Fundamentals of Packaging Design: Case Study “SmartSpud”

Packaging design is the visual representation of your product or brand.  It is the interface between the consumer and your product; and therefore it is vitally important you represent your product well and accurately to the consumer.

Product design can drive impulse purchases, reinforce brand message/equity, and visually stimulate consumers (either positively or negatively).  Below, we review some packaging design fundamentals for one product, The Smart Spud – a product that today resonates well with consumers; it is a Low Carbohydrate product which is designed to be interpreted as a “healthier” option.

But before design, however, we must observe the 4 P’s (Marketing Mix) of the Smart Spud (Note: Target Market are people with higher disposable incomes who love potatoes but don’t want to feel guilty about the carbohydrates they consume):

Product – The Product is a unique and premium potato product.  Low Carb potato, a ‘lighter’ option

Place – Only “Great Food” format stores, not discount stores

Price – 25% retail $ premium to other poly bag potatoes

Promotions – not applicable

Given that the Smart Spud is a high-end, healthier potato option, it is important all 4 P’s are congruent with the “premium & healthier” message (as well as design and the type of packaging used).   If the marketing mix is conflicting (ie a premium ingredient product with a discounted price?!), it will confuse consumers and weaken equity in your brand/product.

Let’s review the DESIGN strategy of this product:

The Name: Smart Spud – reinforces and/or hints at a “smart potato option”

–          Minimalistic design is used.  Minimalistic can be interpreted as “upscale”

–          Supporting Images – usually secondary and reinforce a  “healthier” message – in this case a waist-band measurement strap at the top of the bag design is used (difficult to see on image)

–          Colour – The predominate colours used are White (which reinforces the product is not “rich or heavy” but light and airy) and Blue (Blue is the standard in Canada to connote “healthier” option ie see President’s Choice Blue Menu sub Brand).  Therefore, we are borrowing the equity of an existing sub brand which already resonates ‘healthier’ with consumers.  We don’t need to recreate another.

–          Photo – note the use of a “serving suggestion” photograph.  In this case, a “mash potato” in a premium blue bowl is used.  It is simple and can be healthy.  A baked potato could have been used, however, baked potatoes can be synonymous with a “Loaded Potato” – ie sour cream, chives, bacon, etc.  Potentially marring our image of the healthy option.

 Remember, marketing and marketing design are subjective – this means they are open to interpretation.  While some design principles used above may work for this product, they may not for all.  What is important is you have an understanding of design basics, the market, and that your message is consistent with the 4P’s of marketing.  Consistent messages drive equity in your product.

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The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

How do you distinguish yourself from others in the rat-race?  More specifically, how do you create a unique and professional Personal Brand*(PB)

One significant way to differentiate your PB, is to launch new products into the market – it can create such a buzz!  But the key is to work strategically with your vendors and push them to be creative and submit product concepts regularly.  In my experience do not discount smaller vendors – they are aggressive and entrepreneurial and want to grow market share.

And when something exciting is submitted, it is now where you utter: I want EXCLUSIVITY!” (refer to Blog Feb 17th before launching nationally).  

Tips to securing Exclusivity

–          Remember WIN/WIN philosophy always prevails!  The vendor needs to profit (at least in long run)

–          Create a promotion schedule with the vendor – how much will be invested? (ie you can advertise in-store  promotions  and/or distributed flyers).   Show a willingness to set the product ‘up for success’

–          Inform Vendor they will get merchandising space/planogram and that you will give promotional space in advertisements

Exclusivity will do the following for a Merchant:

–          Create brand loyalty to your category and the Company – you are the only show in town!

–          Differentiate you from colleagues and the business in general: The BUZZ factor!

–          Demonstrate your business acumen and vendor relations

Below, I include an item where Exclusivity was secured – The Smart Spud Potato (still on shelves today).  I mention it because you never know when/what category will get a unique product ideal for exclusivity – ie the Potato category was considered a boring “commodity” category and an area where creativity was looooooooong gone.

But this was launched just when the Atkinson diet was popular (low carb diets);  the vendor had exclusivity for the potato seed and in order to get exclusive rights for the Company, I negotiated to do the design and select the packaging type and support promoting it. 

Stay tuned next week – we will discuss how Merchants/Brand Managers can build equity in their products by successful product design.  I will discuss the design and methodology of this unique product. Packaging Design is key… and below is a good example we will expound upon next week.  Some vendors want to own design….but that doesn’t mean you can’t give them feedback if it is going on your shelves!


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*Personal Brand  – consider it as your IMAGE (online or other) – this includes but is not limited to the body, clothing, appearance, online presence, etc, leading to an indelible impression that is uniquely distinguishable.

Brand Management – CL vs NB (Part II)

Last week we reviewed the differences between national brands (NB) and Control Label (CL) products and we answered a consumer-conundrum question: Can we get more for less?

Answer: YES! 

We discovered that Control Label products (i.e. President’s Choice, Kenmore, Life Brand – also called private label) can develop products that are premium (i.e. premium ingredients) to the comparable national brands…. yet CL products maintain better value because of National Brand overhead.  Recall, NBs have many  people working on only one brand and spend millions and millions in marketing and promotions! 

Conversely, Control Label products do not spend close to those dollars on promotions – don’t believe me?….Just think how much Coke spends on a single commercial for a Superbowl advertisement!

So why do Retailers develop control label brands?  

  1.  More profit!  While some retailers may say different, the major impetus for control label innovation/sku proliferation is better Penny Profit (more immediate money in the bank).   

Therefore the higher the control label sales penetration, the better the profits!   They want you to have more of their private label products in your basket.

A fast nickel beats a slow dime


        2.   When you enjoy a Retailer’s private label product, the Retailer gets an intangible benefit called Consumer  Loyalty.  Priceless.  A retailer can gain our devotion and “repeat visit” if you love their Control Label Brand.  How?  Because you won’t be able to get it anywhere else but at that retailer!   And they are hoping you will do a full basket shop while getting their unique brand only available through them.

But retailers still need a balance of National Brands to compliment Control Label on the shelf.  Let’s face it – you can try to knock off Coke – but it just ain’t a Coke at the end of the day.  Even when it’s cheaper we consumers buy what tastes best (usually!).  Or perhaps it is prestige/image thing?  Does one look better serving to your guest Perrier or San Pellegrino or a generic brand?   

Just make sure you are checking the ingredient deck and comparing apples to apples to get the best value.

Brand Management: National Brands vs Control Label – Can we really get more for less? (Part I)

If you are a consumer, read this! Of course, knowledge is power and what you choose to purchase can save you and your family money.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Dr. Seuss

Today, we will learn more about the Brands we buy and attempt to answer the consumer question –can we really get more for less?

So, you enter the grocery store and now you have a plethora of choice on what brand to buy. So many choices! Well this week we will try to make the decision a little easier and will ponder some questions that you may have asked yourself:
           – What is a ‘Control Label/Private label’?
            – Is there a difference in sensory profiles (taste) across all these brands? For example, at Loblaw do you purchase No Name, President’s Choice or a National Brand equivalent?
           – Or maybe you asked yourself why is there a difference in price between these brands? What’s the best value?

These are some of the questions that continue to mystify consumers and today we will attempt to debunk the Brand-choice mystery!

This will be a TWO-part blog. In Part II (next week) we will continue to explore questions such as:
           – Why do Retailers want us to buy their Control Label ie Kenmore, Master’s Choice, Life, Rexall Brand, etc?
           – Why do retailers have National Brands then? And how do National Brands compete if a retailer’s Control label is strongly entrenched in a Retailer/Merchant Planogram?
           – Why are control label initiatives at the forefront of a Retailer strategy?

So let’s begin.

What is a Control Label? Control Label is a brand that a Retailer owns and quite literally ‘controls’ – for example: the marketing, the name, the spec, the size, the flavour, etc. It can also be called a Private Label and these products are managed in-house. Manufacturing/producing the products, however, is not a retailer’s core competency and thus they team-up with Vendors to produce Control label products. National Brands (ie Kraft, Pepsi, Dove, etc) are not controlled by the retailer and operate independently.

So what’s the difference in all these brands? Some companies have two-tier Control labels. Loblaw, for example, has the discounted No Name and the premium President’s Choice (PC). No Name is developed to ‘match’ the National Brand in terms of specs used and deliver a similar taste experience (albeit some No Name products succeed, some don’t!). PC will use ‘premium ingredients’ versus the national brand and despite the use of premium ingredients, PC’s price image is still less than the National Brand!?

So why and how is control label less expensive? The major cost differences between a control label product and a national brand is ‘overhead’. National Brands spend lots of money on R&D (research and development) and marketing and consumer studies. Moreover, consumer packaged goods companies (CPG) that develop the National Brands, have a team of people (Brand Managers) working on each brand. Conversely, Retailers have only one Product Manager/Developer working on several control label products so their energy is spread, while CPG focused.

Thus the value proposition of control label – ‘more for less’ – does resonate well with consumers! And therefore, Control Label products really can provide more for your dollar!

Stay tuned for next week’s part two edition.

Brand Management – Keeping a Pulse on changing Consumer Trends

Who makes an ‘excellent’ Brand Manager? What does it take? While the formula is not exactly a science, a few key ingredients include a solid consumer marketing background and a flair for ‘creative’ design and type of packaging used.  But there is much more….

Being creative in reading and analyzing Consumer Trend Data is essential for keeping a pulse on your target market (see below) and this is where we will delve deep today.

Ideally, a brand manager should deliver/create products that satisfy consumer trends/needs BEFORE they become mainstream (i.e. before trend peak sales and competition supersaturates the market). Understanding consumer trends then, is critical for developing your product strategies.

So how does one tap into Consumer Trend Data?
– Trade shows
– Vendor meetings
– Magazines (I use Canadian Grocer for example for food trends)
– Studying data such as AC Neilson.
– The Internet (assuming it is a reputable site).
– Government Statistics

Cut & paste this site above – this information is key to unlocking future trends. This, coupled with government data (ie demographic data) will help you. Some easy examples you should think about is your target market – Can the elderly read your labels? Can kids and elders open the package easily (assuming you want kids to open the package at all?)

Let’s look at a few more examples. If demographic data indicates people are getting older and the fastest growing household segment is 1-2 people per household (while traditional 4-person households are declining) perhaps you need to look at your packsize i.e. is it logical to develop a 10lb potato bag or perhaps a smaller size given your target market – maybe 2 people can’t consume that much before it is rotten? Or perhaps trend data indicates refrigerator space is at a premium and people can’t buy your huge 2kg tub of ‘whatever’.

Bottom Line – Without keeping your pulse on the consumer you are surely going to be complacent and ultimately your product will be antiquated and obsolete.

Fundamentals of Brand MANAGEMENT

While your brand may resonate today with consumers, you may find tomorrow’s competition is forcing a change/upgrade. Examples of product changes:
– Reformulation/change in ingredients
– Price change
– Packaging Change (graphics/type of packaging material)
– Upgraded applications

The secret however to continued growth and consumer acceptance is NEVER to do two or more major changes.  Prioritize and keep it to ONE strategic change at a time and patiently execute.

He that can have patience can have what he will.
Benjamin Franklin

It is basic consumer behaviour. Consumers will not relate to a product/brand that makes too many immediate changes. Avoid Brand Shock!

A similar term used in Retail Merchandising is called Sticker Shock (drastic change in retail eg $0.99 to $2.99). Avoiding Sticker Shock is done via incrementally adjusting retails (over several weeks/months) so consumers don’t faint at the immediate change and switch products*. 

Likewise, protect your brand with steady, strategic changes.

*There are some situations where the market forces commodity products to make sudden retail changes (and all competition make the change as well) so this would be a moot point.

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