Snacks for Thought

It’s been my thought for a long time that processed foods should return to their packaging of yesteryear.Not only are foods either flavor-blasted or xtreme, so are the designs. I can hear a marketing developer command their designer, “Make it jump off the shelf!” without realizing their product looks as flavor-blasted and xtreme as the next item in the grocery store aisle. Shiny, metallic materials are the #1 choice for package fabrication, and the bright colors, hyper type, and swirly graphics really do appear to vibrate.

Consequently, clean, somewhat retro packaging stands out more. It’s been the style in the beauty aisle for the last year or two. Lean Cuisine has caught on, and so has the Target generic brands Market Pantry and Archer Farms. This is about selling a lifestyle that makes a consumer look hip and design-conscious. For example, if you purchase cheapo Archer Farms corn flakes, you may also be more likely have more elegant, trendy decor (assuming you, trendy consumer, admit to shopping at a suburban SuperTarget). As brands become more and more personalized to the individual, stores, and even other aisle-wanderers, are starting to judge shoppers by the appearance of their cart contents, thus being able to market other products that fit into said lifestyle.

On a purely design level, I think children and adults alike find simple shapes and color fields more appealing than ADD packaging. With definite shapes and clean type, there is a hierarchy that engages the eye. Retro packaging may also increase brand loyalty, causing adults to recall the times of their youth and associating it with that brand. Why do you think Cadillac throws in Robert Plant’s howl at the end of all their TV spots? Studies have shown that playing music popular when the target audience was 12-22 increases the appeal of their product. The same could be true for packaging.

Clean design also connotes health and well-being. Grabbing an unhealthy snack in an ostentatious package is like going to see a Hollywood movie. Some consumers know it’s corrosive and feel guilty after indulging, even worse, some people subsist entirely on it. This is where it gets tricky because so much depends on consumer behavior. It may do some small part in combating the obesity epidemic by using package design as a stigma to steer consumers torwards less fattening (at least) processed foods. But it has also encouraged snack giant Frito-Lay to employ wolf in sheep’s clothes design with its Natural line, including products such as White Cheddar Cheetos and Kettle Cooked Potato Chips. This may either make snackers more health-conscious and eat these products in moderation, or it may make them think they could eat more simply because the package looks healthy.

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