CPG Trends

Foodservice Packaging

The Forgotten Frontier

Melissa Simmerman
Director, Strategy

March 28th, 2024

Recently, we met with the marketing team of a new food brand in a space that basically blew our minds: cultivated meat. It’s not plant-based—it comes from real animal cells, with real humane and environmental implications. Like many food innovators, the company plans to introduce its product through foodservice, rather than going direct to consumers.

Getting buy-in from chefs is no easy feat. (You better have a goooooood sales pitch to someone holding an 8-inch knife. Also, see The Bear.) If you do manage to secure a place on their menus, you next have to evangelize servers to convince diners to try something they’ve never heard of. If your goals are really ambitious—say, landing on retailer shelves—you have to flawlessly execute a marketing strategy that not only entices the curious, but changes the way consumers think about meat as a concept.

But first, you have to get in the back door.

The first moment of truth

Do you notice foodservice trucks driving around town? How about when they’re parked outside a restaurant? You know who does notice? The back-of-house staff.

There’s a big difference between this:

And this:

Honorable mention:

Truck wraps (and bicycle trailers) are just one of many touchpoints in the foodservice journey that often go untended by brands. Another is wholesale packaging, which is obviously close to our hearts.

Most foodservice deliveries come in plain brown or white corrugated cardboard boxes, with not much more than a logo and safe handling instructions. As a brand manager, you may be thinking, “well yeah, why spend money or effort on something that will be stashed in a freezer or storeroom, slashed open, and discarded within a few hours or days?” To which we say, why not?

This may be your first or only chance to introduce your product to the very audience you’re asking to promote it. Shouldn’t it feel as interesting as anything you’d find on a grocery store shelf?

The unique job of foodservice packaging

As consumers in our everyday lives, we are often seduced by shiny things. While we will always believe product presentation, enhanced by exceptional brand design, is crucial, foodservice packaging still has unique functional jobs to do. In other words, great design can’t come at the expense of the following.

1. Product Education

Frozen French fries may just be frozen French fries (please let us reimagine these for foodservice), but some products—like cultivated meat—are going to demand more education on pack. Do you have to write a novel? No, unless that’s on brand for you. Consider QR codes that take users to more information or your famous recipe. You can retain some mystery, but remember that not everyone who interacts with your package will have heard your pitch.

2. Brand Promise

This is what separates the bland from the bold. It bears repeating: every single touchpoint is an opportunity to imprint your brand in the minds of the very people you are hoping will evangelize it. Don’t waste a single chance to make an impression.

3. The Fine Print

Obviously, food brands want you to be safe. If you get sick from a restaurant, well. Therefore, foodservice packaging must house legally compliant handling and preparation instructions. At Kaleidoscope, we understand these realities, and we work hard to design systems that don’t just serve beautiful design, but account for the nitty gritty details too.

Bottom line: strive for balance between branding and education, function and emotion. Yes, even in the back of the restaurant.

Who’s doing cool stuff in foodservice?

It’s still cardboard. It’s still brown. But look at all the fun Impossible is having! You can’t deny this packaging stands out, but more importantly, it reassures chefs and restaurant operators that this is indeed a modern, sexy brand that aligns with their own desires to stand out.

We’re sad you can’t see this TCHO packaging in real life, because when we toured a food distributor client’s facility, it definitely popped off the shelves. The orange, the simplicity, the brand tone of voice…sigh. Also, chocolate. This is how you design foodservice packaging to do all the jobs above, yet still excite your buyers and their buyers.

Ok, yes, we have waxed on about foodservice packaging, so please don’t ignore it. But our point is that there are many often-forgotten opportunities to stand out. Sorry for making you read all the way to the end to hear this, but the fastest way to stand out is to pay attention where others are not. Foodservice packaging, for those in that industry, is just one area that’s often neglected. What others can you find along your brand’s journey?

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