Growing up, we were all told not to judge a book by its cover. It’s not how things look, it’s what’s on the inside that counts…right?
Right or wrong, the world doesn’t tend to work that way, especially in the food industry. Looks might not have a direct impact on taste or quality, but it’s one of the most essential ingredients when it comes to enticing customers. Your food photography, graphics and overall packaging will all help determine your sales figures.
The Limitations of Your Packaging and Printing Process
One of the primary considerations in package design is the manufacturing and printing process for the package itself. Every process has limitations and considerations. In packaging, issues like how close to the edge printing can take place, the maximum achievable print resolution, issues related to specific printing substrates and the inks/dyes they can accept, and a host of other technical factors can affect design. Legal guidelines from the FDA, TTB, and other agencies also have to be followed in designing packages for food products.
Then there are the cost factors. The number of colors used in printing can dramatically impact the cost of many printing and manufacturing processes. The shape of your packaging can also have a big impact on materials and manufacturing costs, even for finished packages of roughly the same size.
The devil is in the details, as the saying goes, and these details can give you a devil of a time finding the perfect package at the right price point.
Even after you have the details figured out, you have to remember that nobody — and no process — is perfect. Not only can printing and manufacturing errors occur, they’re almost certain to. The contract(s) you have with your packaging printers and manufacturers will likely contain a clause or two pertaining to error rates and acceptable standards for this very reason. Part of understanding the limitations of package design is understanding the misprints, shifts and other errors that are likely to occur.
Incorporating these into your packaging concept will give you a better yield, with packaging runs containing slight errors damaging neither your brand nor your bottom line.
It helps to partner with a designer — or better yet, an agency — that understands the many printing and manufacturing variables. Without this knowledge, you could come up with a conceptually brilliant package that proves prohibitively expensive or downright impossible from a practical perspective.
The limitations of printing and manufacturing processes don’t mean you should merely settle for what’s possible. They represent a challenge, and challenges were made to be conquered! What you need to do is find a way to create a package that works within those limitations and compels interest in your customers. And that involves practical, psychological and aesthetic considerations.
The way your packaging is going to be “slotted” or shelved is one of the first things that needs to be taken into account. Consider what part of the package will be visible to customers in stores — that’s the part that matters most. The customer-facing portion of your packaging is your only chance to catch a consumer’s eye as they’re walking down the aisle, and gives you an opportunity to stand out from your competition and make an initial demonstration of what you and only you can give your customers.
A package that tells shoppers what you’re all about before they even lift it off the shelf is the best instore advertising you can find.
If you’re going to be selling your product in vending machines and/or convenience racks in addition to standard store shelves, you’ll need to consider the specific packaging constraints for each placement. Developing different packages for each will be somewhat more costly, but could be worthwhile in the long-run if it ensures a strong customer-facing image in every conceivable slotting situation.
There are a host of factors in retail that producers and distributors have little to no control over: proximity to eyeline, amount of shelf space, crowding, competitor advertising, etc. A package that helps you stand out and state your unique value gives you more power, and puts you back in control of your retail sales.
At the same time, keep in mind that while standing out and demonstrating unique value is important, consumers are also skittish. A package that is too different or outrageous may scare consumers away, or confuse them into thinking your product is in a different category than the ones around it.
All of this adds up to creating a strong, easily recognizable identity that educates and entices. If they can’t see it and learn about it on the outside, they’ll never open the package.
If Your Packaging Isn’t Consumer-Friendly, Your Product Isn’t Either
We know you want your customers focused on what’s inside the package. You didn’t get into the food and beverage business to design packaging, you got into it to create and deliver a quality product.
But if your packaging doesn’t work, consumers will never get a chance to experience the taste.
We might be admonished for judging a book by its cover, but we’ll go out and do the same thing a dozen times today. So will your customers. If you want them buying and falling in love with your products, you need to design a package that catches their eye and gets them interested — or you need a partner who can design that package for you.
–Luis Cintron, Senior Art Director