Multichannel Packaging Strategies for Naturals Food and Beverage Brands

June 25, 2020 | by David Lemley

Since March, stay-at-home orders nationwide have radically transformed the way consumers shop for food, beverage, and personal care products. People who’d never before ordered groceries online set up accounts with local retailers or service providers like Instacart and Postmates. Folks accustomed to ordering shoes and home goods from Amazon started ordering bananas and energy bars. And even people who continued brick-and-mortar shopping did it “Supermarket Sweep”-style, racing through aisles and grabbing whatever they could find.

And for many households, online food and beverage purchases will continue after the shutdown eases.

Even if you don’t have a direct-to-consumer sales operation or big Amazon presence, shoppers are finding, choosing, and ordering your products online via Kroger or Instacart.

How does your packaging play in the online space?

Packaging: Your First Chance to Win a Customer

In Beloved & Dominant Brands, we write that the retail experience (in-store and online) plays an outsized role in the Brand Ecosystem — the seven-platform communication pyramid that drives marketing strategy for natural food, beverage, and wellness brands.

That’s because retail may be the first time a consumer encounters your brand. She may see you on the shelf or on a search results page and be intrigued enough to pull out her phone or open another browser tab to look your brand up online.

Consumers interact with your packaging more frequently than other touchpoints in your messaging, so it needs to do the heavy lifting from a marketing perspective. Your packaging has to a) to get your product into the shopper’s actual or virtual cart and b) to communicate with her when she gets the product home.

Multichannel Packaging for Food, Beverage, & Wellness Brands

Consider the different ways packaging functions in three retail channels: DTC, online, and in-store.

DTC — via your own website and direct marketing efforts — is the channel where you have the most control. You determine how the product is merchandised, how the messaging reads, how consumers get to and from the product pages to other contextual information on your website. Your DTC packaging has to look great, of course, but its real power comes after the sale. When that shipping box arrives in the consumer’s home, the product packaging should offer a high-touch experience that delights her, confirms her choice, and convinces her to buy again.

Online is the Wild West of retailing. The consumer enters a search term on Amazon, say ‘gluten-free energy bar’ and your product shows up along with hundreds of others. It’s a frustrating shopping experience with overwhelming choice. As we write in Beloved & Dominant Brands, your packaging has to be the right kind of visible — identifiable as part of the category yet different enough to catch the shopper’s eye, particularly if she isn’t familiar with your brand.

Our basic guideline for a brand’s in-store presentation is the 30–10–3 Rule. From 30 feet away, your packaging should help identify the category. From 10 feet away, your consumers should be able to read your brand’s trade dress or core identity in order to navigate to it. And from 3 feet away, your brand story, features, benefits, and purpose should be so clear and compelling that consumers pick up your package.

More than ever, your packaging system has to excel in all three channels. It’s a big ask.

Packaging as a Communication Tool

Beyond the product attributes, beloved and dominant brands use packaging as a communication tool to talk about what they stand for. Regardless of how they shop, assume that consumers know what’s in the package. So talk about who you are beyond the product. (As parents of a Girl Scout, we can point to the Girl Scouts brand as a great example of how to use a box to communicate a greater mission and purpose.) Include enough origin story on your pack so that it reassures them and prompts them to purchase again.

Remember that when consumers order online and the delivery arrives at home, unpacking the Instacart delivery becomes an unboxing event. The shopper spends a moment with your package — what are you telling him? How do you make him feel?

Case Study: HighKey

We’ve helped several natural food and beverage clients wrestle this dragon, and it’s been humbling to learn what works across all three sales channels.

HighKey is a brand of keto-friendly snacks that’s become a darling in the market. It began as a DTC brand, but leaders aspired to conventional retail channels. When we started working with them, they thought their audience was fitness-minded men who were managing carb intake in order to get ripped. We helped them conduct research that proved that the “keto bro” doesn’t care about what he eats; instead the brand’s ideal audience were female consumers more interested in dieting for weight loss, not hard-core fitness fanatics. This consumer wanted a snack that she could eat on the go; she didn’t want something that looked or tasted like “diet food.”

We brought in chefs and food scientists to remake and expand the product line with clean ingredients that still taste great. And we helped them build a non-pretentious, everyday brand that caters to ordinary women seeking to lose weight without sacrificing flavor or indulgence as she satisfies a craving.

On the packaging front, we designed a system that doesn’t look like diet food. It looks like delicious, appealing snacks for people whose life is in motion, who love junk food but are concerned about calories and carbs and sugar. The packaging is perfectly imperfect, the product shown in motion, and the color palette is bold and energetic. It looks just as great on shelf as it does on Instagram.

As a result, HighKey has continued to grow its DTC channel, landed at No. 1 in their category on Amazon, and are expanding into Target and Whole Foods online and brick-and-mortar stores. In just six months, HighKey went from DTC to major chain and sales have exploded, because they got packaging right in all three channels.

You have opportunity now to capture those new-to-online food and beverage shoppers. We can help you evaluate whether your packaging is doing all it can across every sales channel.