Food stories – here’s what consumers read and talked about in 2014.

According to  the 12th annual Food Study, conducted by Hunter PR, consumers were concerned about drought, sugar, GMOs, and food labels. The survey was conducted online in November  2014, with a sample of 1,004 participants that were representative of the US adult population with respect to age, gender, race, and geographic region.  The vast majority were responsible for food shopping and preparation in their households.

Here are some highlights from the survey:

Importance of food news on consumer choices:  while the overall importance of food news declined slightly from last year (28% vs 32% in 2013), its importance in shaping food behavior and choices was greater. Approximately 25% of respondents said they were directly influenced by stories on the war on sugar and modified their behavior in making food choices. The drought was of particular concern because of its influence on the costs of some food items, motivating respondents to change some of their food choices. News stories regarding new food labeling proposals encouraged respondents to begin reading food labels and packaging claims, looking specifically for sugar, GMO, and calorie information. The survey results seem to indicate that food news does have a meaningful influence on shaping consumer behavior.

Social and mobile as news sources gaining ground:  Websites and traditional media including TV, magazines, and newspapers still rank higher than controlled media as sources for food news.  Social and mobile are gaining ground as sources for recipes, menu ideas, and nutritional information (a 7-8% increase). Millennials used mobile more that any other group, relying on their devices to find recipes (46%), search for nutritional information while shopping (25%), and viewing cooking/food preparation videos (27%). The popularity of Instagram among all demographic groups is increasing, but 25% of millennials  share their food photos and culinary skills via this media.

Food news influences New Year’s resolutions:  While  ‘try to lose weight” (44%) is nothing new in resolutions, the specificity of other resolutions cited by study participants are clearly driven by the food news they consumed in 2014.  These include: “eat less processed food” (36%), “cook and eat at home more often” (30%,), “save money on food/groceries” (29%), “consume less salt” (28%), and “choose beverages containing less sugar” (26%).

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Do superlatives really build a food brand?

Whether it’s center store or the periphery, food product shelves and displays are overrun with superlatives on food and beverage packaging… the er’s and est’s. Fresher, freshest, bigger, biggest, healthier, healthiest…the list goes on. But, do superlatives really differentiate a brand from its competitors, or is there a more relevant brand story to be told?

The real downside to relying on superlatives to build a brand is that once you go from er to est, what’s left?  Repetitively making improvements to a brand for the sake of broadcasting those changes with er and est messages on redesigned packaging can not only begin to fall on deaf consumer ears, it can also move a brand away from its core equity. There should be a strategic direction that drives brand improvements beyond keeping pace with the competition. The message can then focus on the  brand’s benefits to consumers rather than the “me too” er and est superlatives.

Food brand stakeholders need to consider that er and est do not always motivate consumers. Consumers are continually redefining what superlative means to them personally and what it means to them relative to differing food brand categories. What was considered superlative 10, 5 or even 1 year ago may no longer be relevant as consumer value sets continue to evolve. The er and est superlatives may be currently relevant to some brands, but given the constant shift of consumer focus, the er and est strategy will eventually run its course.

A continuing quest to better the competition with er and est claims is not a sustainable brand strategy. Brands that focus on their core strengths and make brand improvements based on meeting strategic objectives, are better poised for growth and market success.

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Taste Advertising, Branding, Packaging has relocated its office to Palm Desert, CA. Effective October 6th, 2014, our new office address and phone number is:
78206 Varner Rd., Suite D #111
Palm Desert, CA 92211
Phone: 760-200-0730

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Snack or meal? It’s all in product positioning.

Snack foods are gaining traction as meal foods for growing numbers of consumers. Foods that have been traditionally defined as snack foods are now being consumed both between meals and at meal times. In recently released research, The NPD Group forecasts that snacks, particularly those perceived as healthy, will drive a 5% growth in snack food consumption at main meal times over the next five years.

The better-for-you snack food categories, which are perceived as both healthy and convenient, include value-add packaged fresh fruits and vegetables, refrigerated yogurt, and nutrition packed bars and beverages. Sweetened snack products and those perceived at empty-calorie snacks will likely see drops in consumer demand.

For food marketers, these trends present an opportunity to rethink product positioning and expand the definition of consumer consumption opportunities for their products. Readjusting messaging points on packaging, incorporating photography that suggests alternative eating occasions into advertising and promotional material, and using social media to expand product definition are all avenues for marketers to explore.

Gone are the days of rigid definitions of food products in terms of consumer eating occasions. One person’s snack could be another person’s meal and food marketers should consider taking steps to capture both.

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Five things that happened in 1914 that changed the food industry.

By Paul Conley, Food Dive

In the food industry, a constant flux in technology, the economic environment and public taste make rapid change the norm.

But there was one year when the changes were more significant, more long-lasting than typical. That year was 1914—100 years ago. In 1914, as the nightmare of World War I engulfed Europe, a series of events happened here in the States that would mark the start of the modern food industry.

Here are five of the more important developments in the food industry from that storied year:

1. The Tasty Baking Co. opened its doors in Philadelphia. The company still survives today as the Tastykake brand of Flowers Foods, and celebrated its centennial earlier this year. That’s no surprise given the revolutionary approach that the bakery took. Tasty Baking was the first company to produce small cakes wrapped and packaged as individual servings. Every little snack and cake that exists today—Twinkies, Little Debbie, Drake’s, etc.—can trace its history to Tasty Baking.

2. Vincent LaRosa and his five sons opened the first pasta factory in the United States. Prior to the outbreak of war in Europe, pasta was an imported food. If you wanted macaroni or spaghetti, you either bought it fresh in a neighborhood of Italian immigrants, or you bought a bag of dried pasta that had been shipped across the ocean. But when the war cut off pasta supplies, the Brooklyn entrepreneur opened his factory and much to the surprise of just about everyone, Italian pasta rapidly becomes the most American of foods—served for either lunch or dinner—in homes across the country.

3. Canned fish became a thing. Fish was once quite rare in American cuisine. If you lived on the coast, you could get it fresh and packed in ice. Or, if you were the industrious sort, you could catch it yourself. But that all changed starting in 1914. A small California company called Van Camp  launched that year and started canning fish, particularly tuna, for sale in markets far from the sea. Tuna was quite exotic then, and it wasn’t easy to convince people to eat the stuff. But eventually the company hit on the idea of connecting tuna to a far more popular food: chicken. And Chicken of the Sea was born.

4. A technological breakthrough led to the widespread adoption of refrigerators across the food industry. The first commercial refrigerators, which used mechanical methods rather than ice, first started appearing as far back as the 1870s, primarily at breweries. By the close of 1914, the five major meat packers with operations in the Chicago stockyards—Armour, Swift, Morris, Wilson, and Cudahy —had invested in state-of-the-art ammonia compression systems. Meanwhile, California produce growers turned to refrigerated railcars to send their crops to the major markets in the East. The result was that in 1914 rail cars of lettuces, asparagus, watermelons, cantaloupes and beef all began to roll down the tracks, greatly expanding the shelf life and market reach of perishables.

5. Agricultural chemist George Washington Carver promoted legumes as a way to improve denuded soil, giving birth to the peanut butter industry. Carver had already completed years of research by 1914, but his work wasn’t particularly well-known outside of academia and science. At that time, much of the cotton production of the South had been destroyed by the boll weevil. Carter recommended that Southern farms plant legumes to restore nitrogen to the soil, and in 1914, announced the findings of his experiments to the public. What followed was a boom in both peanut and sweet-potato production. Carver is often mislabeled as the inventor of peanut butter—that food had existed as far back as the Aztecs. Instead, Carver’s understanding of the peanut plant, and his tireless advocacy for its production, gave the world the peanut butter industry.

Note: This article was written by Paul Conley, and originally published in the September 3, 2014 issue of Food Dive.

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Rebranding a food product? Know the risks and rewards.

What’s the ultimate fear food brand managers and marketers have about rebranding efforts? That in spite of their best intentions, sales drop after the rebranding initiative. There can be many rewards born out of a successful rebranding program, but there are risks to be considered. It is a delicate balance between attracting new consumers with a new, refreshed food brand and packaging, and maintaining the consumer base who identify with the existing brand and packaging graphics.

Let’s look at some of the risks associated with a food rebranding program and how to mitigate them:

1. Core Brand Equities:  Every food brand has core equities, those elements that separate a brand from its competitors. Core brand equities include the brand and product names, brand logo, color scheme, product photos, and any other unique characteristics. Food brand managers and marketers don’t want to lose any of them in a rebranding effort because they create the tie between brand recognition and brand trust. While meeting the objectives of rebranding, be aware of the risks of straying too far from core brand equities and creating a brand/package that consumers do not completely recognize and identify at the shelf level. If consumers feel unsure about a brand they thought they knew, they may well start drifting to competing brands.

2. Packaging Design Distractions:  Packaging design distractions are legacy elements that were relevant when the packaging was originally designed, but no longer support the brand. These brand distractions create barriers that keep consumers from seeing other more relevant information. To be competitive at the shelf level, food brands must effectively communicate with consumers. In a rebranding effort, it is important to assess all of the packaging messages and eliminate the distractions that no longer bring value to the brand. On the other hand, it is equally important to retain those messages that are still relevant in a graphic presentation that consumers will recognize as part of the brand.

3. Brand Enhancers:  Frequently a rebranding effort and new packaging design are driven by the need to call out new unique brand and product features and benefits, brand enhancers. These brand enhancers can result from the evolution of food product formulation or market trends that change the way consumers view and shop for products within the brand’s category. A clear definition of the brand enhancers will help ensure that the rebranding effort moves the brand forward while not losing touch with the brand’s consumer base.

4. Purchase Path:  A clear understanding of how consumers shop for products within a given food product category and what the key purchase decision criteria are play an important role in brand/packaging recognition within the retail environment. A rebranding effort should reinforce shopper behavior by placing critical messages in familiar places on packaging and in a hierarchy of relevance to consumers.

There are risks and rewards inherent in any change, and food product rebranding is no exception. The key to success is understanding the risks, maintaining the brand’s core equities, and appreciating that retaining existing consumers while attracting new ones can, to some extent, create opposing choices for food brand managers and marketers.

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Food labeling and packaging watch – expect some important changes.

Food labeling and packaging will continue to be highly scrutinized throughout 2014 as the FDA comes to terms with the Food Safety and Modernization Act. The growing consumer interest in food labels, ingredients, and claims will also drive packaging changes. Food marketers need to closely monitor these trends with respect to possible changes to their product formulations and packaging:

GMOs: A growing number of consumers seem to be focused on this issue and some food producers are beginning to respond on their own. In a high profile example, General Mills original Cheerios packaging now carries a “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients” statement, and other large food marketers are considering similar moves to distance themselves from GMOs. No matter what perspective a food producer may have on the GMO topic, it is a trend they need to pay attention to.

Natural: It seems that everyone, food consumers and producers alike, want a clear definition of this term so that the playing field is leveled on this one. As class-action lawsuits abound regarding this claim, there has been a constant volley between the courts and the FDA over who should define this term. The FDA has certainly been reluctant to expand on its current natural statement, and for that reason food marketers need to carefully monitor this issue.

Nutrition Facts: Consumers have been vocal about wanting nutritional information “front and center” on packaging. In 2011, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) jointly initiated Facts Up Front, and the GMA has indicated that approximately 80% of products from participating manufacturers will adopt Facts Up Front by the end of 2014. Whether this system or some other proposal for “front and center” nutrition facts is pursued, food marketers need to stay on top of this trend.

Food Label Dates: This issue is receiving attention from many quarters. The National Resource Defense Council has focused on food label dates from the perspective of food waste. Consumers simply want to know how long a food product is safe to consume. Although the FDA and the USDA regulate food label dates, they don’t define any date terms, leaving that task to individual States. With all the attention food waste is currently receiving, food marketers can surely expect some changes with respect to label dates.

For food marketers, packaging is an important marketing tool that can make or break consumer purchase decisions at the shelf level. The trends everyone in the industry is following could result in some mandated changes, but savvy food marketers may want to be proactive and make some changes on their own right now to stay ahead of the curve.

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The psychology of color. How to make it work for your food branding and packaging design.

When it comes to the question of how to use color in branding and packaging design, there are no right or wrong answers. It’s really a matter of understanding the psychological effects of specific colors and matching those effects through the selection of color to achieve branding and marketing objectives. Simply put, there is science to help guide the selection of color in branding and packaging design.

The response to color has been widely studied in humans and there is empirical data on the common human responses to specific colors.  Here are eight colors, including black and white which are not technically colors, and how they have been used in food branding and packaging design.

RED:  This is the show-stopper of color and the most emotive one. Red attracts human attention more than any other color, and elicits both positive and negative emotions, ranging from  passion and love to danger and aggression. It is widely used in branding and packaging design, primarily to attract attention in visually cluttered retail environments and within crowded product categories. Red is a popular color among foodservice brands (McDonalds, Pizza Hut among many others) and within the crowded product categories such as beverages  (Coca-Cola for example).

GREEN:  The emotional associations are clear here…fresh, natural, wholesome. Green is a common theme throughout the branding and packaging of products marketed as organic and natural, as well as branded  produce products. The fresh aspect of green has been used in foodservice branding (Subway, Soup Plantation for example) where the marketing pitch is focused on fresh ingredients and freshly made. It is no surprise that the branding of  Whole Foods markets is wrapped in green.

YELLOW:  Interestingly, of all the colors, yellow is the one that the human eye processes first, making it the most visible color in the spectrum. In recent years, emergency vehicles have adopted yellow over red because the eye recognizes yellow faster. This, no doubt, explains the prevalent use of yellow in QSR branding, as so many roadside foodservice brands vie for the attention of passing motorists. Yellow has been widely used in food packaging design, but very often as an accent color…just enough to grab attention away from competitors. Yellow is also associated with sunshine and elicits the emotion of happiness, which explains why it is widely used on snack food packaging.

ORANGE:  Orange is very close to yellow on the color spectrum and  is also one of the first colors the eye recognizes. In addition, it is a bright color, so it shares some of the attention getting properties of red. The emotions most commonly associated with orange are action, adventure, and vitality. Brands that use orange want to position themselves as friendly, engaging, and adventurous, as evident in its use in foodservice (Hooters, for example) and some high profile non-food brands (Harley-Davidson).

BLUE:  Blue is the color most often cited as “my favorite color” in surveys. It is an earth tone associated with water and sky, both calming and peaceful earth elements. For this reason, blue is a particularly popular color in the branding of many non-food products and services (insurance companies like Allstate, Metlife, and financial institutions such as American Express and Bank of America). Blue is a commonly used color in the branding and packaging of fish/seafood products, but that color association is probably more environmental than emotional.

BROWN:  Brown is another earth tone and not a particularly popular color. However, its subtle messages of dependable, trustworthy, practical, and natural can be very useful in food branding and packaging design. Brown has been used frequently with green in marketing products with organic and natural product claims. When used sparingly, it can reinforce the notion of healthy goodness (several whole wheat pasta brands incorporate brown into their packaging design, and as do a variety of other grain and cereal products).

BLACK:  The color black, technically the absorption of all of the colors of the spectrum, is most often used in branding and packaging design as a contrast to other colors to make them “pop”. Black does have some important associations, in terms of branding and packaging, including formality, tradition, simplicity, and elegance. Upscale food brands and packaging have used black as a predominate color, but even using small amounts of black accents can achieve the same messaging objectives of elegance and upscale.

WHITE:   White is technically the reflection of all of the colors of the spectrum and has strong symbolic significance in many cultures. It is the “color” of purity, equality, goodness, and perfection. In graphic design, white is thought of  less as a color and more as open or white space to be filled with other colors and graphic elements. Making effective use of white space can emphasize brand elements and create a simplistic, uncluttered feel to logos and packaging design. In an era of heightened consumer interest in”clean” labels and product formulations, more white space is appearing on product packaging in many food and beverage categories.

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Why do food products fail? Here’s the big five.

Food and beverage products, like products in any other consumer product category, can be enormous successes or monumental flops. The product category really doesn’t matter so much, but what does matter are the commonalities…the reasons for the failures. A recent article in Forbes is an excellent overview of “The Five Biggest Reasons Why Consumer Products Fail”, written by Barbara Thau and based on the experiences of Bob Shelton, a Safeway merchandising executive with 40 years of retail experience and currently with Shelton Professional Consulting. We have re-posted a portion of the article here because we think the fundamentals presented are important in the branding, packaging, and marketing of food products.

The Five Biggest Reasons Why Consumer Products Fail

Bob Shelton, a 40-year retail veteran and lifelong Safeway SWY -0.09% merchandising executive who now runs Shelton Professional Consulting, spoke with Forbes about the biggest reasons why consumer product launches fail.

1. A Myopic Growth Strategy

Brands that do well in a vacuum generally don’t have staying power.

When sales of  a new product, say brand X yogurt, surge, but there’s no halo effect on other yogurt brands, the result is that it “just trades volume from the existing brands to the new brand with the effect of the category being flat or no growth, which is not very profitable for retailers,” Shelton said.

By contrast, “New items that build their own brand sales and increase category volume and growth are highly profitable to retailers and what retailers need to grow share of wallet with their customers.”


Greek yogurt makers have milked the success of the Chobani brand. (Photo credit: messycupcakes)

Examples of brands that have done just that include Arizona Ice Tea, Sobe, Vitamin Water, Chobani Greek Yogurt and Fresh Express EXPR +0.94% Package Salads, he said.

2. Marketing Support That Peters Out

Another product-launch pitfall: “Underestimating the cost of generating new customers and keeping them engaged through a lack of resources or inadequate capital,” Shelton said.

Indeed, skimping on the capital and/or marketing support that’s necessary post launch — usually two or three years into a product’s debut, “can be catastrophic,” he said. “Many failed candy, breakfast cereal, and hair care brands too numerous to name” have seen this fate, he said.

3. A Half-Hearted Retail Partner

A retail partner that fails to provide a brand with timely feedback to maximize product potential sets it up for underperformance.  “Some brand managers tend to have blinders on when preparing go-to-market plans for new products,” Shelton said.

Conversely, “a trusted retailer source can provide excellent and early advice because they can be closest to the customer, avoiding many potential pitfalls.”

As for stores that usually get it right, “Walmart, Target TGT +0.31%, Kroger KR +0.1% and Costco are best in class for retailer-manufacturer partnerships,” he said.

4. Moving Too Fast

The retail record books are filled with products and store concepts that lunged out of the starting gate only to crash and burn.

“Sometimes going slow to go fast can help you make adjustments to strategy and marketing on the fly by establishing well measured, goal oriented check points in time,” Shelton said.

Webvan is the classic case for failure where Amazon has succeeded.”

5. Dubious Brand Relaunches, Makeovers

“Relaunching a brand for the sake of relaunching a brand [can have] unintended consequences. In other words, ignoring why the brand failed in the first place,” Shelton said.

“It is a form of brand arrogance when the brand owner/manager stops listening to their customers or their partners and becomes inflexible and unwilling to test ideas or concepts that are not of their own. People trust the experience a brand represents, not the actual brand,” he said. “Before you make changes, make sure you are not damaging your customer and retail partner relationships in the process.”

Examples of companies that have fallen into that trap:  J.C. Penney, Ford’s Lincoln division and Hostess Cakes, he said.

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Great food products deserve great food packaging.

Great food products deserve to be showcased in well designed, attractive packaging. While food product design and formulation are the first order of business, some marketers remain focused on that aspect of bringing a product to market without giving enough consideration to actually packaging the product…package configuration, materials, design, graphics, photos, and messaging.

Here are some tips for designing food packaging that sells:

1. Focus on the target audience: identify your core consumers, those who buy the largest share of your product and products in your category. Packaging design and messaging should speak primarily to those consumers, your product/brand loyalists. They are most likely to re-purchase your product and share their product experiences with family and friends via social media.

2. Sell the product and the brand: successful food packaging represents the product well with professional product and serving suggestion photography, appealing packaging graphics, and relevant product information. Selling the brand is equally important in building consumer trust and loyalty, and packaging design needs to communicate the brand’s value proposition and market position.

3. Consider the retail environment: one of the first things product category buyers look at in food packaging is how it will fit within their retail environment and schematics. Packaging size, configuration, facings, and material all need to work well within the product category environment. Your product won’t get into shopping carts if it never gets on the self. It is a good idea to talk with buyers within your product category as you are developing your packaging.

4. Take into account distribution and handling: another important aspect of retail food packaging design is how well it will travel through distribution channels and in-store handling practices to get to the shelf. Packaging design needs to encompass the protective packaging so that travel and storage maintain the integrity of product packaging. Materials, sizes, and configurations all need to be considered from the perspective of efficient and effective protective packaging.

5. Make it shop-able: Consumers compare brands in a matter of seconds in retail environments and effective packaging design enables consumers to quickly find product claims and attributes. Shop-ability in packaging design means that consumers are able to find key product claims where they expect them to be, and make the product comparisons that are inherent in consumer choice.

6. Don’t forget in-home functionality: Consumers want packaging that is easy to handle, re-sealable for easy use/reuse, and convenient to store at home. Packaging design must not only fit the requirements of the product, it must fit the functionality requirements and expectations of consumers once the product is used and stored at home.

Developing food packaging is a team effort. The first step is choosing a food packaging design specialist who understands the unique requirements and regulations associated with packaging food in any food category.  Food packaging design specialists will be able to assemble a packaging development team, including packaging/label printers,  appropriate for a specific food category. Working together, they can create great food packaging that great food products deserve.

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