Deep, rich colors; fanciful, artistic script; unique container shapes and embossed gold or silver foil are just a few of the design elements typically incorporated into the packaging of gourmet foods.
While such elaborate and elegant designs have traditionally adorned national gourmet brands, retailers have continuously expanded their presence within the category with a variety of private label gourmet products of their own.
In order to proffer staunch competition for national manufacturers, retailers are focusing much of their attention on designing sophisticated gourmet packaging that communicates the premium quality of their own branded products. Loblaw Cos., the supermarket chain based in Toronto, is one such retailer that has helped set the standard for others to follow with its President's Choice line of private label products. In creating its upscale private label line, the company first concentrated on the name that would appear on the packaging.
"When Loblaw decided to launch an upscale blended coffee, they decided on the name President's Blend and the product packaging carried the Loblaw standard yellow label," said Don Watt, chairman of Watt International, Inc., the Toronto-based brand strategy company that helped design the President's Choice brand. "When the product did really well on the market, the decision was made to try other upscale brands, but the name President's Blend wouldn't fit every product. So, after considering President's Preference, President's Selection and numerous other names, we felt that President's Choice would convey the premium quality of the products."
After choosing a name, Watt said the brand's colors and basic design elements were then considered. "If Loblaw wanted to create a gourmet line of products that would stand apart from the rest of the store, it had to move away from the yellow packaging that represented its less expensive, everyday private label items," he said. Considering a number of colors and logo styles, Loblaw ultimately settled on a vibrant ruby red and a simple, clean-cut packaging design that emphasized the brand's name.
"Loblaw put its President's Choice name in the company president's handwriting, making it look simple, yet elegant and custom-created by the president himself," added Watt.
Like Loblaw many retailers have put a tremendous amount of effort into developing private label gourmet foods. But, why the emphasis on packaging versus advertising, marketing or elaborate gourmet promotions? Dawn Diamond, senior produce designer for The Douglas|Group, a brand-image and design company in Houston, said that in the gourmet category, shoppers typically reach for the products that are the most visually appealing and that convey a high level of quality through their packaging.
"Packaging is very important with gourmet products in general because it's the first thing the consumer sees at the point-of-purchase. Gourmet products are usually higher priced, yet smaller portion sizes and the only way they will sell is if they give people the feeling that they are getting something special or more valuable than regular products," said Diamond. "So, the more interesting the materials, the more sophisticated the colors and illustrations and the more elaborate the printing techniques, the more high-end and attractive the product will be to the consumer."
Diamond said that while classic gourmet packaging design -- dark, rich colors like black and dark green with elegant, cursive script and gold embossed logos -- is still present within the category, gourmet encompasses a number of different styles today.
"There's the subdued style with earthy tones like rust, sage green and ochre printed on uncoated, crafty papers; the shabby chic look," she said. "Or, the cleaner, minimalistic look of modern, contemporary gourmet designs that incorporate colors like cobalt blue and ruby red with very simple logos."
Some even opt to eliminate product information from labels to create an elegant, uncluttered look.
"The overall composition of a gourmet package has to be aesthetically pleasing and look sophisticated, refined and a step above other store brands," said Eileen Debenham, principle and creative director at Debenham Design, a Boston-based design company. "Standard store brands tend to have huge logos, a lot of bold, loud colors and the packaging is usually filled from top to bottom with some sort of marketing message. Gourmet tends to be more of a softer sell and the packaging shouldn't be screaming at shoppers."
Aside from label design, consumers also recognize products, especially gourmet items, by the shape of the containers in which they are packaged. Containers that are significantly smaller than standard, uniquely shaped like long-neck bottles and hexagonal jars, or are made from unusual materials like uncoated labels impart higher quality.
"In high end packaging, consumers often expect smaller containers or containers that are unusually shaped, glass instead of plastic and custom-designed extras like fancy metal tops or caps. They immediately see the shape of the package and determine whether it's a regular product or a gourmet item," said Karen Proctor, professor of packaging science at Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, N.Y.
"In high end products, glass is a good indicator that an item is gourmet, along with the use of dark colors like black, regal green, burgundy, navy blue and embossed foil designs in luxurious gold and silver."
In the past, many consumers came to assume that private label brands aren't as high quality as national brands and that they should expect to pay much less for such items. So, while this perception might attract shoppers to private labels in other categories, most consumers who want gourmet products are looking for superior quality, despite the exorbitant prices -- store brand or not.
"Because consumers often think of lower quality when they see a private label, choosing a separate name for gourmet items eliminates the potential for someone to associate the product with low-priced, private label items in other categories throughout the store," said Watt.
By carefully incorporating each design elementthat communicates extraordinary quality, retailers are able to effectively compete with national gourmet brands. And, as the category continues to evolve, "the opportunities for retailers to improve their private label gourmet lines will grow tremendously," said Watt.