Be bold, food packagers urged

Innovative packaging can help boost food sales, but is being heavily under-utilised, according to one of the UK's top branding gurus.

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By  David Ingham Published  March 7, 2005

Food and drink manufacturers have been urged to be bold and take more risks with their packaging. The call was issued at last month’s Middle East Food Marketing Forum by Richard Williams, the maverick whose advertising agency, Williams Murray Hamm, has helped breathe life back into several ailing UK food brands. In a revealing presentation, Williams pointed out how little innovation there generally is in food packaging and how products in the same category all tend to end up looking almost identical to each other. Fear of failure, he said, seems to be holding back innovation in packaging. “Design is incredibly powerful,” says Williams. “I think it’s heavily under-utilised.” He then set out why packaging represents such a fanatastic opportunity for food companies. “Markets are saturated, advertising is struggling to make any impact and all brands look the same,” argues Williams. “This is an opportunity to do something different.” To illustrate his point, he showed his audience how products in the cough medicine segment all seem to have blue and white packaging that uses exactly the same imagery. He then used various real examples, including a well known margarine brand, of how product relaunches result in almost zero changes to the packaging of a product. Part of the problem, Williams believes, is that too many decisions are based on consumer research, which he describes as “flawed”, rather than judgement and instinct. “Our view on branding is that consumers have to be engaged, which means that we have to treat consumers like intelligent beings,” says Williams. “Designers are in the entertainment industry. We have to use humour and break out of the box.” Williams then outlined projects in which his company has been involved. One of the most famous is the relaunch of Hovis, a venerable UK bread brand that had lost its way. In order to re-engage customers, Williams Murray Hamm suggested that the company put images of bread toppings on the packaging. The result was a series of wrappers covered in images of baked beans, melted cheese and other types of food that consumers would typically eat with bread. At first, sales dipped, but then jumped as consumers became familiar with the new packaging. “There is a notion that creative design does not sell,” says Williams. “I think packaging is a fantastic sales tool.”

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