Packaging design has always been a balance between looking attractive to the consumer on-shelf and presenting information. But recent pressure from consumer and government groups has put the focus on the latter, as statistics on a product's salt, sugar and fat content, as well as intake-level warnings, are increasingly necessary on-pack.
This trend toward cramming an increasing amount of information on packs could hamper brand identity, although smart designers regard it as another challenge to tackle creatively. David Annetts, creative director of branding and packaging at Design Bridge, says: 'Brands had held back because they wanted to keep the purity of the pack, but you can't fight the tide - they are now taking it seriously.'
There are many examples of this pressure for more information. The Food Standards Agency has devised the controversial traffic-light food-labelling system, while Tesco and Marks & Spencer are creating their own food-information formats, incorporating guideline daily amount (GDA) content, for use across their own-brand ranges. Brand owners are also starting to react. Nestle has introduced a green information band across the top of its cereal brands, rather than attempting to integrate the information into each pack design. Meanwhile, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Kellogg are combining on a common series of GDA icons, which, for Kellogg, will replace its more heavy-handed bar-chart imagery for the front of cereal packs.
The lack of a single, overarching system is a problem, however, and David Beard, creative director of Brandhouse WTS, says a consistent approach would be more effective. 'There has to be a great way of doing this and I don't think it has been designed yet,' he says. 'It needs a simple information system which can adapt to brand colours and styles and that people understand and recognise. At the moment, there is an overload of information on packs. If you pile too much communication on the front, nobody reads anything.'
Jonathan Ford, creative partner of design agency Pearlfisher, favours a standardised system on the back of packs for all food products. 'It does represent a bit of a dilemma for everyone, because with the plethora of ways of presenting information, it is a bit of a free-for-all,' he says.
The challenge posed by adding more information to packaging varies according to a product's size. 'Products such as cereal that come in larger packages are less inclined to suffer from the increased regulations, as they have a greater surface area to convey the information,' says Kevin Ford, a packaging specialist with market research company Ipsos Mori. 'Conversely, products such as toothpaste and vitamin tablets will find it difficult to communicate the necessary information while maintaining an appealing design. Most food products will incur the same problem, as they are being increasingly scrutinised amid health and obesity concerns.'
Even so, many design agency chiefs believe the task can be surmounted. Paul Foulkes-Arellano, managing director of Wren & Rowe, which recently redesigned Sunny D, says: 'At present, you can do things without wrecking the pack design. As long as you have a big enough back of pack, you are okay. If someone argues that (the information) has to be on the front, then there will be an impact. Brands will suffer. Anything small, such as confectionery or small cheeses, have the most to lose.'
Coley Porter Bell chief executive Vicky Bullen says the key to successfully communicating information on packaging is to be simple, while avoiding being patronising or worthy. In the design agency's new organic range for Tesco, this is achieved by putting the functional and nutritional information in a panel, while retaining a sleek and premium look for the pack.
Design Bridge's revamp of Muller's yoghurt range put greater emphasis on the product's health credentials by incorporating a 'green tick' device on the front, but stripping back the rest of the design to give a cleaner look.
A positive attitude to the extra information is cited as the best approach. Pearlfisher has recently completed two projects in which the health message was integrated into the design through story-telling. For Unilever soya drink AdeZ, the packaging was designed to be read like a magazine. 'Story-telling is a good way of getting complex information across,' says Ford. 'It makes learning about health issues informative and fun in conversational and humorous ways.'
The design for Little Dish, a range of healthy ready meals for children, uses illustrated talking animals and nursery rhymes to communicate the food values, thus appealing to parent and child, and placing the information at the heart of the brand. The inside of the packs feature a picture to colour in, encouraging children to engage further with the packaging.
For healthy products, the trend for more nutritional information is a gift. But other products can also turn it to their advantage. 'You can see it as either a negative or a positive, and we see it as a positive,' says Kristina McIntyre, executive client director at Landor Associates, which recently redesigned Walkers crisps. 'Information is a good thing. The challenge is how you communicate it in a simple way. You need to integrate it into the brand brief straight away.'
The new Walkers crisps design highlights the brand's introduction of a healthier type of sunflower oil for cooking the crisps by incorporating a sunseed logo on the front of the packet - turning the information into a consumer benefit. The full nutritional details are on the back of the packets, although they will soon include the summary information on sugar, salt and fat common to all PepsiCo brands on the front.
Similarly, the once-notorious Sunny D brand has embraced the need to provide more on-pack nutritional information as a positive element in its new pack design (see case study). Commercial manager Paul Nicholls says: 'It is not hampering the design - it is a key part of our brand communication. It certainly has more stand-out than the previous design.'
Satkar Gidda, sales and marketing director at SiebertHead, which has worked on tobacco product packaging for clients including BAT, says there are ways to offset the dominant health warnings on the front of packs. Wallet packs, which open up and have no health warning on the inside, are one alternative. 'They are all looking for additional structural space and forms, because that is the only way to communicate,' he says.
Alan Flude, director of structure at Futureband, supports an increasing use of flaps and the inside of lids. 'The most important thing is that clients have to agree what consumers need (to know) and it is up to us to think creatively around that. Some clever thinking would give a key outline on the pack and use structure to give more. With small-scale packs, the only way is to create some distinctive icons and use the whole structure of the pack - your surface isn't just the outside.'
Despite designers' ingenuity, they will have a challenge on their hands if, as many expect, the drinks industry is forced to follow the tobacco sector in placing prominent compulsory health warnings on products.
As brand owners rush out new packs to meet consumer demands for nutritional details, there is a feeling that there will soon be a requirement for more information on areas such as food miles, provenance and recyclability. Good pack design has never been so important in making sure the brand message still gets across.
CASE STUDY - SUNNY D
One way of dealing with an increasing amount of pack information is to make a virtue of it. When Sunny D's new owners relaunched it last month with a new recipe, they needed a pack design that signalled a move away from added sugar, artificial colourings and preservatives.
The concept came about after Sunny Delight Beverages Company (SDBC) set up a parent-advisory group to comment on the product and pack designs. SDBC incorporated their desire for explicit information into a design by Wren & Rowe in which the annotations and comments about ingredients are a key element.
Sunny D is the first soft drink to include guideline daily amount (GDA) information on the pack front. Other nutritional information features in side panels and on the product's website. 'We are proudly and boldly putting the information on the front of the pack,' says Paul Foulkes-Arellano, managing director of Wren & Rowe.
The relaunch is part of a £5m investment in the brand this summer, which will include in-store and promotional activity to support the new pack design.
- DON WILLIAMS CHIEF EXECUTIVE, PI GLOBAL
The truth is that the more information pressure groups, governments and, yes, brand owners want to put on the front of packs, the less effective that pack becomes, not just in the stopping and selling job it has to do, but also in terms of basic communication. Pack designs need to work in different ways in different categories and in different markets. Giving consumers the ability to 'de-code' packaging with ease is crucial. Using all packaging surfaces for appropriate information is vital and, frankly, common sense. The consumer needs certain pieces of information at different times during the purchasing process; what they absolutely do not need is everything screaming at them at once from the front of pack.
- HILLARY GRAVES MANAGING DIRECTOR, LITTLE DISH
For us, given the nature of our product, we do want to shout about it, so this works to our advantage. Our key selling point is no added salt, sugar, additives and preservatives, so this became an element of our brand identity and an element of packaging design. If your ingredient list isn't so clean, then you have a problem. I would imagine that you would struggle, especially now, given consumers' awareness of health issues. More and more people are reading the labels.