May 27, 2021
The benefits inherent in beautifully designed packaging are widely understood: telegraphing what the product is and does, helping a product stand out on shelf, and differentiating a brand vs. its competition. But packaging can wield so much more power than that.
When you’re launching a product, expanding distribution, or modernizing a heritage brand, packaging can be one of your most worthwhile investments, and its contribution to the success of your brand shouldn’t be short-changed. An inspired design grounded in strategic insights can mean the difference between a product that struggles in a crowded competitive set and a brand that experiences explosive growth. We’ve experienced this firsthand with our clients, having helped hundreds of brands disrupt their category.
There’s a statistic from Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen that speaks volumes: 95% of new products introduced each year fail. The failure rate of new grocery products is 70% to 80%, according to University of Toronto professor Inez Blackburn. So what are the key qualities of the brands that succeed?
It may go without saying the product itself is the primary driver of success — whether the product is different enough from everything else available and effectively solves a problem for consumers. But, frequently, some fantastically innovative products don’t manage to thrive and every so often a me-too brand has off-the-charts growth. Often enough, a significant factor is branding. Whether you’re a not-yet-established brand sold directly to consumers or sitting on a crowded retail shelf, first impressions matter and you don’t want your brand to be a shrinking violet.
What are the keys to successful packaging design?
1. Thinking outside the box
In the food world, packaging is often a consumer’s first interaction with your brand, shaping the brand’s personality and bringing it to life. Packaging can add function to a product and expand the possibilities of consumption opportunities, making it more portable, more exquisite, easier to use, less messy, or handier to sneak into a pocket. Packaging can reimagine use cases and help a product earn placement in a completely different part of the store from its competition, like crackers in the deli or a snack in the produce section. Brands that don’t conform to the norms of the category — like bags of chocolate chips that stand vertically and fresh produce tucked into bright, candy-like boxes — are on a successful path to disruption. At Hatch, we’re forever in pursuit of the never-been-done-before.
2. Telling the brand’s story
All packaging provides a platform for education. At the most basic level, this is simply information printed on the pack about the product, the company, and the brand. But packaging can also telegraph the brand’s values — like sustainability, given the choice of packaging materials. It can use art to indicate its support of women farmers or share its bigger mission to inspire regenerative agriculture. Even with the tiniest products, the packaging can communicate volumes. Done thoughtfully, packaging can serve as the best storyteller for the product, laden with meaning, brand beliefs, and opportunities to surprise and delight.
3. Forging an emotional connection
The most successful brands, regardless of category, have a soul that connects with consumers beyond the product itself and this can create aficionados that support the brand as it evolves and expands. Apple, Jeep, Netflix, Yeti, and Harley-Davidson are examples of much-loved brands that have fan support for just about any product they roll out. Packaged goods are no different. Diving deep into the company story can help capture the heart of a brand and leveraging consumer insights can ensure a brand resonates emotionally with consumers.
Tapping into emotionally rich territory can create the foundation for packaging that brings the soul of the brand to life, suits the brand perfectly, and couldn’t be leveraged by any other brand. And thoughtfully designed packaging that connects with consumers doesn’t just drive sales; it can set the brand up for years of success by creating brand loyalists.
We’ve helped dozens of struggling brands find fresh life simply through a packaging refresh. Simple Mills was a DTC star but struggling to get retail distribution when the founder came to us for help. Her gluten-free baking mix package made a point of exclaiming all the things the product didn’t contain. What was missing, we determined, was the joy of baking that was a key part of the brand’s founding story. Gluten-free or not, people bake because it brings happiness to the baker and those the baker cherishes. Capturing the emotion inherent in the brand via packaging made the difference between remaining as a DTC brand and becoming a major player in the retail baking aisle — and not just the gluten-free section.
Our favorite success stories are the brands that have gone from small family-owned operations to becoming an M&A target with nine-digit price tags. Nature’s Bakery was best known as the “Fig bar brand” and that perception was stunting growth. Hatch was tasked with helping to expand its portfolio beyond just fig bars and evolve Nature’s Bakery into a master brand. We leaned into the vibrancy of Nature’s Bakery’s ingredients to communicate nutrition and taste, dialing up the way it feels when you eat the freshest and best. Less than two years following the refresh, Nature’s Bakery jumped up in market share (No. 8 across all outlets and No. 4 at Target), experienced faster growth than the rest of the category (sales up 47%), and was valued at approximately $400 million in an acquisition by Kind last December.
Another example is KRAVE Jerky, a brand we helped create from scratch. KRAVE started as some great-tasting jerky in a plastic bag and turned the meat snacks category on its head when it launched in 2009. Breaking all category conventions, we helped launch the KRAVE brand with a unique take on jerky packaging by highlighting its premium ingredients and pushing against traditionally masculine cues — like the red and brown color palette that has historically signaled jerky. When founder Jon Sebastiani sold the brand to Hershey’s for $218 million, we helped Hershey’s extend the brand into bars, sticks, and a veggie line. Last year, Sebastiani acquired the brand back and as he does what he does best — disrupt — we’re continuing to work with him on KRAVE’s next phase of growth.
The real value of packaging is helping thoughtfully conceived products get noticed on a cluttered retail shelf and then get purchased over and over again — for years. Our goal is to help make the transition from product to brand so that our clients can achieve exponential growth. And in this way, packaging that disrupts on-shelf captures the brand’s story and forges an emotional connection with the consumer can be an incredibly powerful and valuable marketing weapon.