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.


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.”


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.

Some Thoughts on the 2015 Fancy Food Show

Earlier this week we sent Kory Grushka, our Director of Business Development, to the Fancy Food Show in NYC to study up about the latest trends in the world of retail food. He was also tasked with gorging himself with hundreds of thousands of small gourmet food samples. To that end, we are happy to report that Kory was up to the task, as both objectives were met with resounding success. Below are some of his thoughts and observations from the show:

Obviously this year’s show was full of natural, organic, gluten-free and other healthy food products – both new and old. These are trends that are clearly here to stay and many (if not most) of the new product development out there seem to be focused on these areas. International flavors is another trend that has been picking up steam in the packaged food industry for the last few years, and was all over the place this year as well.

Kitchens of Africa

Staying on the international flavor theme, Kitchens of Africa is a startup out of North Carolina that is bringing native African flavors to market with an interesting new line of cooking sauces and marinades. Their products stood out as bringing to market some delicious and unique flavors, while riding high on the international flavor trend (which is here to stay).

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Apinya Thai Food Co.

Staying with the international flavor trend, Apinya Thai Food Co. recently rolled out a new product packaging line for their Thai chili sauces that caught our eye. The packaging features an upside-down clear tube container that showcases the vibrant colors of the sauces, while prominently featuring the brand name in Thai letters (rather than English). Its a very compelling package structure and design and obviously capitalizes on the sriracha craze.

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Guiness Chips

A couple of really interesting licensed products caught our eye as well. Some of you may have seen Guiness Chips before… these are potato chips that are infused with the famous Guiness stout flavor, and they are RIDICULOUSLY delicious.

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They launched in Europe a couple of years ago and were first introduced into the US market in January 2015. Very unique product and flavor profile, and a great example of logical licensing in the food business. This is not Jack Daniels lip balm… this is a complementary flavor and a recognizable brand extending into a why-didnt-I-think-of-that product category. As any bartender knows, Beer, chips, pretzels and nuts are the life blood of any bar… why shouldnt they go together? Just surprising that you dont see more beer/chips combinations… yet.

Sriracha Stuff

For years, we were surprised that the original Sriracha brand – Huy Fong Foods – did not extend their brand or sauce into other food categories. To that end, I wrote this article back in 2013 which questioned why there were not more sriracha products on the market. Naturally then, I was absolutely shocked when I stumbled across the booth for POP! Gourmet Foods, a popcorn company, and I saw this on their table:

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As you can see, its a shmorgasboard of Huy Fong Foods Sriracha-branded products, from croutons to ketchup to potato chips!  All are co-branded with the POP! brand. Now, you might be asking yourself, what does a popcorn guy know about ketchup or mayo or hummus??? Probably not that much. But as you can read here, somehow the owner of the POP! brand was able to persuade Huy Fong Foods to grant them a license not just for popcorn, but for a ton of other unrelated food products. While it may be a little late in the Sriracha game, its still amazing that a popcorn company was able to license this super exclusive (and reclusive) brand for all these random products. Hope it works out for them, but really more shocked than anything.


10 Package Design Trends for 2015

Package design trends tend to change every year and while some trends can come and go, we have highlighted 10 of our favorite trends below, which we believe are here to stay.

1. Bold Shapes and Colors

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Featuring bold geometric inspired patterns and an array of eye-catching colors is one way to instantly grab your audience’s attention.

2. Transparency

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Opaque white typography is typically printed on transparent items, which allows the product inside to be showcased. It is simplistic, modern, refined, and lets the product speak for itself.

3. Kraft Paper

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Kraft paper has been an increasingly popular packaging material choice since 2013. The sustainable material can serve as the perfect canvas for a designer to explore their creativity.

4. Globalization

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Packaging inspired by shipping, freight, and travel reflects its global nature and adventurous spirit and appeals to a wider audience. Referencing particular destinations around the world, or flavors from those areas of the world, on your packaging can also transform any ordinary item into a gift.

5. Black Contrast and Black Matte

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Black, white, and pure contrast instantly attracts the eye, so they don’t need to rely on bright colors or imagery to stand apart from the other items on the shelf. Black matte is also seeing its way into this trend, especially when it comes to liquor and beer packaging.

6. Watercolor

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Watercolor tends to evoke a feeling of calm, so adding watercolor based illustrations can make customers want to sit back and relax with the products.

7. Pure White

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Beginning with a pure white canvas and layering colors on top can really make them sing. The result is a bold design that is colorful, but refined.

8. Bring Life to the Product

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Using whimsical illustrations, pastel colors, and fun imagery can make customers feel good about the product before they’ve even used it. The branding should be able to engage with the consumer from the shelf so they are more inclined to choose it.

9. Sustainable and Green Packaging

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More and more people are doing their part to help the environment. Choosing green, socially responsible packaging is good for your business, the environment, and your bottom dollar.

Most designers believe in the standard that your packaging should be able to stay on the shelf for approximately three to five years. Unless your business has the funds and time for rebranding efforts more often than every three years, it is important that your packaging has staying power.

10. Convenience

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Approximately 1/3 of the U.S. population is currently made up of the “New Millennials” or “Gen Y”, which are people born between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s. They have a heavier reliance on convenience and are willing to pay a bit more for higher quality and convenience, like packaging that is more lightweight, contains fewer materials, or has that DIY feel.

The Power of Protein

Trends show that consumers are looking for more protein in their daily diet and have been leaning towards Greek yogurt and protein bars. Clearly, food innovation managers (and beverage innovation managers) have taken notice.

Food Innovation & the Power of Protein

The latest player in this increasingly crowded field?  Why of course, protein packs.

For example, the new, on-the-go packs from Oscar Mayer that contain meat, cheese and nuts cater to the brand’s active consumers who are looking for convenient snacks to keep them going during the day.  According to Packaging Digest, The P3 Portable Protein Pack is being rolled out with a lucrative marketing campaign and is expected to be a driving force in the expanding protein-snacking market which is estimated to be worth $19 billion.

Food Innovation & the Power of Protein

According to FOOD, Hormel’s REV snack wraps sales approach $30m in first new month on market. These can be eaten hot or cold and feature a combo of meats, mozzarella cheese and a flatbread wrap, with 15-18g of protein.

Food Innovation & the Power of ProteinThe verdict?  These protein packs are an interesting addition in a field with rapidly growing demand.  For both children and adults, they seem to be an enticing option as a healthy alternative to snacking.  Expect to see more such products on supermarket shelves in the foreseeable future.

The Eurofication of Private Label?

BrandPack_CvrWorksWorks Design published the cover story for the February 2014 issue of Brand Packaging Magazine, entitled “The Eurofication of Private Label?”  The article looks at some of the current trends affecting U.S. and European private label brands, and contemplates the future of the U.S. private label market.  Below is an excerpt…

The U.S. private label market has grown significantly in recent years and will likely see continued (albeit measured) growth. The recession has created seemingly permanent changes in consumer perceptions and spending habits with respect to private label brands. While the growth rates may not be astronomical in the near term, the private label industry is growing and building a very formidable base thanks to changed consumer preferences, retailer focus on brand building, and the emergence of deep discounters, among other factors. Smaller retailers should start to follow the large players’ lead with tiered structures for their private label portfolios and highly differentiated brands in niche categories. They should (and will) forget the copycat era and think in terms of building brand equity with engaging packaging, product innovation and promotional activities around their private label products. Bottom line is that the retail environment will not mirror Europe in the foreseeable future, but private label is building a foundation that will continue the transformation of the industry for years to come.

Click here for the full article.


Augmented Reality is (Probably) the Next Big Thing

Works Design Group’s very own Director of Business Development, Kory Grushka, wrote this article about augmented reality that was published in Brand Packaging Magazine last week.  The article looks at how marketers and packaging managers can use this technology to create some truly innovative package design concepts.

Below is an excerpt from the article that gets to the bottom line:

Though still in its infancy, AR is a transcendent technology that has the potential to revolutionize the consumer experience.  At a minimum, you should be monitoring the development of this technology, familiarizing yourself with the key industry players and tracking its use in the marketplace.  While a discussion about Google Glass is beyond the scope of this article, you should be paying particularly close attention to its progress, as it has the potential to completely revolutionize the AR landscape (and much sooner than you might expect).

At this stage, it may be worthwhile to dip your toes in the water with short-run or seasonal packaging to become acquainted with the integration process and the many benefits that it can introduce (unique consumer insights, social media buzz and other earned media, among others).  Alternatively, if you are able to incorporate AR into your packaging with truly value-added content, it may well be time to jump in head first. As of this writing, the best examples of this technology come in contexts unrelated to package design.

At some point, however, a truly remarkable AR experience will arrive in the packaging context, and when it does, it will be built around value-added content. If you can identify that type of content and you can commit to the integration process, it might be time to jump in.


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The End of the Advertising Agency?

Are traditional advertising and creative agencies facing extinction?  Not so fast.  That said, in a recent article, Harvard Business Review (HBR) takes a close look at a new trend that is striking fear into the hearts of many executives at advertising and design agencies.

The idea is that the crowdsourcing phenomenon, which has taken the fundraising world by storm, has also been finding its way into the creative world. And according to HBR, that trend will only continue to accelerate.

Crowdsourcing creative - the end of advertising & design agencies?

One early product of this phenomenon is the new age agency of Victors and Spoils (V&S). In one example of this new model at work, V&S wanted to land the Harley Davidson account after the motorcycle maker split with its long-time agency. But instead of going through the typical pitch process, the V&S team created a brief and posted it to its crowd of 7,200 creatives and strategists — made up of freelancers,

How Americans Really See the Organic Label

Today’s branding and package design blog post looks at American perceptions with respect to the USDA organic label.  According to an online March 2013 Harris Poll of 2,276 U.S. adults (ages 18+), the majority of Americans (59%) see the USDA organic label as an excuse to charge more. While the study shows that Americans indeed are concerned with the future of the environment, and the concern continues to rise, they aren’t willing to dish out the extra cash on organic items.

However, that’s not to say that Americans don’t believe in what the organic label stands for. In fact, they very much believe. More than half of Americans (55%) believe that organic foods are healthier than non-organic, even though a significant amount of recent research shows that organic produce and meat typically aren’t any better for you than conventional varieties when it comes to vitamin and nutrient content. And, 41% think organic food tastes better and/or fresher than non-organic.

Another interesting fact: Men are the most skeptical about organic, with 63% agreeing that the labeling of food or other products as organic is an excuse to charge more, versus 54% of women.

Sources: Harris Polls & Packaging Digest


The “New” Factor

We’ve been doing our research. We’ve found that more and more brands are calling attention to their new look or variety by using the word “new” in various ways in their retail packaging design – in a bar, across a box, in a circle, you name it. Sure, it seems like the oldest trick in the book, but what we are finding is that some brands are creating their entire design around this word that they deem so important, or even going a step further and telling consumers what’s new about it on the design. So, the next time you are at the grocery store, see if you’re more likely to buy a product because it has the world “new “on it. But before you do that, take a look below at the different ways and places you’ll see this word used on a product design.



Some brands, like Pepperidge Farm and Fiber One are using what are called “basic interrupters” in their retail packaging design.  This means that the word “new” is not affecting the whole layout and design on a product, but is just a small call-out on the front.


Here are more examples of basic interrupters:

Here are examples of design altering call-outs. As you can see, the word “new” takes up the entire top portion of the boxes below, and utilize a completely different color than the rest of designed box.

Often times, when brands are creating a line extension or a new variety, they also want this called out by using the word “new.” Fiber One did this on the box design when they created their Nutty Clusters & Almonds variety.


Still, many brands want consumers to know exactly what is new or different about their product, so they make sure to explicitly state it on the design of the bag, box or package.

Quaker wanted consumers to know that even though the look of their bag changed, it’s still the same great taste of the mini rice cakes.



Schar however wanted consumers to know that they in fact did make the actual product better – it’s a new recipe this time that they are using to create softer rolls. And Ensure uses two tactics. Peach is a new variety, but they still want to reiterate to consumers that the Ensure brand in general is a good source of protein.

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