Words of Wisdom from Homaru Cantu

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Four Branding Trends from Expo West 2017

Chris Burton, our Art Director, travelled all the way to Anaheim last week for Expo West 2017. The four-day event is the country’s largest natural foods show, and it gives industry professionals the opportunity to see what’s in store for the future of organic foods. Shifts in consumer tastes usually lead to major design shakeups, and here are four of the biggest packaging trends that we noticed.

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With consumers becoming increasingly interested in buying local small-batch products, branding is taking on a distinctly “handmade” look. Handwritten logos, drawings, and rough edges are all major trends, as brands are moving away from the overly polished “hipster” look of the last few years in favor of appearing wholesome and healthy.

ProteinFotoJet Collage2 Protein is in everything right now, from plant milk to pancakes (FlapJacked wins best name). As a result, we’re seeing categories looking a lot more diverse than they have in the past. For example, protein-packed cookie brand Bite Fuel is using a very heavy black font in all of its branding, which is unrecognizable from the bright colors and gentle script of more familiar players like Mrs. Fields and Famous Amos.

With this sudden interest in protein, we’re also seeing more artisanal varieties of meaty products like beef jerky. Duke’s came to Expo West with dried brisket and Cajun-style dried sausages, with elegant packaging that highlights the seasonings and flavor additives over the meat.

This protein phenomenon is manifesting itself in two ways – products that traditionally would not contain much protein are being set apart with strong, commanding designs, and products that have always been known to be great sources of protein are trying to appeal to new consumers.

 

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Consumers want to feel closer to the food that they eat, which means becoming more comfortable with the animals at the source. Meats, cheeses, and flavored snacks are all beginning to feature realistic depictions of livestock, sometimes using straight-up photographs.

Meat-and-dairy-free products are using images of animals as well. Los Angeles’s Kombucha Dog, for instance, puts photos of homeless dogs from local shelters on their labels, using store shelf space to help them find homes.

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Mascots were all over the place this year, which is interesting for a natural foods show – mascots are most commonly associated with sugary cereals and fast food. Brands are now recognizing that mascots can help build relationships with consumers, who can feel personal and emotional connections to them. They can also considerably boost a brand’s recognition potential, which is especially attractive for new products in crowded categories.

 

Original Packaging that was Better than the Redesign

Package redesigns are famously tricky. On the one hand, updating a product’s look can be an important part of appealing to new consumers and staying fresh in an evolving market. On the other hand, companies risk losing valuable brand equity when they sacrifice recognizable design. When faced with the challenge of a redesign, sometimes brands just don’t get it quite right, and would have been better off sticking with their original look. Here are three recent examples of redesigns that did not deliver the effect that companies intended.

Miracle Whip

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In Kraft’s defense, Miracle Whip was due for a modern upgrade. The redesign that they chose in 2009, however, was uninspiring and bland. It’s clear that they were trying to go more minimalist, but the result made the product look unappetizing and generic, with no indicators of flavor other than the words “The Tangy Original”. Kraft quickly realized the error of their ways, and in 2010 a new design was released that retained more of the fun and color of the original packaging.

Weight Watchers

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In 2012, Weight Watcher’s had their logo redesigned by Pentagram. Keeping with the trends of the time, they opted for a gradient and a heavy font, with no space between the words. The company, which sells products related to dieting ranging from books to packaged foods, wanted their new look to highlight the transformation that consumers experience through the brand. What they were not counting on, however, was that a vulgar British slang word was now smack dab in the middle of the logo, which consumers in the U.K. found very difficult to look past.

The Happy Meal

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Few things are as iconic to the children of America as the Happy Meal box. The simple, sweet design had a lot of personality, and it represented years of brand loyalty that McDonald’s had built with families. In 2014, the company decided to reintroduce mascots into their branding, including a new one in the form of “Happy”, whose realistic smile and crazy eyes terrified consumers. The new boxes quickly became the subject of public ridicule and scorn, inspiring everything from memes to thinkpieces about how McDonald’s had evidently lost their minds.

An important thing to keep in mind here is that all three of these companies – Kraft, Weight Watchers, and McDonald’s – are multimillion-dollar corporations with huge marketing teams and expensive consumer research, yet even they have gotten redesigns very, very wrong. It’s difficult work, and both the design community and the food and beverage industry are still figuring out the best ways of going about it. But for every failure, we all learn a little more about how to do better next time, which is especially true for companies that are as large as these three. If the public disaster of the new Happy Meal box prevented us from having to deal with more disturbing mascots that may have been in the works, then it was worth it.

Pop Culture Packaging: The Impact of TV and Movies on Design

Pop culture has always and will always be a great tool to leverage for information. It is a bridge that connects marketing teams to consumers when updating an old, tired look or developing a new product for a new target audience.

A Yale University study from a few years back revealed that the use of movie and TV characters on food packaging is designed to access certain feelings, memories, and associations, making them seem more desirable.

That’s why cartoon characters are often used on packaging to help sell junk food and other foods that companies are trying to appeal to little ones. Not that it’s all bad; for every Fred Flintstone on a cereal box, there is a Dora the Explorer or a Big Bird being used to help sell fruit and vegetables.

But it’s much more than food. Other brands have tied TV and movie character packaging to items such as wine, vitamins and even electronics.Homer-Marge-wine-572x354Tien Nguyen
, lead industrial designer for Studio One Eleven, a division of Berlin Packaging, says that in the past couple of years, the firm has noticed companies of all sizes have been leveraging endorsement from celebrities in the music, TV, and movie industries to gain more brand awareness, and the impact can be seen on packaging.

For example, Studio One Eleven recently launched a multivitamin gummies package with a leading nutritional supplements manufacturer, where they were able to leverage the multi-generational following of the Star Wars saga.

StarWarsVitaminsHero_2a “Our team designed and engineered special-edition overcaps based on the characters from the series to make their products more fun and appealing for kids and adults,” Nguyen says. “We were able to target both young kids that may be experiencing Star Wars for the first time (with the recent launch of Episode 7), and the diehard fans that fell in love with the saga from the original series.”

Davidson’s Organics—the first certified organic, fair trade and specialty tea company in the U.S.— just completed a package redesign for its 400 varieties of teas and accessories, centered around pop culture, such as its teas featuring movie legend Bruce Lee.BruceTea4 “We identified that millennials need to be visually stimulated with colors and buzzwords before they take a look at price and nutrition labels. We identified the words that young and old tea-drinkers look for, and put them on the face of our packaging,” says Davidson’s owner, Kunall Patel. “Pop culture has everything to do with what’s interesting right now. Every company should aim to stay that relevant in today’s fast-paced, social environment. No content is evergreen forever.”

A new energy drink released a few years ago capitalized on popular cartoon character, Popeye, who is known for his incredible strength after eating a can of spinach. That association led to a strong rollout.

“It’s important to stay in touch with the multi-cultural and ever changing lifestyle of today’s consumers, especially for younger and smaller companies. Staying up to date with trends and what consumers want is vital to build brand awareness and ultimately market shares among the larger players,” Nguyen says. “The CPG industry is a very fast pace industry. On average, we’ve seen companies target a complete redesign of both structure and branding within 2-3 years, depending on the breadth of their product portfolio.”

Before the Internet and social media, people were perhaps less informed, or they at least did not have such easily accessed resources to become informed. This led to the need for more content on packaging, as opposed to imaging.

“At that time, in order to create a brand, you first needed to introduce it. And more often than not, your first introduction to a consumer was through the physical handling of your packaging,” Patel says. “Now we’re able to establish brands through videos, websites, online images, etc. This emergence of visual interest has now led to this interest as it relates to physical products and their packaging. Our new packaging paints a picture worth a thousand words about content literally through brand imaging and design.”

Marvel has deals with numerous CPG companies—representing drinks, shampoos and yogurts—and you can find plenty of Pixar characters on packages of similar items when new movies come out.

Packaging that relies on TV or movies to help sell a product is a savvy move by companies, and is a strategy that won’t be going away anytime soon.

5 Designs We Love: Experiential Package Design

Experiential packaging involves the use of typography, color, imagery, and content to create a new environment and a truly unique experience for the consumer. By changing the way that clients interact with a product and making the experience more enjoyable, many companies have seen increased sales and more brand loyalty. Experiential packaging can serve as an effective sales tool by pulling the customer in.

In order to use this design strategy most effectively, the packaging should be visually appealing, memorable, and provide an experience for the prospective buyer, before they even get to the product. By creating a sensory experience for your consumers, you can connect with them on a more personal level. We have highlighted some of our favorite examples of successful experiential package design, which uniquely engage with their consumers and stand apart from the rest.

 

Black Forest Chocolate

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The Black Forest Chocolate packaging goes beyond presenting chocolate as a present (which this packaging also accomplishes). By focusing on all five senses, the consumer can create their own environment entirely focused on the appreciation of chocolate. The package includes chocolate to eat, a chocolate candle to smell, and by placing the candle inside the packaging, the light shines out of the logo cutouts to create a forest in the room while the consumer is enjoying their chocolate.

 

La Vita Mini Oliva

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This award-winning experiential design makes these small olive oil packages more intriguing and attractive to consumers. The individual packages are user-friendly, enticing, and are the perfect size for vending machines and counter sales. La Vita’s marketing team also offers design services to help businesses create a unique presentation stand to further boost sales and entice consumers.

 

Festina Profundo Dive Watch

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What better way to advertise that these watches are waterproof than with this packaging? Berlin-based agency, Scholz & Friends, came up with the idea to pack the watch in a transparent bag filled with distilled water to prove that they are truly waterproof. After all, the company’s motto is “We believe in what we see”. By submerging the watch in water, it creates a visually appealing, shareable experience (and also makes for a unique gift).

 

Jose Cuervo

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These limited edition Day of The Dead bottles feature a festive image that is reminiscent of tattoo art, which draws the consumer’s eye. The best part is that the color-changing bottles become more colorful and festive when the bottles are chilled, creating an experience for consumers. Khortytsa designed the bottles to connect with the millennial generation in order to increase sales both in store and in the bar/club scene.

 

Nike Air

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To complement one of the most popular sneaker designs ever released, Berlin-based agency, Scholz & Friends, realized they would truly have to do something “outside of the box”. They packaged the shoes in an air-tight plastic bag to appear as if the sneakers were floating in air. It immediately grabs a buyer’s attention, is highly shareable advertising, and even helps reduce the risk of damage from shipping.

What are your favorite experiential package designs?

Colors that Yell

With the trend of minimalist, stark packaging still going so strong, some brands are pushing back with designs that scream from the shelf. Hot pink, blood orange, teal – all are showing up in product categories that have never gone so bold. We know that color choices evoke different emotional responses for consumers, and playing with combinations can help shoppers connect with brands. Clashing colors are also usually more memorable and therefore are great for brand recall, especially when the colors are unique to the product.

Using loud, expressive colors is a way for brands to differentiate a special edition product, allowing them to break out of their standard molds and appeal to new groups. This can be highly effective for brands looking to target younger consumers, who are appreciative of companies that are willing to take on a little edginess and aesthetic risk. Large brands looking to emulate the look and feel of small brands should take note of how the following companies have successfully crafted exciting packages by taking chances with color.

 

Harper Macaw

Last spring, D.C. chocolatier Harper Macaw released a series of bars inspired by the election. Naturally, the wrappers use bold reds and blues, and the result is gorgeous and striking. Rather than feeling like political cartoons, the chocolates are elegant and find the beauty within the absurdity of our current political climate. For a time that has been so stressful and dividing, at least we got a little something sweet out of it.

 

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Bud Light

Bud Light is now the official beer sponsor of South by Southwest, and the funky, psychedelic cans that they issued in limited release last year were such a hit that they are coming back for the 2017 festival. With bright blues, orange, yellow, red, purple, green, and a shock of black, the packaging perfectly captures the vibe of the festival and of the famously “weird” city of Austin.

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Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP

Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP sticks out like a sore thumb among competitors, with a heavy fuchsia font that pops (pun intended) against solid feminine backgrounds. This is a great example of how color clashing can be used in a way that is playful without being childish – this design communicates maturity while remaining effectively eye-catching. The color choices here indicate that the snack is something indulgent and luxurious, a cut above all of the Orville Redenbachers and the Act IIs.

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Wild Leaf

Most tea brands try to communicate the same themes: tranquility, peace, smoothness, etc. Wild Leaf has decided to take an entirely different approach, with wild colors that would be striking on their own and are even stronger when put together. Energetic and youthful, with a large callout for its specific properties, it’s certainly more fun than your grandma’s Lipton.

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Ciao Bella

The bright, beautiful color palette that Ciao Bella used for their line of gelatos is a great example of risk paying off. Brands of ice cream and similar treats often struggle with how to clearly target adults, and the rainbow of color could have easily made it seem like it was a dessert for children. Instead, the careful color pairings elevate the packaging to a new level of sophistication, while still looking just as visually interesting and trendy as competitors like Ben & Jerry’s.

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Unexpectedly Iconic Designs

Sometimes brands just don’t understand the power of their own designs. Bad design can result in catastrophic failure for even the most successful and well-established companies, as seen with Tropicana’s disastrous attempt at a redesign in 2009. The packaging was so reviled that it caused sales to plummet by 20% over a two-month period, costing the juice company $30 million in lost transactions and a huge undisclosed sum in costs associated with reverting back to the old design.tropicana

On the other hand, good design has the power to multiply profits several times over – as was the case with Botanical Bakery, whose 2010 redesign tripled sales in a single year. This is the dream of most brands, and, usually, companies will invest heavy amounts of time and money to make sure that such a project is strategically sound. In a few cases, however, brands have taken risks by choosing designs that they did not feel especially strongly about, only to see huge rewards for their gamble. Below are three examples of designs with low expectations that went on to become iconic, generating untold profits and consumer loyalty for the brands attached to them.

 

The “Jazz” Solo Cup

In 1991, the Sweetheart Cup Company selected a design by employee Gina Ekiss in an internal contest to be featured on cups and plates. Gina received no bonus, awards, or recognition for her contribution, which was called “jazz”. The design – featuring a teal blue zig-zag under a thin purple zig-zag – went on to become the company’s all-time bestseller, and is now a pattern considered to be emblematic of the nineties. Gina’s identity (and status as an unsung hero) was only discovered in 2015 after someone on Reddit with the username “mcglaven” started a thread dedicated to tracking down the designer. Today, the design has a cult following that has inspired everything from apparel lines to social media pages.

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La Croix’s Groovy Look

When National Beverage sought to differentiate their seltzer drink La Croix from competitors, they hired Alchemy Brand Group to redesign the can. Of all of the options presented, National Beverage liked the current “Picasso-esque” design the least. However, it tested so incredibly well with consumers that they decided to take a chance with it, and the distinctive design is credited in part with La Croix’s massive success today.

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The Anthora Cup

Leslie Buck – born Laszlo Bück  – immigrated to America after World War II, after having survived both Auschwitz and Buchenwald. After starting a paper cup manufacturing company with his brother (who was also a Holocaust survivor), he moved to a startup called Sherri Cup in the 1960s. It was there that he designed a hot cup in the colors of the Greek flag, aimed at the predominantly Greek diner owners of New York City. Buck did not receive any royalties from his design, but the company sold hundreds of millions of what is now considered to be an extremely recognizable piece of New York iconography.

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Valentine’s Day Candy Packaging

Valentine’s Day is on Tuesday, which means that candy brands are preparing to move a serious amount of inventory. While there is definitely some standard imagery that is going to show up in most Valentine’s package design – we’re never getting rid of hearts – there is also a fair amount of diversity on the shelves. Here, we are looking at an array of different options that are available this year, and seeing how brands are interpreting the occasion.

Brach’s Emoticon Gummi Hearts brachsnew

This new treat from Brach’s is an interesting case because the design of the product is clearly aimed at millennials, and yet the company opted to go with very classic design for the packaging. The brand logo (which is fairly consistent across their products) is featured very prominently, and purple is a color choice that the company has made for most of their Valentine’s Day offerings. With this holiday being so important for Brach’s, it’s clear that they are seizing the opportunity to build brand equity among a younger consumer base.

 

Hershey’s White Cookie Cupcake Kisses

kissesnew Another newcomer this year, this line of Kisses from Hershey is a Target exclusive. Again, the color choices of purples, pinks, and red are pretty standard for Valentine’s Day packaging, but what is worth noting about the design is that Hershey’s rarely depicts their Kisses in any kind of an action scene. Here, the Kisses are baking cupcakes, quickly communicating the flavor to consumers while feeling more fun than a typical Hershey’s bag.

 

Kit Kat Red Velvet Miniatures

kitkatnewWhite chocolate and cake are evidently the new flavors of Valentine’s Day. Much like the Kisses, there are no groundbreaking innovations in color, and the design is a lot more playful than a standard pack. Kit Kat’s job is a little harder than most other brands, because their standard packaging is already a bright, festive red. In order to stand out, they have decided to include a couple of love-struck cats, a clever and charming pun about the brand name.

 

Champagne Bears

bearsnewThese upscale gummy bears from Sugarfina are a refreshing break from tradition. While the transparent packaging allows the light pink and peach colors of the bears to show through, the use of cool blue and gold is something rarely seen in Valentine’s Day packaging. The alcoholic candies are obviously meant to be a more mature option, and the bold differentiation is a smart choice.

 

Love Bites Bento Box

lbnew lb2newThis sugary assortment, also from Sugarfina, is meant for a very different kind of Valentine’s Day shopper. It is aimed at single consumers, with the growing popularity of anti-celebrations like “Galentine’s Day” making gift exchanges between friends more common. The use of watercolor and elegant fonts contrasts well with the visible novelty candies, elevating the product from gag item to something that might be worth the $26 retail price.

 

Kissing Burns Calories

kbcnewFinally, Kissing Burns Calories from Dylan’s Candy Bar seems to find some kind of balance, managing to both use very traditional colors while communicating that it is a treat for adults. The textured lid is very much on trend for this year in package design, and the striped heart in the center is visually interesting and attractive.

5 Emerging Packaging Design Trends

While each client and project are different, knowing what design trends are more popular can get you going in the right direction and will give you an idea of how consumers will interact with the product. Consider mobile-engaged packaging, personalized packaging, and digital print to create more personalized experiences for consumers. To engage consumers on a personal level and provide them with an experience through packaging, consider the following packaging design trends.

Simplicity

t-shirt-packaging-design-the-t-shirt-01Consumers are overwhelmed with the choices available to them, so sometimes, it’s best to just keep things simple. Clean, clear labeling and minimalist packaging can help to get the point across quickly, with no fluff. It also creates brand transparency and increases buyers’ confidence. When consumers are looking for products that can simplify their lives, they are attracted to minimal packaging that is simple (not boring) and instantly answers the questions they are asking. By identifying what the consumer needs and expressing how your product can fulfill that need (in no uncertain terms), your packaging will be more powerful and instill trust with your audience.

Geometric Shapes

jeannieburnside_meld_5Screen-Shot-2016-01-15-at-2.50.19-PM-768x321Geometric patterns and shapes are visually appealing and can fit nearly any product. Using familiar colors and shapes can provide a simplistic approach that reaches consumers in a nostalgic way.

Vintage

038a433ff8e7485a5846c156265aea80static1.squarespace-2Old-fashioned packaging design focuses on the good ole’ days. Modernizing old design trends and presenting vintage packaging, with emphasis on calligraphy and letterpress, will relate your packaging to something of higher value.

Enhanced Shelf Life

05967f81b443a987d367f4763a7ba606Most designers believe in the standard that your packaging should be able to stay on the shelf for approximately three to five years. However, it can remain on your customer’s home shelves for just as long. That’s why it’s important to design unique packaging that looks good both in the store and at home. By accounting for how it will look on the shelves in the store, you can attract more new customers. By accounting for how it will look on the shelves at home, you can keep your current customers satisfied. It also encourages consumers to leave the packaging out on the counters more often (instead of hiding them in the cabinet), which results in free advertising for anyone who sees the item.

Sustainable Packaging

c8371dabd11828690cc7e2df6231717apd-19Sustainable packaging offers a more environmentally friendly option, which can still be functional and beautiful. It can also empower social consciousness overall. Choosing green, socially responsible packaging is good for your business, the environment, and your bottom dollar. Successful sustainable packaging needs to be less disposable and have the smallest possible impact on the environment. This can include using recycled materials to produce the packaging and/or encouraging customers to repurpose the packaging after the contents are gone.

Have you noticed other emerging design trends that we missed?

Retro Packaging Is All the Rage

Today’s world is fast, non-stop, and all about constant communication and information gathered through our phones and tablets. But even in this modern, technology-driven world, sometimes looking back to simpler times is the best way to draw customers, and that’s where retro packaging comes in.

Retro packaging hits people’s sense of nostalgia, and also implies longevity. When a well-known company brings back old designs, or designs a new look that looks vintage, it reminds people that the brand has been around a long time. For example, M&Ms are marking their 75th anniversary and is rolling out several designs inspired by its packaging over the years, but at the same time are also introducing new flavors of the beloved chocolate candy.

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New companies are also savvy enough to take advantage of the retro look. In 2012 for instance, Small Town Brewery, in Wauconda, Illinois, introduced Not Your Father’s Root Beer, an alcoholic beer with a root beer taste, with packaging featuring a man dressed in 19th-century clothing. Other features of the logo included a barrel and old-style fonts. Even the cardboard container for the beer’s six-pack is designed to look like a small wooden crate.

“Retro packaging and labeling carry the appeal of quirkiness and nostalgia, and they project authenticity to shoppers,” says Bruce D. Sanders, a consumer psychologist, retail consultant and author of “Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers.”

He notes that during a three-week stretch in 2011, Heinz Ketchup re-introduced its eight-sided glass bottle from the 1990s; Hostess Cakes used retro packaging; and PepsiCo rolled out throwback versions of Pepsi and Mountain Dew.

“But trends do have a freshness date,” he says. “The special edition of Heinz Ketchup disappeared after five months. The Hostess Cakes items made their Brigadoon-style appearance for one month.”

The bad economy that has marked much of the 2000s is one reason for all of this looking-back, according to Sanders.

“Nostalgia is more attractive to shoppers during times of uncertainty, such as from economic downturns or social isolation,” he says. “Consumer behavior researchers find that when people are feeling lonely, they get interested in nostalgia. In one study, when consumers were made to feel socially uncertain by the experimental manipulation, they became more likely to prefer automobile makes, food brands, TV shows, movies, and even shower soaps which reminded them of their personal history.”

He adds that some brands are “perennially retro,” such as L.L. Bean and Restoration Hardware.

“They aim to project authenticity via continuity,” Sanders says. “A retro image is associated in shoppers’ minds with a store being in business for a long time, carrying trustworthy merchandise and staffed with reliable people.”

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Isaac Cohen, Chairman of the JNCO clothing line, says the company has embraced its retro roots.

“Back in the ’90s, JNCO was an international sensation thanks to its comfortable wide-legged jeans and non-conformist philosophy that represented the best of retro SoCal culture,” Cohen says. “When we revived the brand in 2015, we tried to reinvent the brand and the style of our clothes to match the modern trends. This approach yielded moderate success, but after answering the pleas from our followers asking for a return to our ’90s styles, our revival really took off. For our die-hard follower base, our retro products and packaging have worked to our advantage and helped strengthen our overall brand.”

Randy Gunter is the owner of the Gunter Agency, a marketing, advertising and design firm. His company acquired a consumer company, McNess Consumer Products, last October. McNess has been selling home, health and cleaning products since the early 20th century, and Gunter is emphasizing the company’s long history with its packaging.

“McNess has been around since 1908 and we are in the process of changing some of the packaging, but everything is with a retro design,” Gunter says. “When we took over, there was a lot of inconsistency. There are still some products that need to be changed yet, but we’re doing that when we need to replace inventory… We’re in the process of also bringing back several old products that had been discontinued.

So when it comes to retro packaging, you could say that everything old is new again.