May 31, 2016

Designing Packaging That Jumps Off Store Shelves (PODCAST)

food packaging podcastWe continue our four-part series discussion with Garden Haus in this podcast where we focus on the element of packaging design, its importance in helping to sell your product to consumers, and what you need to be thinking about when it comes to creating impactful food product packaging.


Jennifer: Hi, in this podcast, we continue our four-part series discussion with Garden Haus. Today we’ll be talking about packaging design and some of the things you need to be thinking about when it comes to developing product packaging that helps your products jump off the shelf and catch consumers’ attention. If you’d like to listen to the first two podcasts in the series or any of the small food business podcasts, you can find all of them at


Garden Haus is a Brooklyn based food packaging design firm that is brought to you by Ben Garthus, who’s a 15-year veteran of designing packaging for mega food brands and Chitra Agrawal, a seasoned digital marketer and chef. In 2014 the pair launched Brooklyn Delhi, and within a year their artisanal Indian condiments line was carried in 50 stores nationwide and featured in 30 publications including the New York Times and Saveur. Realizing the impact great packaging can have on quality products, Ben and Chitra created Garden Haus to serve the design needs of growing craft food brands.


The last time we spoke, we were talking about the role positioning plays in a business’ brand and it’s strategy, and we ultimately ended up talking a little bit about the role that the positioning statement and the creative brief also plays in the packaging, or in the development of the packaging, I should say. What I’m curious to talk about today is about packaging design, and I don’t expect that we are going to cover absolutely everything that we can about packaging in a short podcast, but to start with Ben, as a designer for food brands, can you walk us through some of the steps food entrepreneurs need to be thinking about, both on the logistical side of things and on the creative side of things when it comes to determining both the right type of packaging for their product and then ultimately designing the packaging?


Ben: For whoever is writing up this creative brief, I guess some of the first things that you’d want to include would be who are your competitors, who are your customers, what are you trying to convey to your consumers, what’s the main messaging, and then I guess you’d have some other concerns like what package type are you going to use, what container, what box. When you’re determining that you’d be looking at what are the industry standards for the category that you’re in. If you’re making margarine or something like that, what are all of the other companies using. On one hand, you could choose to make it the same as your competitors, but you could also possibly choose something that’s slightly different to try to differentiate.


Some other things would be how many products and flavors do you have, and trying to build room in to be able to expand your product line in the future.


Chitra: When I was working with Ben for Brooklyn Delhi, I was kind of that person that was putting together the creative brief for him. These are definitely the pieces that I had to … I had done a lot of the research and handed it over to Ben from that point. I think that the more thorough you do a job of these things, of this creative brief, the better the package. For instance, we knew that we wanted a number of flavors so Ben knew that, okay, I’m going to have to design flavor extension for this line.


Jennifer: One thing that I hear often, and I’d be interested to know what you guys have run into about this, is also for example, there was a granola maker I knew who, the way her product was initially packaged, even though it was the same net weight as everybody else on the shelf, it looked smaller, and so consumers would see the price point and think that they were spending the same amount but to get less product than they would from any of the other competitors. Things like that, who does the research on that? Is that something that’s also included in this creative brief?


Ben: I think ultimately that would be a little bit of a collaboration between somebody like me and the food entrepreneur.


Chitra: That’s such a personal choice, too, as far as what that package looks like as well, so you definitely feel like we would have to work together on that one.


Ben: For sure. I was working on a frozen food item recently, and one of the things that we were running into was that when the company that I was working with, when they switched to a container that sits flat on its back, you end up the only way you can really see the full branding is when you’re looking down at it. If it’s up high, the only thing you’re going to see is the side panel of it, so it’s a lot smaller impression than if it’s further down on the shelf. We’re trying to figure out maybe we can find ways to have the container so it sits on its side on the shelf. We can get this huge front panel, because in the frozen aisle, you’re looking through glass, it’s maybe frosted over. You need all the help you can get to reach people.


Another thing was that in that particular area, all the big guys, they put photography of the product on the box. I think that that ends up, now we’re so used to knowing that frozen food is junky, or there is a lot of junky frozen food, and so with this new product which is like a high quality frozen food meal started, we decided to actually show the product. Rather than have photography, we had illustration and we actually show the product, because we’re not trying to hide anything.


The big guys, they’ll put in all this effort into getting the perfect piece of breaded fish that is totally idealized. Now we don’t trust it.


Chitra: That’s definitely a positioning strategy, to differentiate from the competitor.


Jennifer: Do you find that within different categories … Within the food category as a whole, we obviously have all these sub-categories, whether it’s dairy products, whether it’s frozen foods, whether it’s condiments. Do you find that there tends to be certain, I would say almost creative themes that you see? You just mentioned it’s usually photography. Do you find that in multiple categories?


Ben: For sure. Definitely. I was just talking to somebody about bitters for mixing cocktails, and I was looking at all these different bitters, and they all had the same look. This kind of old timey …


Chitra: Old timey, speakeasy …


Ben: … Speakeasy thing. It just occurred to me, wow, if you took a different approach to this, you could really differentiate yourself from your competition. I think you see that everywhere. That’s the delicate balance, is in one sense you want to associate yourself with a certain category or a certain area, but you also want to differentiate yourself. It’s a balancing act for sure.


Jennifer: You sort of just answered this question because you were talking about you could really differentiate yourself if someone were to go with a different design aesthetic when it comes to the packaging for bitters. I’d be interested in both of your takes on the importance that packaging plays from the standpoint of getting your products noticed, again, be it by buyers, be it by consumers, because sometimes food entrepreneurs will hesitate to spend, again, bootstrapping the operations, to spend a lot of money on packaging? What’s your thoughts on the role that packaging plays in getting your product noticed and hopefully ultimately bought.


Ben: Your packaging is the product. At least until they’ve tried it, the packaging is the product. You can have the best product in the world, but if nobody tries it, it’s not going to sell. I think you can’t underestimate it. You really need to put some time and effort into it and make sure that it’s working as hard as it can.


Chitra: A lot of large companies even, when they put out a new product on the shelf, they put a lot of marketing into making sure that their product is positioned and it sells. They do demos. They put in a lot of marketing. I think that that says a lot for a small business coming out there if these larger companies are putting a lot of effort into that piece of it, because the product really has to sell itself. You can’t be in the store. You can’t be in every store that your product is in, especially if you’re a small food business.


We do a combination. We’ve done some markets, and we have wholesale accounts. Selling at a market is a lot different than selling your product wholesale. Your product, when we’re at the table, I’m selling the product directly. I’m part of it. They see me. They can taste my product, but when I’m not in the store and my product is on the shelf, I need to make sure that that label is selling it for me, otherwise you’re not going to get sales, and in the long run, that could cost you your business.


Ben: It’s just part of the investment that you have to make. With the food business like this, if you really want to take it to that next level, you just have to invest in it, because you’re not going to get there without having good packaging.


Jennifer: Unfortunately the old adage holds true that it takes money to make money.


Ben: It does. It does. Any business that you start, it takes a few years before you even really start making money. In the beginning you just have to invest in it with money and blood, sweat, and tears.


Jennifer: What about the time investment, I’m curious, from a standpoint of how long did it take you to develop the packaging and to come to your “I feel really good about this”, and I’m not questioning your speed or lack of speed as a designer, I’m more curious, how much time should food entrepreneurs mentally build in to their timeline as they think about, if I want to launch a new product or I want to launch a redesign of my packaging, how long should they be thinking that this might take before they can fully launch with the new item?


Ben: I think it depends, but we spend quite a lot of time just going into the grocery store, going into markets, just looking at stuff. We were really just trying to get a sense of what was out there and where we would fit before we started. We put a lot of time into that upfront research, but then when I started the process, I think it actually went relatively quickly. Granted, we are our own clients, so it’s a little bit easier …


Jennifer: Top priority.


Ben: … but once I came upon that design, I kind of knew that that was it. I didn’t need to keep making design options. If somebody else is hiring me to do this process, I would recommend getting at least three different options so they have something to choose from. If they’re really bootstrapping and they don’t want to spend the money or they’re trying to save money, then one way that I’ll work with people is I’ll just come up with a bunch of black-and-white sketches with company images that explain or show how that’s going to be manifested in color, and then have them choose one of those. Then I’ll just do one option in color, but I think it’s helpful to have a few options to see. I feel like it takes somewhere around a month of back and forth. When I hit upon our design, I think I got there in maybe four days or something like that, but then after that, we had to do a lot of back-and-forth about what the wording was going to be on everything. What was the messaging. It was just a lot of tweaking. That’s the thing that takes that good idea or that good design and makes it solid.


Chitra: We did a lot of research. The research is huge. If we hadn’t done all of that, I don’t think it would have taken you as short a time as it did. That piece was crucial, I think, to get a sense.


Jennifer: I’ll remind folks who are listening too, that the more research that you can bring to that designer, if you are bootstrapping this and you’re trying to save money, will hopefully provide you with the result that you’re looking for quicker, which will help with your budget.


Ben: Everybody has different tastes. Everybody has a different aesthetic, so if you can provide a bunch of examples of packaging that you like, a design that you like, and provide that to your designer, then they start to get a better understanding of what your tastes are.


Chitra: With Brooklyn Delhi, I had taken a number of photos of artwork, like Ben was saying, truck graphic art and store window art in India, and that was what you had to go by, and the name. You came out with what we have now. It’s definitely good to have a sense there.


Jennifer: I hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. We have one more podcast scheduled with Garden Haus where we’re going to take a look at what some of the other visual marketing aspects are that are important for you to be considering as you develop your brand.


Based on feedback from listeners, we’re looking to incorporate more real life stories from food entrepreneurs into this podcast series. If you’d be interested in being interviewed and tell us about your entrepreneurial journey, please let me know by emailing me at We’re really looking for stories from food entrepreneurs who are willing to share some of the challenges they’ve faced and the creative ways you’ve overcome those challenges so that all of us listening can benefit and together we can build a stronger artisan food economy.


As always, if you find these podcast series informative, I invite you to tell other food entrepreneurs you know about it and subscribe to it on iTunes by searching for the words “small food business”. I would love it if you could leave a review, as that helps me know it’s resonating with you, and that helps other food entrepreneurs find the podcast in the iTunes system. I also invite you to join the small food business community at, where you’ll find a ton of resources specific to food entrepreneurs as you start and grow your business. Our Facebook page at, is also a great source for food business information, and we’re on a host of other social media channels as well. I look forward to connecting with you. Thanks.


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