Tips for Designing Great Food Packaging

Groceries at the grocery store
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While the primary function of food packaging is to protect your product, the primary function of food packaging design is to attract consumers. The packaging should sell itself. This means you need to have a strong brand identity and packaging that communicates information about your product clearly and concisely, and in a way that is relevant to your target audience. Your package is your brand ambassador and is the key success factor in pitching the retail buyer to get on the shelf.

Know Your Brand Identity

Whether it's watching TV, reading a magazine, or walking the grocery store aisles, your packaging often is a consumer's first point-of-contact with your product. When developing your food package design, you must have a clear understanding of your brand.

First, you need to ask yourself, "What is my product? How is it different from similar products on the market? Who is my primary target customer? What is my company philosophy?" The answers to these questions will ensure your package design is consistent with your brand identity and guide packaging color, size, shape, and materials. New product launches require that your packaging communicates strongly and clearly what your brand message is through the use of your company name, logo, and design.

Form and Function

A food packaging designer balances the shelf appeal (design and messaging) as well as the functional aspect of food product safety and protection on the grocery store shelf. On the functional side, it is imperative that when you ship your product to a customer, distributor or retailer, it arrives in the same condition as it left the factory or warehouse. Grocery retailers will send you an invoice or deduct money from your invoice for the cost of a damaged product in their stores.

Food packaging also has to carry a clear message regarding the features and benefits of the product in a way that is easy to see and understand. You have a fraction of a second to get the consumers attention amidst all the other products you're competing with. The Food and Drug Administration has Food Labeling Guides that dictate numerous aspects of food packaging design—both from a functional standpoint and how you can create approved health claims as well as your nutritional fact panel.

Key Questions

Ask yourself the following questions the next time you have a new product launch underway.

  • Packaging materials: What materials will allow for maximum product freshness and protection?
  • Packaging construction: Will a flexible or rigid container support the product best? How much space do I need for messaging?
  • Ease of secondary packaging: Will the shape and size prevent me from easily shipping my product to retailers?
  • Ease of storage and distribution: What is the cost of secondary packaging and transportation to get the product to the retailer? Will the product be stored for a period of time before going on display?
  • Shelf life: How long might my product sit on the shelf before consumer consumption?
  • Information: What are the ingredients, product benefits, consumer cautions, brand identity?

Materials and Design Drive Costs

Your package is one of the most important elements in a successful new product launch. However, you need to be flexible and consider alternative options, which can be equally eye-catching and functional.

Key cost drivers for food packaging include the following:

  • Design Costs: Once the development process is complete and specifications are set, 80 percent of costs are embedded, which means 20 percent occurs in the manufacturing stage. Therefore, there may be savings opportunities in the design and development phase. Do your due diligence and interview enough designers to secure the best price possible. Sometimes those fresh out of school or a small startup firm are hungry enough (and creative enough) to get the job done.
  • Printing, Production, and Labor: It is possible to make tradeoffs, such as between labor and production costs, but be sure you understand the implications of possible trade-offs in your time and effort and in the look of your package.
  • Long-Term Savings: If you move from hand-wrapping to automated wrapping, there will be a significant capital cost to buy a machine, but the labor costs will go down significantly and your retailer may purchase more because of the consistent look of the packages.