As an operations manager for African Caribbean Traders, I get a lot of calls from people who are thinking about creating a food product or who have already done so but need ideas on how to go about designing a label. Initially, I felt these questions were unnecessary because they appeared common place. Every food product in a package that is sold on www.AfricaribTraders.com usually has four of these essential elements on the package or label. This is done to comply with existing law. If you happen to walk into the nearest neighborhood grocery chain to your home, you would also find these four essential elements on all food packages. So why would anyone want to consult with me about product label design?
Taking Packaging Seriously
I soon found out that people naturally don’t pay attention to the information found on a package when they shop unless something about the package catches their attention. There is an excellent article titled, "Consumers 'don't pay attention to nutrition labels" on the BBC News health section that presses this point well. People pay little attention to obvious details about general information on product packages unless it is a specific product that they are interested in. In otherward, a person may only look for weight information on a label when there is a need to compare the product with a similar one.
Even in such cases, the person is unlikely to pay attention to where and how the weight information is placed on the package or label, but may naturally look for the weight information at the bottom of the package or label. This is often done unconsciously. This phenomenon is traced to the power of the subconscious mind. It is normal for consumers to look at the bottom because weight information have been placed there for decades now. A careful examination of any food product package on the shelf of a grocery chain would yield a product brand name, product name and product weight information. There is also a fourth element that I will talk about later in this article.
Let’s see a few examples:
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Notice that these three elements tend to be arranged on a product package or label in the same order. The brand name stays at the top of the package and the weight information is positioned at the bottom. The product name stays in the center or middle of the package or label. Also notice the lettering size difference between these three elements. The largest lettering size is clearly the product name and the smallest is the weight information. If you are walking through the cereal section in a Walmart aisle, you would notice this pattern on every product. Turn into the drinks section and you would observe the same pattern. Do you see this pattern around you? It is everywhere. Every food product package or label has it. Why is this so?
Is Pattern Law?
There are no rules mandating product package designers around the globe to follow this specific pattern. I know this fact first hand because I have seen food product packages and labels that don’t follow this pattern. In fact just the other day, a lady called us with a very innovative food product from Minnesota that she wanted to introduce to the African Caribbean Traders community. The package content was great but it had no brand name on the label. She had already introduced the product to the local stores in Minnesota and she said it was doing very well. She just wanted to get it on the African Caribbean Traders website and introduce it to the larger community in America. So I know that there are people out there doing their own thing and not paying attention, trust me!
But why does such a pattern exist? First of all, the existence of such a pattern should make you conclude immediately that this cannot be coincidental. Yes, it is not! It is the rich benefit and result of years of academic research on consumer behavior. Over time, people have come to learn that this pattern works and works effectively. The major food companies in the US are not spending time reinventing the will. For them this is likened to settled law. They have come to trust the effectiveness of the pattern on all their food products. So, how about you? Do you consider it worth trusting?
Let’s take a careful look and examine this pattern closely. What exactly is a brand name and why does it show up at the top of every food product label but yet often smaller in lettering size than the product name?
The best way to think about the importance of a brand name is to try remembering a product that was popular when you were in high school or a good while ago. The chances are that you would likely remember the brand name or product name. This is how powerful a brand name can be. It can bear the identity of a product.
Brand names also play a huge role in how consumers perceive reliability. If a brand name is perceived as low quality then an excellent product could easily get mistaken for a bad one. We are all humans and perception matters to us. Ocho Rios is a good example of a stable Caribbean brand name that has endured time. I get to render services to many people who have never heard of www.africaribtraders.com before but organically found their way to our website by searching for an Ocho Rios product on Google. When they get to the website they find out that we have a rich collection of other Ocho Rios products, and they end up purchasing more than they initially bargained for. I witness this kind of occurrence all the time with several other brands. Consumers make selections intuitively. The great attributes of a brand can directly translate to all its products in the mind of consumer.
A powerful website that can meet a person's needs could get overlooked simply because it doesn’t have a particular brand that is perceived as popular by many people. This is a very interesting occurrence. One that I have personally witnessed. I have seen customers pass over our website as unserious because it doesn’t carry a particular line of a branded product, only to return later to shop for other competitive food brands that offer the same satisfaction.
Often, consumers are more than willing to pay more for a product with a successful brand name than one that is not well known. The downside is losing business to your competitor when you are a new startup company. However, here is what I have learnt over time, a great product builds a great brand name. So my advice to a new startup companies is, spend all your resource and time in developing a great product and your brand would eventually come up on top. Off course, there are other things that you need to do to help bring it to the top and keep it there. We would discuss this in another related article.
Benefits of Branding
So what are the main benefits of having a brand name? Here they are in a nutshell:
- Consumers tend to typically turn to familiar brands whenever they have to make a choice
- If a product developer already has a strong branded product in the marketplace, it becomes easier to launch a second product
- Having a strong brand also reduces the amount the owner spends on advertisements, when promoting a new product
- Branding helps establish a product overtime by allowing consumers to prefer a product and not accept a substitute even when they are very similar
- A strong brand can slow competition and even stop new products from competing with the brand’s products
- Brands can cut across cultures and languages. People can recognize a specific brand even when it is in a different language or country
- Consumers respond to a consistent brand by intuitively attributing consistency to the quality of products
This list can go on and on but I hope you get the point. You shouldn’t create a product without a brand to go along with it.
There are no rules about how to create a brand name. You are free to name your brand whatever you want. However, I would admonish that you pay adequate attention to making it simple to pronounce, simple to write and simple to read. Remember that a brand name is not just the letters that make it up. The style, color and length of the name, all come into play and help convey the specific identity of that particular brand. In some way, one could argue that the ability to select a brand for a product may be the most important part of food product development.
It doesn’t matter how good your product is, if your brand name is tongue twisting it still would make it difficult and extremely challenging for it to gain popularity in the marketplace. Colors also matter! Think about this for a second. Have you ever seen the Coca-Cola brand name written in black letters in a blue background? If you have, you can be sure that what you saw didn’t originate from the owners of the brand. Also if you have a brand name longer than 20 characters, I suggest you look for another. Lengthy brand names don’t tend to do well. They are often riddled with challenges that make it hard for consumers to remember, especially when they really need to. So think carefully about what you would like your brand to look like before selecting one.
How can you tell what a food product is all about unless you have a product name? You may have several products or just one, each of them would need to be identified one way or the other. As a product creator you may have one brand name for all your products but each product must have a name. Lets say you process mashed potatoes into bags for sale. You definitely want to let your customers know that it is mashed potatoes that you have inside the bag. To do so you would want to print Mashed Potatoes somewhere on the bag, wouldn’t you?
So while you want your brand name to be visible it isn’t the 1st thing that customers often look for on a shelf full of food products. Whether I am on the phone with a customer or on the floor of one of our warehouses, customers tend to always ask about a product name first. The brand name may come second. A typical conversation could go like this, “Hi, do you guys carry frozen cassava leaves? Yes, we do, I might respond. What brand do you carry? I might respond, we have Nina and Ocho Rios”. This conversation is only natural, since identifying what the customer wants naturally comes first. So never confuse a product name with a brand name.
Product Name Construction
In the sample above, notice how large the printed size of the product name appears on the food packages with respect to the brand names? The size is exactly designed to scream out at a customer from a shelf. Only the well-established food companies appear to have mastered the art of designing the product name with a strategic size ratio to capture eye movements in milliseconds. I have seen many product owners that have missed this particular marketing strategy in the design of their product packages and labels.
Typically, product name is placed on the same side of the food package as the brand name. This is done so that the consumer makes eye contact without moving the head.
Here are a few more product name images that would help you see what I am talking about.
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Product Weight Information
Product weights have come a long way in the US African and Caribbean community since the 80’s and 90’s. Some of you may remember those days. African stores would have bags of powdered corn mill, gari, yam powder, plantain powder etc. in a Ziploc bag, with a product name printed in black marker on it. In order to determine whether a Corn Mill Flour in a Ziploc bag weighs heavier than one from a line of similar bags on a store shelf, costing the same price for each, one would literally have to pick each one and use the hand as a weight measuring instrument. Well thank goodness, those days of Ziploc bags are long over now. No African or Caribbean would take a product seriously these days if it is presented in a Ziploc bag. However, some African store owners around the country still get away with selling products that don’t have weight information displayed on the product label or package. What is even more remarkable is that people still patronize these products. Even worse, many African and Caribbean retailers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and product developers still don’t understand the importance of why weights must be displayed on a product. I am glad to see that the Caribbean community has caught on pretty well.
Well, let’s start here, food product weight is law, period. The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act has been law since 1967. Every food product developer or retailer must comply. However, there are exceptions to the Act.
Benefits of Weight Information
There are many reasons why you need product weight information on your product label or package. Here are a few:
- We will not display your product on www.AfricaribTraders.com, but would be willing to work with you to develop a label that complies with federal law.
- Customers demand fairness from all product sellers. It would be wrong to sell an undetermined or uneven product weight at the same price to a customer.
- Online sellers would not be able to list a product without weight information
- Online sellers would also be burnt badly by courier services like UPS and FedEx when shipping is processed
- Every seller has to deal with inventory at some point. Unspecified product weights for some products would mess up inventory spreadsheets and calculations.
- A product wouldn’t be able to break away from your local store without weight information. It would be extremely difficult to find customers that would patronize your product who don’t have a prior relationship with the store owner
- Wholesalers are unlikely to carry your product because of the inventory challenges that it poses.
- The United States law enforcement agencies would halt it at the seaports or airports if they cross the borders into the United States of America.
Tips on Weight Display
Usually, I suggest placing the product weight information at the very bottom of a label or package. It should also be placed on the same side as the product name and brand name to maximize visibility and eye contact. Experience has informed me that consumers often look for weight related information about a product when there is a need to compare it with a similar one. This means that this kind of information may not be relevant to most consumers. Since your goal in designing a product label or package is to stir a customer to your product, as their eyes filter through several products, I suggest that you make certain that the most important information about your product is highlighted first, in this order ratio:
- Product name - 100%
- Product brand name – 30 to 40%
- Product weight information – 10 to 20%
Avoid styling the product weight information. Make sure it is readable and clear. I suggest capitalizing all the letters if possible. Review the helpful diagrams above as a reference.
A 4th Important Element
Product originating location is also a compliance issue. Federal law mandates that you provide the name and place of the business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor. This is straight forward and easy. This information can be placed at the most none conspicuous place on the label or package. Most modern package designers place this information on the opposite site of the package or label that has the product name and brand name. The lettering size used these days in the industry is about the same as that found on the nutrition facts panel. This information must be very clear and readable. Avoid adding a special font to the words and use Arial font if possible. Here are two example below.
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In summary your ability to gain serious market attraction strongly depends on how well you have mastered how to get your product to communicate with consumers by artfully playing around with these 4 elements of product package design.
If you have a story about food packaging design that you would like to share with the African and Caribbean community or comments on this article, please share it on the blog or email us at info@AfricaribTraders.com.