Packaging Design is Your Food Product’s Branding

Packaging Design is Your Food Product’s Branding

Your food packaging design has just two to three seconds to grab your customers’ very distracted attention as they’re walking down the aisle with their shopping cart, scanning the shelves for a familiar product, or browsing thumbnails of consumer products online.

What are they looking for? They’re looking for your packaging. That’s because your packaging is your branding.

So, what is branding and packaging design anyway?

Branding is all the elements that collectively help create an impression that people get when they interact with your brand at every touchpoint—from the logo and visual identity to the packaging design, website design, advertising, social media, email marketing, and more. Branding is mainly visual, but it is also the tone of voice used in the messaging. Branding is how your brand is recognized and helps create the way consumers feel about your brand and products.

Packaging design is the graphic design of the physical packaging materials. Some different types of packaging are:

  • Food pouch design (printed film): stand-up, resealable snack pouch, or a cheese pouch such as for shredded or sliced cheese
  • Food box design: tea, granola bars, snack bars
  • Food label design for:
    • Bottle or jar: sauces, oils, spices, drinks, salad dressings—these can also be done as a shrink-wrap design
    • Clamshell package: bakery items, baked goods, cookies, donuts, muffins, pastries, cupcakes
    • Shrink-wrapped products: cheese wedges
  • Pillow pack design: chip bags or popcorn bags
  • Flow wrap design: individually wrapped granola bars, cookies or snack bars
  • Printed cup design: cream cheese and soft or cubed cheeses, dips, spreads, hummus
  • Food carton design: corrugated cardboard box display cases to hold smaller food items that don’t stand up by themselves, or for the display of products such as in Costco or club stores (these play an important role in being recognizable and readable from a distance)

(We do all of the above design projects and more—if you’re interested in learning more, get started here.)

Why is packaging design so important?

Though packaging design is technically just one component of branding, it is the most recognizable branding element for a food product and therefore the most important. Packaging design for food products is the most immediate touchpoint for the brand. It’s the touchpoint customers will most likely interact with first in a very physical way: they’ll see it, they’ll pick it up, they’ll read the information, they’ll open it and remove food from it.

After purchase, packaging designs still play an important role as primary touchpoints. As the consumer eats the product, they may pore over the packaging further. Additionally, your food product may live on consumers’ shelves or counters for a while as they consume the contents, getting even more interaction. After the purchase is when the consumer is more likely to take the time to read parts of the package they didn’t in the store or go to your website to read more about the brand and see other products you offer.

Since the packaging is interacted with so directly, routinely and on such a personal level, you can see why packaging design is so important. When done right, this is when a product can become a brand in itself.

Going deeper: What makes a product a brand?

A food product becomes a brand when the packaging design is so iconic that it stands out from competitors or related products in a pronounced way. When a mere mention of the product brings to mind an image of the packaging. Sometimes we forget the name of a product but we remember a unique font, an unexpected color combination, or another signature element used in the design. We remember the visual cues first and foremost of the branding and package design.

This actually happens to me all the time: I try a product, I like it and I want to buy it again. I don’t remember exactly the name but I know I’ll recognize which one it was on the shelf by its identity and packaging design. Maybe that’s a slight fail on the brand or product name since the name wasn’t memorable enough, but the packaging design still supersedes the words on the package for being iconic as a brand. This speaks to the power and importance of food package designs.

So, how do you make packaging design become branding?

It’s all about the front panel—or, in the food industry, as termed by the FDA: the principal display panel. This is the panel of the packaging that consumers see first. The packaging design must make the most of this panel that gives the first impression. This is where the logo, name, and most prominent visual element of the design are placed.

Depending on the size of the package, there can be a lot or a little room to express your brand. In order to do this on smaller packages, the required elements must be minimized while meeting the size requirements for compliance with the FDA food labeling guidelines. The required elements I’m referring to are nutrition facts panel, ingredients, allergen labeling, company name and address, country of origin (if applicable), net weight or volume declaration. You also want to minimize other necessary elements such as barcode, area for “Best by” date, and lot number, which are important for food safety and shelf life.

You probably have a lot you want to say about your food product. But beware of putting too much information on the package. This will obscure the most important points, making all the messaging less effective. Also, avoid callout overkill.

Therefore, packaging design = branding.

Not surprisingly, all of this underscores the importance of food packaging design––it becomes the face of your brand. More than just informative, your packaging has to be memorable. It has to capture the entire essence of your brand in a split second. So when people are searching for your product online or on the store shelf, they can easily identify your food product packaging.

How do you actually design the packaging to be iconic and memorable? Stay tuned for that in a future article coming soon!

Looking for a food packaging company to make your food brand stand out? Talk to us.

Did you find this article helpful? Check out all our other packaging design resources here.

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Hi, I’m Jenn David Connolly, creative strategist and founder of Jenn David Design. For over 20 years I’ve partnered with specialty food brands to create powerful, distinct, strategic design that commands attention and gets results.

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