Originally printed in the May 2020 issue of Produce Business.
Many more options exist for communicating ‘brand essence’ on produce packages.
There is a certain paradox when it comes to recommended practices in labeling and bag printing for fresh produce. You want to harness the increased surface area for messaging afforded by new films and packaging styles, but there is a trend toward minimalism in branding.
Consumers increasingly prefer earthier tones and sustainability, yet overwhelmingly the experts recommend transparent packaging – mostly achieved through plastic — so consumers can see the fruits or vegetables themselves.
So how does a produce marketer bridge these seemingly contradictory concepts into a messaging and packaging aesthetic that maximizes sales?
The simple answer is that it depends on the product, the target market, the brand and the alignment of all three.
“You cannot be everything to everyone,” says Chris Veillon, chief marketing officer at Pure Flavor in Leamington, ON, Canada. “Hitting the same nail on the head with the same message is difficult and lacks differentiation.”
Veillon believes there is a “sea of sameness” in the greenhouse vegetable industry where Pure Flavor operates, but in a bid to stay fresh and creative, his company underwent an extensive facelift two years ago with clear brand-centric messaging at the top of the list.
“As part of the brand refresh, the company made the significant investment into top seal packaging, which further allowed for greater creative expression and brand message consistency across all of the company’s greenhouse vegetables,” says Veillon. “The opportunity was to use the lidding film as a fresh canvas to not only ensure that the consumer could clearly see what was in the package from all four sides but tactically created a connection to the brand.
“Appropriate colors, block fonts, greenhouse grown flag, and clear country-of-origin were the key factors to a consistent and strategic presentation,” he adds.
To provide greater flexibility, key information was removed from packs so it could later be dynamically printed instead at remote locations throughout North America.
“This allowed for greater flexibility in pack usage and reduced the SKUs needed in inventory by the facility,” says Veillon.
WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET
Pure Flavor’s new Mini Munchies Tomato Snack Pack is a more recent example of a tailored packaging, branding and labeling strategy. It targets children with colorful graphics on the top seal lid of a user-friendly 12-oz. pack that breaks away.
The packs are transparent on the sides and underneath so the tomatoes can be seen clearly.
“Is there a golden rule? That’s easy – make sure your customer can see the fantastic product that is inside,” Veillon says. “Great packaging attracts; it’s the quality of the product inside that generates the repeat sale, hands down.”
Failing to maximize product visibility is actually one of the biggest mistakes observed in the industry by Kristin Yerecic Scott, marketing director at Yerecic Label of New Kensington, PA.
“We know that customers want to be able to see the produce so using a large paper label covering the whole product is the second example of what not to do that we see,” she says. “Using a film label that allows transparency through your messaging, a smaller multi-layer label and back printing are ways to combat that.”
She explains a lot has changed since the company was established in 1969, but the goal of helping customers communicate effectively with shoppers hasn’t changed.
“Yerecic Label’s roots are actually in produce, with our founder Arthur Yerecic Sr. working at a local produce wholesaler and recognizing a need for merchandising materials,” she says. “During that time, it was simple communication tools such as fluorescent pricing labels.”
Now there are so many more options for communicating on packs, not to mention the fact more fruit and vegetables are sold in individual packaging than before.
“Two of my favorite ways that growers are elevating their messaging are through additional messaging space and unique printing textures,” says Yerecic Scott. “Growers and retailers can add full-color printing to the back of the label so additional messages and images can be seen through the clamshell lid or at the bottom of the clamshell when the product is empty.”
She says adding textures to a label also helps a product stand out in the department.
“The options for using this technique are limitless because different finishes, such as matte, high-gloss or metallic, can communicate brand essence elements like premium, artisan or local,” she says.
While all these tools can be useful, if overused they run the risk of being too flashy and having a negative effect on potential consumers.
“Do not overwhelm the consumer’s eye,” says Aaron Fox, executive vice president at Fox Packaging in McAllen, TX. “Design has opted toward more minimalist, flat design styles with featured typography that plays on font pairing, which highlights the brand and the company messaging.”
Fox says the universal appeal for simple, two-dimensional illustrations, with easy-to-read type, has continued to grow, and ultimately helps a consumers find the information they need on their packaging faster.
“Because companies are working to maintain and communicate their brands with honesty and transparency, you will see packaging design that is less embellished, moving toward a more straightforward presentation to combat marketing pizzazz as believability is priority,” he says. “More brand and packaging design has focused on organic looks, featuring calming and natural concepts that create a visual connection to the environment, aiding in consumer perception of eco-friendliness of that brand.”
Echoing the comments made by Yerecic Scott and Pure Flavor’s Veillon, Fox says the consumer needs to have a visual of the produce to determine its health.
“Our Fresh Mesh Combo bag, for example, offers a large print space for branding while offering a window – a value-added feature,” he says.
Fox is also wary of the challenges posed by offering various material types, as printer specifications must be changed to ensure quality in the print job.
“Through research, we have found that some colors have more pop and that a coating can be used for additional gloss or color enhancement,” he says. “There are times when we see either a color or color combination that may present issues or a font size that is not up to U.S. Federal or Canadian Government specs.”
Jeff Watkin, director of marketing at Sev-Rend Corporation in St Louis, IL, emphasizes the importance of custom printing across different packaging styles – whether it be pouches or netted bags – so that branding stays on point.
“Due to fresh produce needing to use multiple packaging types, from tags to film to boxes, having your packaging vehicles with consistent looks across the board is critical.”— Jeff Watkin
“Inconsistency in branding is something that bleeds over to the packaging world as well,” says Watkin. “Due to fresh produce needing to use multiple packaging types, from tags to film to boxes, having your packaging vehicles with consistent looks across the board is critical. This is one reason Sev-Rend offers multiple packaging types that can be custom printed to ensure consistency with your branding.”
WHEN AND WHY TO CHANGE LABELING
Yerecic Scott says most produce brands tend to change their labels or designs every two to three years in order to connect with the latest trends and technologies. Pure Flavor’s Veillon says he has seen a number of companies recreate themselves with that level of frequency, while others will update their packaging presentation every five years and some just make subtle changes.
“Tweaks are needed to meet retailer requirements or changes in pack styles or formats that can lead to minor retooling of creative,” says Veillon. “Seldom will you see a complete overhaul unless the retailer demands it for items specific to its needs or a transition to white-label/private-label programs.”
Fox of Fox Packaging says customers may transition to new or updated art perhaps on an annual review basis.
“Changes are determined by either a new product offering, marketing campaign, or rebrand,” he says. “For the most part, you will see updated art for compliance reasons, to ensure that all PLUs and nutrition facts are correct.”
Jeff Watkin of Sev-Rend believes there are three main trends driving changes in labeling and bag printing: tailoring to children, focusing on origin and highlighting sustainability.
“Commodities such as citrus will usually have art and branding that are more appealing to families with younger children,” says Watkin. “Initiatives such as PMA’s Eat Brighter campaign are prime examples of packaging that are appealing to the family unit.”
He says Cuties easy peelers would be the benchmark when it comes to this kind of branding.
“When you start to see the consumer reference the product as the brand name like we see with people calling a Clementine a ‘Cutie,’ that is huge,” he says. “That shows not only great marketing and strategy, but also control of market share.”
“Determining your target market is definitely something we see companies considering when designing their label,” adds Yerecic Scott. “If this particular package style is meant to connect with kids, then the printing techniques and artwork are going to differ significantly to a package that is looking to connect with the health-focused consumer.
Showing consumers what they can do with produce items with the labeling on packaging has also become a key marketing strategy for driving sales.
“Every industry is different based on shopper trends and needs, but produce is very unique in its versatility,” says Yerecic Scott. “We’ve seen this recently with product innovations such as cauliflower crumbles and zucchini spaghetti, but I think growers and retailers can highlight this versatility through recipes and meal suggestions on even more products.”
“Commodities such as onions and potatoes will usually have a focus on the product and where it comes from – with farm themes on the art and content such as recipes to expand the use of the product,” adds Watkin.
Watkin says the need for sustainability expands to new material types to meet the need for compostability and recyclability.
“Sometimes the creative for these items will have a more ‘earthy’ approach to call attention to this,” he says. Switching to packaging materials that promote this as a compostable or recyclable option is in demand. “We also see proactive efforts such as [reducing] the material thickness or switching to a packaging type that uses less material to help curb this as well,” he says, citing an example of brands using a tag/netting combo instead of a film/netting combo due to less volume of material used.
Yerecic Scott says produce companies tend to demonstrate sustainability in different ways to other industries, but the overall trend is set to continue whilst maintaining the benefits packaging brings like reduced shrink, increased food safety and product protection during transit.
“We also see trends grow in new directions in different markets,” she says. “For example, sustainability in meat leans more toward animal and environmental welfare, whereas in produce it is currently more focused on packaging.”
Fox of Fox Packaging highlights that during the pre-press process, the company has become more aware of cause communication, such as sustainability, through printing and labeling.
“The How2Recycle label has garnered notoriety and has become a staple in corporate social responsibility simply by showcasing a universal iconography that communicates best recycling practices to support better habits in consumers,” he says.