorneycroft, founder of brand packaging design agency Perspective​ Branding​, meanwhile, said he felt this was a missed opportunity, adding: "One of the things I always liked about the Mission of Just, was the idea of Just(ice) … the honesty and fairness to all piece. I thought that was authentic and had good grip. I always felt this was lacking from their previous packaging, but could have been such a powerful tool in standing out from the competitors. The new packs and website seem to move even further from the potential of this promise."

He added: "I think it is great when design can turn any category on its head and make us all re-evalute it. But food and tech are different. We literally are what we put in our bodies, and so the purchase decisions we make at retail are different, so packaging needs to play by a different set of rules.

"First, packaging should look like it will taste good, define the experience, this does not. It looks like an old Apple ad for food. Second, it should deliver on the benefits that it will give me – these are tucked away, if they are even there, and only understandable by someone with perfect eyesight. Third, it should be memorable, describable. I have no idea how I would describe this to someone looking for this in a supermarket. It’s just another stripped away design, void of any personality. The design should be building a unique visual brand narrative that can seed visual and emotional equity over time."

Old Hampton Creek packaging May 2017
The old Hampton Creek packaging
Just-Mayo

Hampton Creek graphics

“We wanted to unshackle ourselves from what conventional wisdom said delicious, healthier and more sustainable products should look like, so our design team embarked on a months-long journey to do just that​…. [It’s] unexpected yet approachable and stands out on the shelf​.” Hampton Creek 

The design was driven by Sean Wolcott​, formerly creative director at Microsoft.

What’s the secret to good packaging design?

So what makes good food product design? Perspective Branding has a mantra of ‘visible, visceral and memorable​,’ while Hatch ​– the agency behind Smashmallow, KRAVE and ZÜPA NOMA, says “you have to make an emotional connection between the brand and the consumer.”

What are you putting your stake in the ground about?

Hatch managing director Bonnie Powers told FoodNavigator-USA: “You have to understand the consumer, the brand, the situation the brand is in now, where it’s going in a year and in five years’ time. You have to understand what’s going on in the competitive landscape and also what’s going on from a cultural standpoint.

“It’s not just about beautiful packaging and design. In order to create long term traction for a brand, that emotional resonance has to be there. The brand has to have a voice and a personality."

Echoing comments​ made by Perspective Branding, she said that early stage companies often haven’t sat down and really thought about what their brand is all about, and can be seduced by great packaging design that doesn’t necessarily convey the brand’s personality, and doesn’t actually help sell the product.

“It’s definitely a process you have to go through with a client. What are you putting your stake in the ground about? Why does your brand matter? What makes it unique and different? Why are your relevant? What is your unique brand story?”

As for trends within food packaging design, she also agreed with Thorneycroft that natural, organic and 'healthy' brands are increasingly opting for cleaner, brighter, more "joyful​" packaging to appeal to a broader, more mainstream audience (‘all-natural’ doesn’t have to mean green and brown anymore), and injecting color and fun back into healthy or better for you products via packaging design.

Communicating your social mission

So what about brands with a social mission?

“When it’s truly an authentic part of the brand’s story, such as with ​[guayusa-fueled tea brand] RUNA, you want to weave that into the branding and messaging, but if it’s just that 1% of sales goes to this cause, it’s not necessarily organically baked into the brand story and it could look a little more like an add-on.” 

Find out who won the Nielsen Design Impact Awards 2017

New Hampton Creek website
The new website (eatjust.com) makes no mention of Hampton Creek or founder and CEO Josh Tetrick

How is Hampton Creek performing?

Negative PR over allegations​ (which Hampton Creek strongly denies) by Bloomberg in 2016 that the company spent $1.4m on buying back its own products in 2014 in order to artificially inflate sales, have not impacted consumer perception of the brand, or dented sales, according to senior director of communications Andrew Noyes.

"Our retail performance is better than it's ever been and we're surpassing national brand incumbents in the largest mass retailers in several categories. We gained 12% increased distribution at retail in the first four months of the year, and we just launched Just Cookie Dough across 1,100 Publix stores.

"We're also doing great in foodservice ​[where an egg-free patty under the 'Just Scramble' brand will launch late this year or early next]."

He would not comment on recent reports​ that CEO Josh Tetrick had struggled to attract the amount of investment capital he had been looking for, but confirmed that "we did get a $1.1bn valuation recently."

In an email to employees sent in March, Tetrick said he had become aware that the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission had closed inquiries into the alleged buybacks and were not taking any action against the company.

just_cookiedough_Hampton-Creek-new

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