6 Proven Tips for Successful Food Packaging

The grocery industry brings in over $680 billion in sales every year.

In the 1990s, grocery stores carried around 7,000 different products. Today, they carry up to 50,000.

This dramatic increase in the number of products on store shelves makes it tough for brands to stand out. Consumers can pick from 15 different types of peanut butter, 50 different cereal brands, dozens of soft drink brands, etc.

Smart brands know that strong food packaging design and package graphics are more important than ever to help brands fight for consumers’ attention.

Food packaging helps consumers identify the product (this is also known as package graphics). Often this includes product nutritional labeling.

Food packaging also helps to protect the products from the environment and to extend the period that the food or drink is safe to consume.

Food packaging also enhances the convenience of consuming food and drink. For example, certain milk packaging is much more convenient to store and pour than other milk products.

Finally, food packaging is designed to help promote the product and persuade consumers to make a purchase.

With the increasing popularity of online grocery shopping, many brands are forced to rethink how they package designs for maximum impact on a small screen.

Michael Ruhlman, author of Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, says that a combination of online services and increased options has changed how consumers buy food.

We tend to walk by so many different things without thinking of them, just grabbing what we typically grab. But now I see the bewildering variety of foods that are available to us not just occasionally but seven days a week, pretty much whenever we want them.

For companies selling food products, these changes are intimidating. It puts more pressure on the packaging design and increases the need for a good first impression.

If you want to make your products stand out among the 50,000 others lining the shelves, check out our 6 proven tips for great food packaging.

1. Clarity

When people buy food, they buy what they need.

Unless a packaging design catches their eye, most people choose between products that fit their requirements.

But most food packaging designs make this choice difficult.

Take juice packaging as an example. There are healthy juices, kid’s juices, and sugary juices – often on the same shelves. The packaging typically varies to help consumers identify a sugary kid’s drink from a healthy green blend.

Want a free brand review?
brand identity grader hero
Answer 5 short questions and we will send a custom report with actionable insights and specific actions you can take to build a stronger brand.

We just emailed the info to you.

But what happens when another product’s packaging looks similar to a kid’s juice?

Consumers become frustrated.

According to a study on consumer judgment and decision making, shoppers can make decisions in about a third of a second.

After that brief moment, they’ve already made up their minds – and aren’t happy to find out that they were wrong.

Take Fabuloso as an example. At first glance, it looks like a fun, sugary juice made for kids. The packaging is colorful with fruit clearly displayed on the label.

But Fabuloso isn’t a juice at all.

It’s a cleaning product!

In smaller letters cluttered on the label, the package describes the content of the product. But the packaging had already taken effect. In those first few moments, the consumer didn’t understand that Fabuloso is meant for cleaning.

Compare that to the packaging for Froo.it juice smoothies. These bottles are also colorful and feature fruit, but Froo.it clarifies the product by including the product description near the name. The label is also simpler, giving consumers a clear picture of the product and the brand behind it.

When the consumer can understand the brand and the product, the packaging design is successful. For more examples of clear packaging designs, check out Why Branding Your Small Business is Important and What You Can Learn From Brandless and be sure to understand current trends by reading Biggest Product Packaging Design Trends in 2018.

And if you’re looking to rebrand or change your packaging, plan carefully because even the most successful brands have failed when the new packaging confused their customers.

Take Tropicana, for example. As we previously explained:

On January 8th, 2009, Tropicana revealed a new packaging design for their Pure Premium orange juice; on February 23rd, 2009, they announced that they would return to their original design. What went wrong and how did it happen so quickly? Let’s take a look.

The original Tropicana logo featured a unique, signature design— an orange punctured by a straw. The logo implied that Tropicana’s juice was fresh, undiluted and direct from the orange. The singularity and playfulness of the orange and straw visual made for a very strong brand image. It was instantly recognizable on the shelves and had had years to establish a relationship of trust with Tropicana’s consumers. The new packaging design discarded the time-tested logo and font… and failed to replace them with much of anything at all.

The new image for Tropicana’s packaging depicted a large glass of orange juice; which unfortunately read as a flat, orange gradient. The traditional Tropicana font was traded for a more streamlined modern font and every last bit of recognizable character was lost. Founder of thebrandingjournal.com, Marion, pointed out “Tropicana, while trying to modernize the brand, didn’t respect one of the most important branding rules any company should consider: the product identification and recognition by the consumer.”

It’s possible that some consumers couldn’t even find Tropicana on the shelves because of how stark the differences in packaging were. Those who did find the newly packaged Tropicana strongly disapproved. Information Resource, Inc.reported that Tropicana’s sales dropped by 20% immediately following their brand relaunch.

2. Integrity

For consumers to buy your product again, they have to trust your brand.

A large part of that trust is keeping the integrity of your product intact.

While most brands will edit images of their product for the packaging, some brands will dramatically change how that product looks.

This is a problem for many reasons, but most importantly, it creates a false expectation about the product that the product can never meet.

For example, if you bought a Lean Cuisine meal, you would expect the food to look very similar to the picture on the box after cooking it. Usually, something like this:

Unfortunately, consumers are often faced with this reality:

The prepared Lean Cuisine meal only slightly resembles the picture promised on the box. This can cause consumers to get upset and turn to another brand that sells a similar product.

This doesn’t mean you should avoid editing product images – it just means to be careful to not falsely advertise your product on its packaging.

high quality product packaging for world's best tweezers
Only 20% of people answer all 5 questions correctly.

Think you can get a perfect score?
Take the free quiz now!

3. Authenticity

Keep your packaging design consistent with your brand.

If your brand is more natural and down to earth, bright primary colors will look out of place and feel fake.

On the other hand, keep an eye out for what competitors are doing. If you aren’t the only brand in your vertical that is natural and earthy, a splash of color might help your product stand out from your competitors’ products.

As we wrote in 4 Psychology-Based Design Tips for Eye-Catching Packaging Design,

Color can be extremely effective at grabbing our focus. Certain color wavelengths have been shown to attract human attention. This study reported that red, yellow, green and pink are the four most eye-catching colors. Using these colors on your packaging will physiologically increase the likelihood that someone will look at your package.

But, that doesn’t mean that all packages should be red, yellow, or green. If all packages used the same colors, no one product would ever stand out (based on color alone).

That’s where the isolation effect comes in.

The isolation effect is a psychological phenomenon that you may recall from this Sesame Street Song:

One of these things is not like the others. 
One of these things just doesn’t belong.  
Can you tell which thing is not like the others before I finish my song?

Things that are visually different from their counterparts tend to stand out and capture our attention.

You can use this principle to your advantage. If all of your competitors are using blue packaging, consider using yellow or orange to isolate your package and steal the focus.

Being different within the context of your brand is one of the best ways for consumers to feel like they are buying specifically from you.

4. Shelf Impact

But designers and brands aren’t the only ones thinking about food packaging design.

Grocery stores and other food retailers constantly think about packaging design, and even pay attention to the way that products are displayed on shelves. This is called “shelf impact.”

When grocers consider product placement, they take a look at the way that different packaging designs look together and the patterns that they create. When placing certain products next to each other, the look of the packaging can change.

In such cases, sometimes less means more.

When looking at rows of labels, packaging can blend together and all of the details crammed in on one side of the product can get lost. But if a packaging design stands out enough to get the consumer to pick it up, the consumer is more likely to read other parts of the label.

For more on this, read 8 Powerful Psychology Principles Behind Great Product Design.

5. Versatility

It’s also important for food packaging designs to be versatile. There’s a reason why the number of products in grocery stores has grown so quickly, and it’s because brands keep expanding their product lines.

With food products, this is as simple as adding a new flavor.

But with so many expansions, a different label design for each one is not only more challenging but also more confusing. Instead, the best food packaging designs are adaptable to a variety of products.

We illustrated a great example of this in How To Make Your Craft Brewery Stand Out With Great Design:

Tenaya Creek Brewery in Las Vegas, Nevada pulled imagery from their Native American heritage to differentiate between each brew. The presence of their navy logo creates a band around the top of each can to ties the designs together while each individual beer has its own unique label design in a distinctive color palette. It makes you want to collect them all!

Are you designing for a seasonal brew? Feature images that conjure that season for your consumer. Is it wheaty, hoppy or fruity? Take your inspiration from those. Show your drinkers what they can expect to find inside the bottle.

Successful food packaging designs are made with a formula in mind. The best designs serve as a template that can keep consistency within a line of products, whether through layout or color.

6. Usability

Lastly, food product packaging needs to be usable. While it’s easy to only consider the label, the container itself is just as important.

Take mayonnaise as an example.

A few years ago, Hellman’s completely revamped their jars, selling mayonnaise out of squeeze bottles to make the product more accessible.

Customers were thrilled – but the new bottles still made it hard to get the last of the product out.

Hellman’s listened to consumers and designed an even better bottle that squeezed more product out.

Russel Lilly, Marketing Director at Hellman’s, says that by focusing on the usability of their product, Hellman’s was able to stand out even more.

“The new Hellmann’s squeeze is unlike any other squeeze bottle on the market,” said Lilly. “It is designed not only to satisfy our consumers’ taste buds, but also to make sure they don’t miss a bite.”

When you make your product more usable, you make it even more appealing to consumers.

With all of these values in mind, designing great food packaging becomes a lot easier.

But still, many companies struggle to follow these values.

One of the best ways that companies and designers can implement them is by turning each value into a series of questions.

For example, if you’re looking to tackle clarity, you might ask yourself whether or not you can quickly identify the name, product, and product benefits. Then, you might ask yourself if you can easily find the ingredients and expiration date.

On the other hand, if you’re looking at usability, you might ask yourself if the packaging design can be easily stored. You might also ask yourself if the packaging will be able to hold your product and whether or not it can contribute to the product’s shelf life.

No matter which of the values you are trying to implement, focusing on these as a guide can help your food packaging stand out.

Design Done Better

The easiest way to get affordable, high-quality custom logos, print design, web design and naming for your business.

Learn How to Grow Your Business With Beautiful Design