What really matters when it comes to packaging design?

Walking around any supermarket, you can’t help but notice the huge strides made in the food and drink industry when it comes to packaging and design over recent years.

From eye catching creatives, to the reduction of materials and increase in required nutritional information, there have been significant considerations for manufacturers and designers when it comes to creating packaging that appeals to consumers and stockists.

Robot Food is one of the country’s leading creative studios who work with a raft of food and drink manufacturers on product packaging design. We discussed some key questions around packaging and design with their Studio & Production Manager, Matt Reid.

What are the current trends in food packaging design? 

Probably the largest and most noticeable current trend is the race to become free of non-recyclable plastics. Consumers are far more informed and passionate about doing their bit for the environment and the changes in public attitude has pressured brands and supermarket chains alike to re-evaluate their current packaging. Thankfully, many plastic manufacturers have recognised this issue and are beginning to develop recyclable, compostable and even biodegradable film alternatives as we speak. However, until these are fully developed across the board and are readily available on a scale that can cope with the sheer volume of plastic currently being used within todays packaging, we may start to see a resurgence in traditional materials with proven recyclable track records like glass, card and aluminum.

There’s also a boom in the direct to consumer market (D2C) too, especially since the pandemic kicked off earlier this year, it seems brands have felt the additional pressure to rethink their strategy and adapt or die under these new circumstances. However, D2C offers a fresh opportunity to create an exciting, new retail experience by providing exclusivity and added value not possible on the highstreet. We’re seeing a rise in secondary packaging solutions such as branded corrugate shipping boxes and tissue paper, gifting in the form of premium rigid-boxes as well as collaborations and limited edition packaging all targeted towards the savvy online shopper as something they won’t see in their local supermarket.

Are there any particular food areas that are leading the way when it comes to packaging?

From my experience, the alcohol sector appears to do very well in terms of sustainability, functionality and design flexibility. Packaging in this area often uses tried and tested materials that are widely recycled and a lot of time and effort goes into ensuring all packaging is fit for purpose. Liquids can be quite volatile substances and can easily be affected by a variety of factors like UV light, carbonation, ambient temperatures etc. so careful consideration is needed to ensure they reach consumers as intended. However, despite the strict pre-production checks, they’re often very flexible when it comes to design, allowing fairly inexpensive opportunities to experiment with label substrates, foils, varnishes, embossing and more. The spirits and the craft beer markets embrace this the most and have given birth to some of the most unique and exciting packaging you’re likely to see on shelf in your local supermarket. We hope that this trend continues and inspires other areas of the food industry to experiment further and perhaps feel more comfortable about pushing boundaries outside of the norm.

With the focus on sustainability and reducing packaging, do you think it will hamper or increase creativity? 

When many think of sustainable packaging (and I’ve been guilty of this myself), they might be forgiven for picturing a sad, brown, recycled cardboard box with little character or opportunity to make their design pop, perhaps even feeling like it’s a step backwards. But, if the design is strong enough, it shouldn’t really need additional embellishments to stand up on its own two feet and working within a strict set of parameters can often drive a positive, no-nonsense approach to creative work. I think boundaries often help to increase creativity as they set a challenge for designers to think harder about the concept they want to achieve and force a design to be adaptable within different scenarios, which can only be a good thing when building a strong brand identity.

Through your experience, what three things should food manufacturers consider when it comes to product packaging? 

  • Sustainability – Innovative, recyclable, sustainably sourced (but not overly packaged) packaging.
  • Functionality – Well considered, simple and practical structural design
  • And shit-hot, creative work

Do you have a favourite product in terms of its packaging design appeal? 

A personal favourite project of mine was a selection of craft beer labels we designed for Vocation Brewery. They challenged us with creating a new 440ml can label every month throughout 2019 as part of a series that would showcase Vocations talent for innovating new and interesting craft ales. It resulted in a wonderfully diverse set of designs, providing us the opportunity to play with the brand and experiment with weird and wonderful finishes that wouldn’t otherwise come close to consideration on other projects. Each of the x12 unique labels reflected the individual flavour profiles as well as the individual character and talent of our inhouse design team too. We’re also quite partial to a cold one every now and again, so this project was a particular pleasure to work on.


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