8 Trends from Natural Products Expo East 2017

Last weekend, we took a trip to Baltimore for Natural Products Expo East 2017, where hundreds of exhibitors came out from all over the country (and, in some cases, the world) to show the industry what they have to offer. While events like this are a magnet for unique, one-of-a-kind products, there were still some emerging trends that caught our attention. Here are eight trends that we noticed beginning to sweep the natural foods category:

Alternative Ingredients for Special Diets

 

 

Can’t have dairy? Fronana and Revolution Gelato are here to make sure that you can still enjoy a creamy, frozen treat. Can’t have meat? Jackfruit is finally coming into its own as a remarkably meat-like option – the samples of BBQ pulled jackfruit from the Jackfruit Company were practically indistinguishable from chicken or pork. Can’t have eggs, wheat, fish, milk, soy, shellfish, peanuts, or tree nuts? The dietitian behind Crunchy Kitchen feels your pain. After developing severe allergies following the birth of her daughter, she and her husband developed a line of wraps and waffles that feature plantains as a primary ingredient and are free of the top eight allergens.

Kombucha

 

While kombucha has been rapidly growing in popularity as a bottled beverage, we weren’t anticipating the sheer volume of kombucha brands present at the expo. Flavored with everything from lavender to cola, we are getting far more varieties of the fermented tea than we’ve ever seen before. If the expo is any indicator of what’s to come, we could soon see kombucha move out of the niche health space and expand even further into the mainstream.

Sap Drinks

 

 

With the demand for natural sweeteners continuing to grow, beverages that feature ingredients like maple and honey are taking off. Maple also pairs well with fruit, giving producers a wide range of options for flavor combinations.

 

Nuts and Seeds

 

 

The rhetoric around nut allergies is changing, and it’s probably not a coincidence that we are now seeing more and more products featuring nuts. For those whose systems can handle them, nuts are a very healthy snack that can be eaten raw or, increasingly, used as an alternative to dairy.

 

Organic Eggs

 

 

One of the more surprising trends that we noticed was a push for organic eggs. While several brands were selling eggs in traditional cartons, some brands are highlighting the specialness of their product by using alternative packaging, like bags.

 

RTD Coffee

 

 

With McDonald’s selling bottled McCafe drinks, the market is clearly embracing ready-to-drink coffee. Most brands are attempting to differentiate their product in some way, whether in packaging (ie., selling in cans rather than bottles), flavor profile (ie., removing the bitterness for a softer taste), or properites (ie., combining the coffee with an energy drink).

 

Squeezable Pouches

 

 

It’s arguable that brands like Yoplait pioneered this area years ago with products like Go-Gurt, but with the success of GoGo Squeeze (both with consumers and with valuable corporate partners), many more brands are coming out with drinkable products in pouches. Some brands like Once Upon a Farm have developed more traditional products like squeezable fruit blends and puddings, while others are using the packaging for more unusual snacks. Serenity Kids, for example, is using the packaging for savory meat-and-vegetable pastes.

 

Tea

 

 

Possibly due in part to the popularity of kombucha, tea also made a major splash at the show. Instagram favorite Fit Tea was there, as was Moonshine Tea (which partners with children’s charities), and Cusa Tea. Like the RTD coffee category, tea brands are setting themselves apart by offering some kind of added value. Fit Tea is for dieting and detoxing, for example, and Cusa Tea is a convenient choice as a premium instant tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Experiential Marketing Works So Well

When Frito-Lay announced that they were opening a Cheetos-themed restaurant in Tribeca – lead by celebrity chef Anne Burrell and running for three days only – the response was predictably mixed. “Is nothing sacred?” wrote Chris Matyszczyk, covering the restaurant for Inc. While some felt queasy at the thought of eating “Cheetos Sweetos Crusted Cheesecake” or “Cheetos Meatballs”, many others were intrigued by the gimmick and were willing to give Burrell’s concoctions a try.

For campaigns like this, it barely even matters if the meals were actually good. It was a very creative endeavor that earned a ton of press for the brand, and it’s unlikely that anyone (apart from a few die-hard Cheetos fans) went because they truly believed in Cheetos’ potential as a gourmet ingredient. Folks went for the novelty, because it was fun.

This wasn’t the brand’s first time at the experiential marketing rodeo. Last year, San Francisco-based agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners helped bring the “Cheetos Museum” to life, showcasing uniquely shaped snacks that resembled everything from seahorses to President Abraham Lincoln. The stunt won the brand and the agency five Lions at Cannes 2017, a huge victory for both.

 

Experiential Marketing

 

Experiential marketing – creating unique, short, in-person branded experiences – has become a very popular tactic over the past few years, and there are a number of reasons why this strategy has such a strong track record. First, it accomplishes what brands often strive for in marketing, which is to create a sense of urgency and immediacy. These types of experiences typically only run from a few days to a few months, instilling in consumers the idea that they have to pay attention and act right away, or risk missing out.

 

Secondly, the condensed time frame allows brands to go over the top and be extravagant, because their retail leases are very short. The overhead for something like the Netflix pop-up hotel – with themed suites that pair with the company’s original programming – would be enormous if it didn’t have an extremely limited run. Additionally, as department stores around the country struggle to compete against online retailers, commercial real estate groups are seeing short-term leases and pop-up deals as secure financial investments.

A cultural shift has influenced consumer-spending habits. Young people are putting more of their money into experiences than they are material goods, meaning that CPG companies that can serve up an experience with their product have a distinct advantage with millennial consumers.

 

Social Media IRL

 

Some brands have used experiential marketing as a way of proving that they understand their customers on a personal level. A great example of this is Kotex, which opened a pop-up shop for a weekend in 2016 that exclusively sold merchandise meant to make the experience of menstruating easier for women. Inspired by a college student’s blog post, the store carried comfortable clothes, snacks, beauty products, and other relevant items.

 

Last year, Ikea U.K. also used branded experiences to give its fans exactly what they’d asked for on social media. 100 Facebook users who liked a page called “I wanna have a sleepover in Ikea” were invited to make their dreams come true with massages, manicures, and hot cocoa, spending a night at the store in the bed of their choice.

Fruit of the Loom creatively used experiential marketing to address poor brand perception. Crispin Porter + Bogusky dreamt up a luxury pop-up lingerie boutique called “Früt”, highlighting the quality of Fruit of the Loom’s products despite their affordability and generally unspectacular packaging. The true nature of the products – that they were not from some chic, vaguely-European luxe brand and were, in fact, regular Fruit of the Loom panties from a plastic bag – was concealed until customers got to the check-out counter, at which point the false logo on the wall spun around to reveal the brand’s real identity.

 

Hit Cafés

 

While branded experiences have proven to be an effective marketing tool, few have been as successful as the Chobani Café. Transcending the short-term format, Chobani has managed to launch several permanent cafes – one in Soho, one in Tribeca, and one in Texas’s Woodlands. Fellow breakfast staple brand Kellogg’s just announced that following the success of their cereal café, they are also expanding into a more permanent location in downtown NYC, which will be “significantly larger” than the company’s current Times Square spot.

On some level, it makes sense that food brands like Chobani, Kellogg’s, and (maybe) even Cheetos would succeed in the restaurant business, as millions of fans are already familiar with their products. However, color authority Pantone proved that a brand that typically has nothing to do with food can create a hit dining experience when they debuted their seasonal Monaco café in 2015. The café was successful enough that they brought it back in 2016, along with a second Paris location. The Pantone Café serves food and drinks in bold tones, inspired by (and named after) real colors that Pantone has identified.

 

Pantone has already entered mainstream cultural aesthetic, with their trademark color chips appearing on mugs, t-shirts, watches, phone cases, and even USB flash drives. Beyond that, however, most non-designers have no reason to ever interact with the brand. Physical experiences like cafes and pop-ups give companies like Pantone the opportunity to be accessible to a wide, nontraditional audience.

 

Pop-Ups and Branded Experiences for Digital

 

Pop-ups are particularly great for online retailers, as it closes the distance between the brands and their consumers. In a moment of unity between a disruptive e-tailer and a major department store, the Herald Square Macy’s hosted a pop-up Etsy shop in 2016 with a rotating variety of curated goods. 22-year-old eBay launched a futuristic London pop-up last Christmas that used “bio-analytic” technology to analyze customers’ facial expressions in response to gift options, and made recommendations on what they should buy. Even Amazon has used pop-ups as a way of allowing people to interact with their electronics and get answers to their tech questions from a staff of experts.

 

 

Other types of digital platforms, like streaming services, have been getting into branded experiences as well. It is a natural fit for storytellers – after all, Disney has been teaching the world about the profitability of complementing beloved media works with immersive physical experiences for over six decades.

 

In the past, this meant theme parks and gaming. In the digital age, this can mean anything, from the most technologically advanced attractions to the simplest exhibitions. In 2015, Hulu made an exact replica of the Seinfeld apartment set to promote the series, which they had just acquired for streaming. It featured original items by the show, including some set pieces and the jersey worn by Patrick Warburton’s character in a season 6 episode. Seinfeld is one of the most venerated television series in American history, and Hulu chose to create an unpretentious display that would interest new viewers, while avoiding gimmicks that would alienate the original audience.

 

This year, South by Southwest featured several interactive media experiences. AMC created a pop-up “Los Pollos Hermanos” restaurant (Breaking Bad’s fictional fast-food chain that served as a front for a massive drug operation) to promote the new season of spinoff series Better Call Saul, and Showtime recreated the “Double R Diner” from Twin Peaks in celebration of the series’ revival.

 

 

Last October, Netflix took over more than 200 coffee shops around the country and transformed them into pop-up “Luke’s Diners“ to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the Gilmore Girls premiere and to get fans excited for the revival miniseries. The event drew massive crowds, as hundreds of viewers lined up early in the morning to get free cups of coffee and check out the replicated décor, including signs and cardboard cutouts of characters from the show.

 

Musicians and Pop-Ups

 

It isn’t just visual media brands that are building physical spaces for engagement. Fans were delighted last year when singer Frank Ocean finally released his long-anticipated sophomore album Blonde, handing out CDs for free at surprise pop-up shops in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and London. This came just months after Kanye West opened a pop-up shop in Soho to sell merchandise for his album The Life of Pablo. Unlike Frank Ocean, Kanye announced the plans for the pop-up ahead of time, and fans stood in line for several hours waiting to get in.

 

Just over a week ago, Drake opened a new flagship store in Toronto for his own brand, OVO. The location is special for fans (it’s only about ten minutes from where Drake grew up), and over a thousand of them started lining up early in the morning the day before the store opened. OVO (October’s Very Own) also has locations in New York and Los Angeles.

 

Getting Creative

 

Experience marketing can be a little bit harder for brands that already operate with quick, face-to-face interactions with customers. For a brand like Krispy Kreme, a restaurant or pop-up retail store wouldn’t make much sense. The solution that they found was clever – an ATM that dispensed Nutella-flavored donuts, a new limited-edition flavor that the company wanted to promote. All of the proceeds from the ATM went to Teenage Cancer Trust, creating even more incentive for passersby to use the machine.

 

While a Krispy Kreme ATM is a dream come true for many, experiential marketing isn’t always light. Some brands, like Delta Airlines, Nike, and Glade, have developed very conceptual installations that are meant to add new depth to their image. Delta’s exhibit at the 2015 TED conference in Vancouver – inspired by travel writer Pico Iyer’s talk on the “art of stillness” – involved placing an orb on a pedestal in a glowing room. Titled “Stillness in Motion”, the experience was created to connect the ideas of calmness and productivity with Delta’s efforts in in-flight technology and modern accommodations.

 

 

Nike, as a leading athletic brand, tends to heavily focus their branding on celebrating the human body and the feats that it can accomplish. At Milan Design Week 2016, the company partnered with ten modern artists to explore “natural motion” through different mediums. Some pieces in the exhibition were practical, often including Nike products or objects that were clearly inspired by them, while others were much more abstract.

 

Nike was not alone. Seven years ago, fellow apparel brand Levi’s put up a temporary installation in San Francisco, its home base. Part of its “We Are All Workers” campaign, the fixture underlined the company’s commitment to local communities. San Francisco was also home to Levi’s print workshop, which aimed to produce works and projects for the greater community.

 

 

 

 

Air freshener brand Glade also got conceptual with their 2015 “Museum of Feelings”, which contained a series of trippy rooms that corresponded to a specific scent. Each scent was meant to evoke one of five tailored emotions: optimism, joy, invigoration, exhilaration, or calmness. As smell is the strongest sense for memory recollection, Glade’s bold plan was to curate a series of pleasant, dreamlike experiences that visitors could relive every time they smelled the correct Glade product.

 

Brands like Glade are arguably best suited for experiential marketing campaigns, since scent – which is what they actually sell, whether it comes in the form of sprays, gels, candles, etc. – is intangible. Though their scents may be packaged, fully immersive experiences like the Museum of Feelings add an extra dimension to the way that consumers perceive the products.

 

 

Looking Forward

 

As for the future of experiential marketing, the most obvious factor to point to is the fast pace of digital technology. It can be expected that as virtual reality and augmented reality mature, they will likely find a home in experimental campaigns. The implication of mixed-reality tools is that they will be able to pull users into the brand story in ways that couldn’t easily be replicated in the physical world. More events will look like eBay’s pop-up, using newly developed technologies like artificial intelligence and bots to actively learn about consumers and alter their experience accordingly.

 

In line with recent trends, experiential marketing will also see a shift away from the standard practice of drawing people in to an event, instead reaching people where they already are. Places where large amounts of people gather every day – subway stations, street corners, etc. – will be increasingly viewed as prime real estate for campaigns. This is especially true of operations like the Krispy Kreme vending machine, which don’t require a huge amount of space compared to other stunts.

 

Livestreaming also continues to be popular, and while some brands still resist the format (live broadcasts are unpredictable by nature), it is likely that we will also see more of these events streamed online to encourage engagement with consumers who can’t physically be there. Since so many of these campaigns are temporary, brands will want to reach the widest audience possible while they have the opportunity. Brands are also realizing that there is a lot of charm in unpolished, DIY-style reporting, making the event feel authentic. Companies that continue to showcase their work only through expensive, professionally shot videos will soon seem a little cold and out-of-touch.

 

Virtually any brand can create an experience for consumers. While some may require more imagination than others, there’s no denying that branded experiences are a great tool for building relationships with audiences. Unlike other some other popular brand campaign styles, experiential marketing hasn’t seen oversaturation or obnoxiousness. This may change as copycat campaigns are bound to eventually emerge, but for now, it is still fun to see how creatively different brand interpret the strategy.

 

7 Trends from the 2017 Summer Fancy Food Show

 

According to the Specialty Food Association, the Summer Fancy Food Show is North America’s largest trade show for the specialty food industry. As such, it is the perfect place to scope out what sorts of new tastes are being explored by brands, and what trends are emerging as a result. Here are the top seven flavor trends that we noticed after attending last week:

 

1) Meat-Free

 

From eggless mayonnaise to fish-less fish cakes (which are made up primarily of beans), vegan products were out in full force this year. As more consumers become aware of the environmental ramifications of meat cultivation, meatless alternatives are gaining a lot of attention.

With the push for more protein-rich goods that are free of animal products, we were surprised at how few brands were incorporating insects into their food. Known to be full of protein, not unpleasantly flavored, and far more eco-friendly than livestock, insect-enriched products would have seemingly fit right in at this show. It feels like every year we say that consumers are close to embracing the idea of eating insects, yet once again it appears that the industry still isn’t feeling the love.

2) Veggie Snacking

 

 

Not so surprisingly, vegetable-based snacks continue to serve as a substitute for fatty products like potato chips and pretzels. Crunchy brussels sprouts, popped lotus seeds, seaweed crisps, and beet crackers all offer consumers easy ways to bring more vegetables into their diet without sacrificing snacktime.

Notably, vegetables are now being combined with more sweet treats – Biena, for example, won a Sofi prize for their roasted chickpeas covered in caramel and chocolate. Several other brands showed up with some variation of sweetened sesame bars, which could be an alternative to granola.

3) Coconut

Coconut sugar, coconut clusters, even coconut-flavored cheese – everywhere you turned, somebody had figured out a new thing to do with coconuts. Many of these products were honored with Sofi awards, particularly those that are intended for snacking, like World Finer Foods’ GoCo Crunchy Coconut Bites.

 

4) Spiced and Textured Beverages

 

We first anticipated the spiced drink trend back when Pepsico announced their limited edition Pepsi Fire flavor. Our prediction was confirmed when the most beloved non-Starbucks drink on Instagram, Blk. Water, came to the Fancy Food Show with somewhat savory new flavors like “Spicy Black Cherry” and “Peach Mango Basil”. One of the busiest booths at the show was relative newcomer H2rOse, a beverage brand that infuses water with roses and saffron.

The show also featured a range of textured beverages, with several aloe drink, puree, and chia seed drink brands in attendance. Aloe-based beverages are often a little thicker than a traditional juice, with variations in “globiness” depending on brand. As soda sales slip, unique drinks like these have an opportunity to expand their market.

5) Beets

 

 

Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that beets were going to be the next major superfood, and the trend has continued into 2017. Not only do beets give products an exciting, eye-catching color – which is helpful for standing out at an event like the Fancy Food Show, which features thousands upon thousands of options – they also are rich in antioxidants and nutrients. Love Beets came to the show with a variety of beet products, including organic beet juice and a mixable beet powder.

 

6) Cold Soup

Tio Gazpacho and Fawen are just two of the cold, drinkable soup brands that presented at this year’s show. With the beverage industry starting to pull away from sugar and playing with savory flavors, it makes sense that vegetable-heavy drinks would shine.

 

7) Allergy-Sensitive Products

In addition to all of the meat-free products at the show, a number of brands came with gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free snacks and beverages for intolerant consumers. New Jersey company No Whey! Foods presented an assortment of popular candy alternatives, like “Pea NOT Cups”, chocolate cups filled with sunflower seed butter rather than peanut butter. Many of the products in this category are also vegan and/or kosher, and incorporate other trendy ingredients like coconuts and agave.

 

 

How CPG Brands are Strategizing for the Gig Economy

The major disruption caused by platforms of the new gig economy (ie. Uber, AirBnB, Etsy) has been widely reported, and it’s still too early to fully understand the long-term implications that it will have for relevant industries. Robert Reich, former labor secretary, called the shift “the biggest change in the American workforce in over a century” and reaffirmed its unpredictability. What we do know is that these sorts of platforms are impacting increasingly diverse fields, and that companies are facing the prospect of either conforming or becoming obsolete. After several years of the gig economy going strong, CPG brands are finally responding and catching up.

 

 

In mid-May, Mars began recruiting event hosts for a new multilevel marketing campaign called “The Cocoa Exchange”. In the vein of Avon or Mary Kay, “curators” buy kits of samples to push at parties, and are awarded a percentage of any online sales that result from it. Mars has collaborated with chefs to create a unique line of products specifically for The Cocoa Exchange, meant to pair well with wine and suit a party atmosphere better than the company’s existing options.

 

Direct selling like this, Mars has said, has been a fairly safe and profitable channel for the past five or six decades. Additionally, this strategy plays into two well-documented facets of millennial economic behavior – first, the “obvious demand” (as Mars put it) for opportunities to earn supplemental income, and second, millennials’ propensity to invest more in experiences than in material goods. These factors combined convinced Mars that an interactive, entrepreneurial program like The Cocoa Exchange would be able to thrive.

 

 

Other companies are taking inspiration directly from popular digital platforms. Deliv, for instance, is a five-year-old startup that works with major retailers to deliver in-store purchases directly to customers using crowdsourced labor. Known as “Uber for the retail industry”, Deliv has managed to avoid the turbulent legal environment that rideshare services have faced because they don’t compete with regulated industries, unlike Uber and Lyft, which have been accused of threatening taxi services. Deliv has enabled companies like Williams-Sonoma and Bloomingdale’s to offer an added-value service to their consumers and aide in competing against companies that deal primarily in e-commerce, for whom home delivery is a major selling point.

 

 

Some retailers – like Macy’s – are collaborating with gig platforms to offer new experiences to a shared consumer base. Last year the Herald Square Macy’s (the company’s NYC flagship store) hosted a pop-up Etsy shop in an area of the store known as “One Below”, a section meant to appeal to millennial shoppers. At any given time, the shop featured around fifty products (including things like household goods and jewelry, which Macy’s also sells) that were constantly rotated out in order to conform to a specific theme. Prior to working with Macy’s, Etsy also collaborated on smaller projects with retailers like Nordstrom and Whole Foods.

 

Another strategy that CPG brands are taking on is challenging gig platforms for talent. According to an article published this month by the London School of Economics, self-employment is increasingly common among those who traditionally have a difficult time transitioning back into the workforce, namely stay-at-home parents and retirees. In order to retain skilled workers and prevent flexible gig platforms from absorbing these types of candidates, many CPG companies are implementing return-to-work programs. Pepsico has been a leader in this with their “Ready to Return” initiative, which accepts professionals who have taken a career break for more than two years and provides them with ten paid weeks of coaching and mentoring before they start their new position. On their career site, Pepsico tellingly specifies that they are seeking associates who can “make an impact in the Age of Disruption”.

 

Economists and commentators also refer to the gig economy as the “on-demand” economy, especially when discussing it from a consumer behavior perspective. Similar to the concept of “McDonaldization” that was so popular a few years ago, the idea now is that companies like Uber are conditioning users to expect quick and easy service from completely unrelated industries. Amazon is also largely responsible for the on-demand economy, and big box stores are strategizing for how to compete. For example, Wal-mart just opened their first automated 24-hour pickup kiosk, which allows customers to place online orders (of at least $30) and pick them up at a designated kiosk in-store. Last year, they directly partnered with Uber and Lyft for a home delivery pilot program, comparable to what Deliv currently offers. Now with Amazon’s startling announcement that they have decided to purchase Whole Foods, retailers are feeling the heat more than ever, and we should expect to see even bolder experiments from unsettled competitors.

 

 

In an article for Food Dive, industry reporter Keith Loria warned against transitioning to independent contractor-based hiring practices, as some food companies may be tempted to do. After all, companies like Uber don’t have to pay for employee benefits, nor do they have to pay for downtime. However, Loria said, the food manufacturing industry can be physically dangerous for those not appropriately trained, as improper storage and cleanup can lead to serious health concerns for both workers and consumers. Many within the industry feel that this is too big of a risk compared to the rewards offered by making the change. Further, it is important to note that Uber and companies like it have come under fire for what has been perceived as a lack of corporate and social responsibility. Many young shoppers are paying close attention to the way that companies treat their employees, and throwing away prized benefits like retirement savings plans and health insurance could potentially lead to problems with public image.

 

The gig economy has already radically disrupted service industries like transportation and hospitality, and it is gradually creeping into the CPG sphere. Its presence is still relatively new there, and brands should learn from what has happened within the service sector and prepare themselves for what’s to come.

 

The Rise of Minimalism in Package Design

The trend for minimalist package design continues to pick up steam, be it forgoing lots of wording, using simplistic designs, going without labels, or even utilizing materials that are plain and simple.

Many companies are opting for clear-cut product labels, which allow consumers to easily identify and differentiate the brands from others on the market. In an era of information overload, savvy CPG brands are realizing that their customers appreciate minimal packaging.

Matt Ramirez, senior designer with Adhere Creative, an inbound marketing and brand development agency in Houston, Texas, said it’s strict limitations or restrictions that sparks creativity.

“Minimalism is the style of the day. Companies can still bend it to fit our needs whether we use color, typography, or simple flat graphics instead of images to stand out,” he said. “Having a roadblock forces us to think up creative ways around it. Having to stand out from the pack with less and less to work with is just another roadblock designers have to think around in a creative way.”

Marketing veteran David Miskin, CMO of Lightstone, first applied the minimalist attitude doing window displays while working at the Gap, and he’s seen minimalism rise in importance over the decades.

 

“I think everybody is familiar with the term ‘less is more.’ It’s important to realize, though, that design is not about less or emptiness, it’s about impact,” he said. “A minimalist philosophy doesn’t just spare space; the designer works using pieces that tell a story. By focusing on what is essential, a designer can better exemplify a company’s or brand’s narrative by focusing on a few points that make a big difference.”

Looking at traditional advertising—whether it was print, television, or billboards—Miskin noted there was such a dominant design across all mediums from the ’60s to the ’80s, that it got to a point where there was so much clutter that designers needed to go to the other end of the spectrum and clean palates again, starting from the basics to develop new concepts.

“In fact, many modern offices have employed streamline, to varying degrees, using negative space to tell the story of their brand,” he said. “In addition, this approach has led to greater productivity, collaboration, and ideas.”

Going Minimalist

 

Some of the design elements that can help contribute to a minimalism feel include using lots of white space, bringing out a message on a small portion of the packaging; relying on bold colors and visibly appealing fonts; or using a simple photo that tells the story you want to tell.

Still, minimalism doesn’t have to be a white background with a gray apple in the middle, either. It can be an orange box with a white swoosh or even a burger made out of the simple bars of the letter “E” in the word “whopper.” All are examples of minimalism however, they use the style in very different ways.

“Color, space, shape, and typography are all very important tools we have at our disposal to make brands stand out and look different while using the same trend to communicate our message,” Ramirez said. “Having a well-thought-out brand identity is an essential tool that we must never forget about. Pepsi and Coca-Cola both use minimalism with simple packaging and on the bottles themselves. However, never in a million years could someone mix them up because they have vastly different typography, colors, and overall brands.”

Miskin said that consistency within a brand is important when pursuing a minimalistic strategy, and the elements of the minimalistic design should be across the board.
“A brand needs to know who they are and not stray too far from their formula,” he said. “By not drifting from their identity, consumers will become loyalists who seek out a brand, quickly recognizing them in a retail space.”

Le Labo, for example, designs all of its fragrance brands in the same way.

“If you look at their packaging, it’s consistent: minimalist across all scents,” Miskin said. “Maison Margiela is a stand-out fashion brand with minimal store build-outs and packaging. Their stores’ design features include books painted white, scraps of wood, reclaimed fixtures, and a consistent grit throughout the stores. Just by going to that white, clean place, they developed such a strong brand.”

Minimalism in Action

 

Another great way to get the most out of a minimalist design is to let a label make eye-catching, bold claims, such as Boxed Water, which simply has “Boxed Water is Better” written in black against a white background.

It was a decision that company CEO Daryn Kuipers said was important to getting its message in front of consumers. Furthermore, the company put great thought into its packaging materials, again opting for a minimalist approach.

“By packaging our premium water in recyclable cartons that ship flat to our regional fillers, Boxed Water minimizes our carbon footprint and increases efficiency compared to bottled water options,” Kuipers said. “The paper for our cartons is sourced from trees of well-managed forests, where new trees are continuously planted to replace the ones harvested.”

 

 

Vodka Mariette is a premium French spirit designed for bold and creative millennial women and a minimalist design was accomplished in-house by Winz Hospitality with assistance from design firm MX Landau.

“To differentiate, an antique neckless carafe was designed in a shape reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower and/or a woman’s body,” said Josh Winzelberg, Vodka Mariette’s president. “It was made completely matte black, opposed to ornate glossy or frosted bottles that are common. Rather than painted décor, a label of quality paper was opted for, similar to wines and champagnes that convey craftsmanship and class.”

Furthermore, the fonts expressed a general contrast, creating the aesthetic of the brand, which is French Modern.

“The female-oriented style of contemporary minimalism with homage to history and craft via details is truly relevant now as a hallmark for the changing landscape of luxury spirits,” Winzelberg said. “This gives the bottle a ‘fresh’ look many others lack.”

The philosophy of minimalism is to omit needless things, so by paring down packaging materials and pairing down the visual aspects of the design, a brand can do wonders and send a big message by doing what’s seen as little.

 

Top 5 Examples of Visual Texture

Visual texturing can be used to create unique, eye-catching packaging designs, through the exploration of layers, photography, illustration, and key graphic elements. This type of design plays off of elements of touch to connect with customers on a deeper level, building both general curiosity and brand loyalty. When done correctly, textural packaging can leap off the shelves, further enticing customers (particularly those who are attracted to abstract designs).

What Is Visual Texture?

Visual texture is not quite the same as actual texture. Actual texture is something you can feel, such as wood. Visual texture, on the other hand, is only implied texture using particular styles of design, such as marbling, layered texts and graphics, patterns, colors, lines, dots, or other repeated shapes.

Caribou Coffee

 

Caribou Coffee was looking for a new design that serves as “an evolution that leverages the distinct qualities of the previous packaging while incorporating new art work and design elements.” Colle + McVoy accomplished this with a burlap sack façade, which stands apart from other coffee options by simply giving the illusion of a different texture.

La Forma Saporita

 

 

This conceptual design – created by Yanko Djarov for his final bachelor’s thesis project – deserves to be mentioned for its successful use of visual texture throughout the branding. La Forma Saporita means “the tasty shape” in Italian, which is used to inspire the branding and packaging. The textural quality of the pasta is highlighted so that the design practically jumps off the branding and packaging. The design also uses a monochromatic theme to better highlight the colors of the pasta, which is also unlike most other colorful pasta packaging on the market.

Isle of Harris Gin

 

Stranger & Stranger added texturing to the Isle of Harris packaging, designed to reflect the unique colors and shapes of the landscape. It also represents a physical approach to texture design, as it entices consumers to pick it up and touch it. It stands apart without requiring a complicated (or costly) design or materials.

 

Lawyer’s House Wine

 

 

Brandient designed the new Lawyer’s House Wine packing, which serves as the perfect example of textural packaging using a simple sticker. The bottle is meant to appear like it is wearing a men’s dinner jacket using a pinstripe pattern, folded sticker, and small red handkerchief. It gives off a feeling of elegance from the shelf and is the perfect gift to take to any dinner party or client meeting.

Alternative Organic Wine

 

 

This concept created by The Creative Method offers an upscale design by focusing on the different textures found in nature. The labels use all organic packaging, from the raw twine, vine leads, and balsa wood to the inks, string, and wax used on the organic paper wrapping. Awarded the “Best In Show” at the Dieline Package Design Awards, the packaging is meant to focus on the premium nature of organic products, rather than focusing simply on the pureness of it. Along with serving as the perfect gift for any host, textural packaging designs like this one also offer a great talking point.

Package Design Trend: Dramatic Callouts

As consumers become more resolute in their preferences for trends that have been growing over the past few years (“simple” ingredients, environmentally-friendly production practices, etc.), brands are responding by dramatically highlighting these traits in their packaging. This has proved successful for many breakout brands, and this strategy should be considered in order to show potential consumers that their needs are the primary concern of the company.

rxbar

 

Protein bar manufacturer RXBAR took a pretty big gamble when they shrunk their logo by 60% in their 2017 package redesign. Their risk paid off enormously – by making the ingredients (which are easy for buyers to understand, a valued feature for modern shoppers) the star of the design, they launched their product into third place in its category.

 chia

KIND chose a similar strategy with their line of pressed bars, minimizing their brand name in order to free up room for the ingredients to shine. The company states that each bar adds two servings off fruit to one’s daily routine, and that the snack is made with just fruit and vegetables or fruit and chia. The packaging callouts emphasize this “simple” makeup.

daytm

This packaging from design agency mousegraphics reads like a recipe, taking what RXBAR has done a step further. While the funky hand-drawn typeface is a little difficult to read, the flavors are easily distinguished because whichever ingredient is most present in each bar gets a corresponding color and small illustration at the bottom. The project won a 2017 Dieline Award for Outstanding Achievement.

halotop

Halo Top majorly disrupted the ice cream category with its loud display of its outrageously low calorie count. The treat is made with stevia instead of sugar, meaning that the brand is able to differentiate themselves from fatty, indulgent competitors. Here, this fact is the hero of the packaging, as the calories-per-pint count is the first thing that draws the consumer’s eye.

water4change

Water for Change, which donates 10 liters of water to villagers in need for every carton purchased, won an A’Design Award for this packaging. The hand-to-hand illustration clearly calls out the value that the product offers beyond its basic function, and floating words like “eco friendly” and “sustainable” further express the image of environmental health that the brand is trying to promote.

 

 

The Present and Future of Alcohol

Alcohol is a multibillion-dollar market in the US, one that must constantly evolve in order to keep up with changing consumer needs. The category has seen some serious innovation so far this year, and our understanding of where the industry is now has provided us with some pretty significant clues as to where we can expect it to go in the near future.

The Present: Millennials Don’t Have Brand Loyalty

 

Alcohol1

According to a recent Nielsen study, last month only 24% of millennials knew what brand they wanted to purchase when they entered a liquor store. This is in stark contrast to 52% of baby boomers, who tend to have more developed, concrete preferences in this category. The study also found that just 11% of millennials bought alcohol on impulse.

What This Means for the Future

 

Alcohol brands can look at millennials’ lack of brand loyalty as an opportunity to have greater influence in-store, which means more investment in assets like package design and in-store advertising. Additionally, brands can be expected to make stronger attempts at building relationships with consumers via social media engagement.

The Present: Heineken Just Debuted a Non-Alcoholic Beer

Alcohol2

Heineken just released “Heinken 0.0” in order to compete with industry giants like AB InBev, which has made it their goal for 20% of their beer to be low- or zero-alcohol within the next eight years. Non-alcoholic beer manufacturers are also seeing the product as a potential rival to soft drinks, which have been losing retail momentum to lower-calorie options (Heineken 0.0 has half the calories of Coca-Cola).

What This Means for the Future

 

Beer brands – as well as other alcohol manufacturers – are going to start considering the financial promise of alternative markets. While producing non-alcoholic beverages may seem like an odd departure from convention for Heineken, research has shown that the European market for non-alcoholic beer has grown over the past five years as the overall beer market shrank. In Spain, zero-alcohol beers have as much as 10% market share. The future of the alcohol industry is going to depend on identifying and supporting niche trends like this that show potential for going global.

 

The Present: “Poptails” are Taking Off in the US

Alcohol3

The recent trend of “sloshies” (frozen alcoholic slushies, usually with a white wine base) has now evolved into “poptails”, frozen alcoholic popsicles. Initially introduced into the UK market, the treat has just become available in the US through brands like FrutaPop. Each pop in this particular brand has 5% alcohol and comes in thirteen flavors, including Sparkling Prosecco, Cranberry Mojito, Pina Colada, Rum Punch, and White Coconut Sangria.

What This Means for the Future

 

Innovation in the alcohol industry is trending towards understanding the consumer’s environment. Both poptails and sloshies appeal to young people drinking outdoors – summertime parties, poolside lounging, and beach trips are all served well by these products. Additionally, freezing the drink allows brands to incorporate the kind of special cocktail features that one could find in a bar, like the sprig of mint encased in the boozy Watermelon Mint Lemonade Pop. Finding ways to include these types of added-value traits is going to be imperative for new product development.

 

The Present: e-Commerce is Changing the Game

Alcohol4

The explosion in popularity of both online shopping and subscription box services is affecting the way that alcohol brands are packaging their products. Bulky, heavy glass bottles were never especially ideal for shipping from warehouses to retail locations, and they are doubly impractical for direct mailing. UK startup Garcon Wines has been in the news lately for their ingenious flat bottle design, intended to make the wine easier to fit through a traditional English letterbox.

 What This Means for the Future

 

Alcohol manufacturers (particularly wine companies) will begin straying from classic bottle designs and will start looking towards new solutions that preserve the product in a lightweight, yet functional way. It can be as simple as following Garcon Wines’ example with more compact structures, or brands can go as far as Bota Box has with their award-winning cartons, which are both much lighter and far less prone to breaking than standard wine bottles.

Alcohol5

As more brands begin to focus their attention on e-commerce rather than retail, design strategy will move away from what looks best on the shelf and will instead consider what will provide the easiest means of quickly transporting the alcohol to the consumer.

 

Brand Equity is Overrated

drinkcoke

Andy Warhol once famously claimed that America’s tradition of mass production was what made it a great country. He said:

“You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke…all the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it…and you know it.”

This kind of thinking, that every unit of a product should be exactly alike forever, has been part of the foundation of branding strategy for decades. Consumers had, in the past, relied on consistency as a measure of quality. But in 2017, the relationship that shoppers have (and what they want to have) with the brands that they buy has changed. Consumers are less trusting of big brands, and overreliance on sameness may be costing companies business with modern shoppers who are looking for more personal experiences.

Even Coca-Cola, Warhol’s shining symbol of mass production, is embracing the trend towards customization in their bottle designs. They took a huge risk with their enormously successful “Share a Coke” campaign, where they replaced their legendary logo with 1,000 different names.

namecoke

Not only did this create a smart, personalized experience for consumers, it also showed that the company understood the need for branding that lends itself to social media engagement. A big part of the customization trend is that the evolving media landscape has transformed company-consumer interactions, so that there are more conversations and less one-way dialogue. The “Share a Coke” bottles made consumers feel excited about drinking something that has been in their family’s fridge for generations, and by risking their brand equity, Coca-Cola saw soft drink sales rise more than 2%.

itsminecoke

 

The company has taken this concept one step further with their “It’s Mine” campaign. Using HP’s SmartStream Mosaic software, Coca-Cola produced millions of glass Diet Coke bottles, each with a completely unique design. Purchasing one of these bottles means owning the only Diet Coke in the world that looks the way that it does – no movie star or President can drink one like it. This is the future of branding.

When Tazo tea first came onto the scene in the 90’s, the spiritual, mythical look was considered innovative and modern — as The Dieline put it, the packaging “really represented the times”. For years Tazo was associated with that new-age image, and the design remained virtually unchanged for about two decades, even after the brand joined forces with Starbucks. Once the coffee giant completed their own redesign in 2012, they decided that it was time to bring Tazo into the new millennium. What was once a fun standout in the boring tea market was now corny and outdated, and nearly every visual element that defined Tazo was thrown out. In its place was a clean, white background,  with the flavors present in each variety clearly displayed in a neat little picture. The rebrand here was so successful because the company understood what was valuable about the product and maintained its spirit with the new look, while still being unafraid to go in a radically different direction than what fans were used to.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATazo pre-redesign

tazonew

Tazo post-redesign

What is also interesting about the redesign is that nowhere on the packaging does it make any claim to be affiliated with Starbucks. Starbucks is one of the most recognizable and beloved brands in the world, and if the company was trying to introduce the tea to a new generation, then the association could have been a potentially valuable asset. The fact that they distanced the packaging from the Starbucks brand could indicate how the company anticipated consumers may come to feel about big brands.

Unfortunately, years of pink slime exposés and soy chicken sandwich scares have conditioned consumers to be wary of brands that could be considered “Big Food”. Today’s shoppers are drawn to brands that seem to care about them and their families, and the reputation of national brands as a whole is that they care far more about finding ethical shortcuts in order to increase profits. One of the core tenets of brand equity is name association, and if all shoppers can think of is artificial flavors and hormones, then brand equity is worthless.

Hellmann’s has also recently had a redesign to better appeal to contemporary shoppers. The “deli-inspired” look and feel of the product gives off a more wholesome vibe, and the photographs of eggs play into consumers’ desire for fresh, easily understandable ingredients.

hellmans

 

The color palette isn’t an extraordinarily dramatic change from what Hellmann’s had before, but the jar does look different enough that many longtime buyers searching for that distinct yellow label will have a more difficult time finding it. Some may even abandon the brand altogether, afraid that Hellmann’s is either now “too fancy” for them or that the change in design signifies some kind of major difference in flavor. Hellmann’s knows that they face these risks, and yet has chosen to ditch their iconic packaging anyway in order to stay relevant.  Ultimately, relevance does matter more than consumer loyalty.

Some companies are forgoing their usual branding in order to compete in a specific local market. For example, Airbnb, which has been hugely successful in this new anti-big-brand economy, just announced that they are not even keeping their name consistent across all markets. In China, they are now calling themselves “Aibingyi”, which is meant to be easier for Chinese users to pronounce. While it is not unprecedented for businesses to change their names when entering different markets, Airbnb faces unique risks in that this could cost them users that travel internationally, a group that is quickly growing. If a frequent Airbnb user from Sweden is vacationing in Shanghai, they may overlook the unfamiliar Aibingyi.

Brand equity, while important, is overvalued by big brands. More than consistency, today’s shoppers value niche traits like individuality, freshness, and smallness. Scarred by many years of health scandals, consumers do not have faith in big brands that way that they used to, and brand recognition is no longer the coveted feature that it once was. In 2017, companies that hold on too tightly to their same old branding risk falling behind in the new economy.

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.

HandmadeFotoJet Collage1

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.

 

Animal ImageryFotoJet Collage3

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.

MascotsFotoJet Collage4

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.