Packaging Design


Brian Akers
Creative Director

December 3, 2019

When it comes to healthy-looking packaging expressions in food and beverage categories, there are strategic design codes that signal consumers you’re “in-the-health-game.”

But how does a product call out a health benefit when it’s not necessarily part of a health-conscious brand or category? I took a peek in several categories in the center of a grocery store and a mass retailer to see what health codes existed in terms of color, typography, compositional layout and iconography. According to Mintel’s 2019 report “Center of Store—US,” this area of a grocery environment is better known for indulgent, convenient and unhealthier foods versus the perimeter, so I wanted to uncover the health trends and design strategies particularly for this section.

First, I started in the cereal aisle. Green placards or banners were consistently used to house health claims—which was a color scheme that consistently appeared in other categories such as canned goods. In particular, the green contrasted with the brand’s ownable color scheme as a way to quickly call out and differentiate health benefits and descriptors against the overall brand expression. The color green has a longstanding association with fresh, healthy and natural while also evoking the Earth. In this way, green cues in the center of the store relate to the perimeter’s fresh produce section.

In terms of the juice category, the Honest Kids and Minute Maid brands leverage the color white to disrupt the dominant trend of intense yellows and oranges, day-glow greens, and bold blues which convey a bright, fun and artificial feel. While the color white visually signals purity, Honest Kids and Minute Maid also leverage serif typography to promote “health appeal.” This is because serif typefaces signal tradition, authenticity and wholesomeness. Conversely, Hi-C and Kool-Aid brands adopt cartoon-like typefaces to emphasize the fun aspect of their offerings. In the adjacent jam category, Smucker’s Natural pushes typography a step further by employing a handwritten-inspired typeface to differentiate the healthy offerings among the rest of the Smucker’s portfolio.

In the salty snack aisle, brands like Frito-Lay and their multiple sub-brands must vastly differentiate from their core offerings to communicate healthier alternatives. To achieve this, we see that the color white also appears in this aisle. But in Frito-Lay’s case, the color white frames the original color scheme. For example, the healthier Cheetos are still orange but this bright color becomes more understated when the white surrounds it. Moreover, Frito-Lay incorporates an ownable font that says “SIMPLY” across the healthy offerings. The cross-portfolio use of the term “SIMPLY” allows Frito-Lay to differentiate healthier options from their saltier counterparts while also sustaining a sense of brand cohesion—whether they’re Cheetos, Doritos or Ruffles. As a result, the packaging composition and imagery promote a healthier differentiation not just for the product but for the overall brand as well.

For busy consumers, icons can quickly convey health benefits. For example, the heart is a very common and intuitive icon that suggests heart-healthy benefits from cereals to canned soups. In particular, Cheerios has owned the heart icon in various ways such as leveraging a heart-shaped bowl on pack alongside a smaller heart graphic with a health claim. Consumers can readily identify that Cheerios’ brand expression is all about loving your heart and keeping it healthy. For Campbell’s, the heart graphic is paired with the text “Healthy Request” to convey a feedback loop with consumers which extends into a check-marked list of the requested health benefits. Icons are a great way to connect with consumers who want healthier options but may not have time or ability to read all of the on-pack claims. This is a case in point that pictures say more than a thousand words! 

From color to typography to iconography, there are many design solutions available for expressing health benefits on packaging—especially for the center of the store where it may be needed most. For established brands, it is necessary to think through balancing health codes with their existing brand equity, whereas newer brands may need to determine how to break through and disrupt the category. By prioritizing health-driven design strategies in a project’s exploratory phase or marketing approach, center-of-store brands can establish health codes and benefits earlier on as opposed to affixing them like an afterthought. By adopting certain colors, typefaces and iconographic cues, brands can connect or reconnect with the growing wave of health-minded consumers no matter where they’re shelved.

Consumer skepticism a substantial issue

“While consumers appear motivated to eat healthy snacks, many approach the category with a degree of skepticism. For brands and retailers, the best way to win consumer trust may be to avoid claims that sound like an overpromise.”

Mintel, Better For You Snacking- US, September 2018