October 13, 2014

4 Ways to Spice Up Bland Convenience-Food Packaging

4 Ways to Spice Up Bland Convenience-Food Packaging

Convenience foods are depressing enough; why make the packaging mind-numbingly bland? Remember, convenience foods are mass-produced, largely synthetic and nutrition-free (and shamefully addictive. Damn you, Funyons). If the packaging can’t conceal this fact, then we may as well be living in an oppressive, dystopian regime, where all of our sustenance comes in pill form and we’re all forced to use expressions like “Doubleplusungood.”

As packaging designers, it is up to us to develop creative food packaging design solutions for the specific purpose of creating a colorful, happy and democratic society. Okay… maybe our jobs aren’t quite that lordly, but interesting and useful packaging does make people happy, and that’s definitely what we’re all about. If you are stuck turning the same handful of tired ideas over in your head or are interested in changing your brand image, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Make it clear

Twenty years ago, frozen, prepared meals were always boxed with the contents concealed from the customer’s eyes. Of course, the image on the package never accurately represented what was actually inside, because if it did, we would have avoided the products the way we avoid scabies. Today, we are beginning to demand that our prepackaged meals be displayed clearly. Yes, Hungry Man’s design reign has fallen.

The overall transparency of your food packaging will largely depend upon how attractive the food product will be. It is possible to give the impression of transparent packaging, while skillfully concealing the actual product. Sometimes, food, like the human body, is best left to the imagination.

2. Use pleasing and interesting colors

Human beings (at least those who aren’t afflicted with color blindness) have a visceral reaction to color. Packaging that employs color in a strategic way can make the food product it contains seem appealing, even if the colors have nothing whatever to do with the ingredients.

Since we want to steer away from the artificiality that is so often associated with convenience food packaging, earth tones are definitely worth exploring. Browns and greens convey wholesomeness; that the product was made with great care in someone’s personal kitchen and possibly using a mortar and pestle. Black means luxury – the person was using an exceptionally high quality mortar and pestle.

Although those colors aren’t especially mind-blowing, using them as a baseline – perhaps accompanied by a healthy amount of whitespace – will help to communicate the desired message. Namely, that the product is delicious and eating it will turn you into a happier, sexier person.

3. Give it a shapely shape

There are certain rules for designing the shape of a package: It has to protect the product; it has to allow for cost-efficient transport (the highest number of units for the lowest possible cost). After that, you can pretty much do whatever you and the client wants. Unless the client wants a spherical design, then it’s up to you to rescue him from himself.

It could be fun to explore packaging shapes that are typically associated with products other than the one you are designing for. For instance, riffing on the traditional egg carton could be an interesting concept for snack cakes. Adorable!

4. Whimsy – make it fun!

Sometimes a personality-driven packaging concept has the same effect as the cagey use of earth tones – it can give the impression of folksiness. Design elements like handwritten typography, cartoon-like imagery, and bold colors can help to awaken the screeching and demanding child in all of us.

Basically, all of the typical product packaging rules apply to convenience food packaging, with the addition of whetting the consumers’ appetites. Frankly, the convenience food market is so glutted that we don’t have any choice but to embrace creative food package design. Eventually, we’ll have to start incorporating pyrotechnics into our packaging strategies, which will soon be followed by pyrotechnics in the food itself.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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