I want to share a personal experience that I’ve been having with food packaging design lately. It has to do with brown paper bags. My local grocery store offers two varieties of store brand potato chips: the classic chips that come in the cellophane bag with splashy colors, and “traditional style” chips in a stamped brown paper bag.
For as long as I have lived here, I have found that I am viscerally attracted to that brown paper bag. I don’t think the word “traditional” even plays into my decision-making here – but that simple packaging design communicated something to me that compelled me to choose it over the classic variety.
These corn chips illustrate this point perfectly – even if you remove buzzwords like “gluten” and “GMO”, there is something about the stamped brown paper that communicates an artisanal product.
The chips that come in the brown paper bag cost about 30 cents more for 10% less product. Last week I took it upon myself to do an ingredient comparison, and what I found was that the composition of the classic and the traditional potato chips are essentially identical (the traditional had 0.3% less sunflower oil, if I remember correctly). They were manufactured at the same facility. I suppose there’s a possibility that a different grade of potato was used, but I think that’s unlikely.
Anyway, considering myself an objective and reasonable individual, I bought the classic chips for the first time in three years. They tasted the same… and yet, something about them wasn’t quite as satisfying.
The artisanal revolution in food packaging design
In contrast to the splashy colors I remember from food packaging growing up in the 90s, today’s trends in food packaging seem to be appealing to our collective desire for simplicity in an increasingly complex world, with too many options and an urge to get back to basics. This trend has been termed “essentialism” in the packaging design industry – not quite a philosophy of “less is more”, but rather “enough is enough”.
Brown paper and simple stamped designs are major players in this trend of packaging of artisanal foods. These Artisan Fresh bakery boxes seem to say, “This is a handcrafted product made in small batches from scratch in a small mom and pop bakery”, when actually, these are sold in the Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club bakery and are most likely mass produced, delivered frozen, and then “fresh baked in club”.
But it works! For many people, myself included, those same muffins and croissants would not look quite as mouth-watering in the outdated plastic clamshell box – especially not if it said Wal-Mart or Great Value on it. Today’s consumers are very health and quality focused, even when it comes to their pastries, and there is something about brown paper that says, “This product has less of those chemical additives that you hate”, even when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Food packaging for artisanal foods (or foods that want to give the impression of being artisanal) has a fresh yet vintage feel to it these days. It actually feels very Pinterest-inspired to me.
Essentialism and simplicity are the name of the game in today’s food packaging design industry. And wouldn’t you know it: even Tostitos is hopping on the bandwagon.