CPG Design Trends

Five Ways Better-for-You Food Packaging is Changing Brand Design

Bart Laube
Design Director

May 16, 2024

Last year, we looked at five emerging trends in packaging design within the exploding better-for-you food and beverage category. We believed then, and still do, that BFY is setting the trends while traditional brands race to catch up. In some cases, BFY is even flipping the script, using classic indulgent category cues to sell healthier options.

Now, we’re zooming out a bit to look at the themes influencing the latest BFY packaging design. The proliferation of BFY brands is truly mind-boggling, as evidenced at the recent ExpoWest, but it’s important to remember the brands themselves aren’t fueling the category growth. Consumers are. And consumers are demanding and embracing much more experimental, interesting, and even odd packaging design.

The following five themes show how color, typography, imagery, and shape language deliver the health, wellness, and nutrition cues BFY lifestyle consumers expect.

Let’s unpack those reasons so you can see it, too.

Hope for a better life

You are what you eat. Food is the best medicine. Living well is the best revenge. We’ve heard these phrases a million times, often in the service of a destructive diet culture (bye and don’t come back). But the BFY space is capitalizing on a new, post-pandemic consumer focus on overall wellbeing, as well as demand for sustainable circularity. Surprisingly, even though those are quite serious topics, what we’re seeing is…optimism.

Emotional color exploration is everywhere in BFY packaging design. Brands are playing with color in new and unusual ways, creating ownable identities that literally jump off the shelf. And once these dynamic products are in a consumer’s cart, they go home, where they may be so lovely as to be displayed in curated countertop vignettes (or in the pantry, cupboard, or fridge—aestheticism exists even behind closed doors!). We talked about well-known phrases above, but this one may be the most poignant to consumers today: “Have nothing you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Hope for a healthier, more intentional life is a powerful motivator.

Good enough to eat

Not all food packaging has to have appetite appeal; many brands do fine with extremely minimalist packaging. But when you’re selling an unconventional product—like a meat alternative or snacks with upcycled or exotic ingredients—appetite appeal is absolutely a driver of consideration and trial.

Appetite cues can come in many forms, from lush photography to photorealistic illustrations, but the presentation of them must be appealing enough to both faithfully represent the product experience (i.e., flavor and texture) and instill confidence in its BFY purity (healthy, free-from). One way BFY brands do it: ignoring tradition. Macro shots, interesting ingredient compositions, and wild flavor juxtapositions are shaking up the way food has been shown on pack in the past. The message: this is new, very different, and quite delicious.

Some of our favorite examples: Quorn, Noka, Natura by Anne, The Low Carb Co

Nothing to hide

This isn’t a new trend, but we can’t get enough of the way typography is evolving. Even when whimsical elements are used, fonts are large (some might say huge), easy to read, and uncluttered. Call it organized chaos, call it out-loud minimalism…call it what you want, but it sends a clear signal: there’s nothing to hide here, and btw, we’re having a ton of fun and you should join us.

Think of it as the era brought to us by RXBAR. Breaking the rules is the rule.

Some of our favorite examples: Well&Truly, Holy Corn

Naturally Occurring

How we love shape language. It’s loose, it’s organic, it’s abstract, it’s undefined. Very little about BFY design is rigid or fixed, and even when it is, it’s still soft and approachable (think serif type inside clean boxes). Holding devices are often irregular, product windows better reflect a “found in nature” vibe, and illustrations are often hand-drawn, artisanal, or expressed in uncommon proportions.

You know where this is all going: once again, the packaging design systems communicate honesty, transparency, and authenticity—essential traits in the BFY brand world and non-negotiables to Millennial and Gen Z audiences.

Aesthetic Convenience

Ok, convenience is not really a design trend. It’s a giant trend in the world, and design is absolutely part of making things more convenient for humans. When it comes to BFY meal delivery, there are many reasons consumers choose certain subscriptions or services, but there is one thing most won’t compromise on: the stuff has to look good. Not just the food. The trays, the bottles, the cups, the lids, THE BOX THAT SITS OUTSIDE MY DOOR. If I’m carrying that cold-pressed juice into the office on my hybrid day, I want it to look appealing on my hot desk. It says something about me, imparting status: “Look at my healthy juice, aren’t I both virtuous and stylish?!”

This is not a criticism or judgment. It’s human nature. We like shiny things, and we want to be perceived well. The vessels in which our food comes are no exception (needless to say, restaurants have HUGE opportunities for to-go packaging). We’ll take our convenient BFY food options with a side of design. And can it please be recyclable?

Some of our favorite examples: Hello Fresh, Factor

Better-for-you food packaging is raising the design bar for all of us

The themes above don’t just represent exciting design trends, they underscore what’s behind consumers’ decisions at this specific moment in time. You can’t participate in the former without understanding the latter. In our work and lives, we’ll be watching closely to see where this space pushes us as a design community—and where it pushes us as a society.

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