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.