We all have to buy food; that’s something that will never change. Now that we’ve delivered that profound insight, let’s get on to how we can best encourage people to buy the food that we tell them to buy. Three words: food label design.
Yes, food label design is critical to the marketability of any food product. It tells the buyer what the product is, how it is meant to be used and the effect it will have on the consumer (although most processed food labels tend to play down the inevitable high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes).
Without getting into the finer points of FDA regulated disclosures (was the product manufactured in the same time zone as a tree nut? For heaven’s sake, say so or you might kill us all). There are three basic rules an effective food label designer must follow if the label will persuade anyone to purchase the product. If the food will reverse male-pattern baldness and cause the buyer to spontaneously divine winning lottery numbers, feel free to ignore the following tips.
You want the product you’re selling to seem irresistible to the consumer, and if that product is food, you’ve got to get the buyer’s mouth watering. If your product is inherently gorgeous, don’t disguise that fact. The package should have a window showing the product if possible, but if not, then a specific graphic depicting what’s inside should do the trick.
If the product is a condiment, a mix or ingredient, show how those products can be used to achieve the ultimate gustatory experience. Brownie mixes with pictures of fudgy, gooey brownies make our knees weak just thinking about them. Obviously, tomato paste isn’t especially appealing on its own, but when the ingredients are individuated – vine-ripe tomatoes – it suddenly seems irresistible.
Descriptive terms prominently displayed are very effective, as well. The new foodie culture has taught us to regard flavor combinations differently, so candies and confections often highlight “salty,” “toasty” and “spicy” qualities. If the product has been “fire-roasted,” “glazed” or “smoked,” display that prominently. Creaminess, gooeyness, richness, crispness and freshness are also good evocative and useful terms.
Give It Heart
There is something industrial and cold about a processed food item. However, when it’s given a label that immediately recalls hominess, grandma and Laura Ingalls Wilder, we’re more likely to trust that product and suspend our suspicions that the concept was developed by a group of dispassionate executives in a chilly conference room.
We want to believe that products are not only good for our bodies and souls, but also somehow good for the earth entire. Organic, locally sourced and sustainable ingredients reinforce this sense of do-goodery, and we’re far more likely to embrace a prepared food item that we believe came from a wholesome farm than from a plant in the City of Industry.
No one wants to feel as though the snack foods he/she eats and enjoys are basically poisonous lumps of chemical matter; we prefer to feel good about our choices, however misguided they may be. We may feel a sense of acute shame when we sit at home alone, mixing Fiery Hot Cheetos with chocolate Haagen-Dazs, but if we find that flavor combo on the menu of a hipster corner diner, we’ll order it with pride.
No matter how reasonably priced (i.e. “cheap”) the product is, it’s important for the product to seem as though it’s of the highest quality, manufactured and distributed by only artisans of the greatest skill. Food label design must not only describe the product, but must also communicate the idea that the buyer of the product is a connoisseur of processed foodstuffs.
So, what have we learned today? We learned that food label design is all about seduction; the product label that is able to supply the most delicious meal while at the same time delivering a big hug from grandma and making the buyer appear as though he’s earning at least $5 million per year is the food product that’s going to fly off the shelves.