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What Research Tells Us About Package Design for Fresh Produce

By David Edmundson

Over the years, as we have been deeply involved in package design concept testing and research initiatives, with a pointed focus on the fresh sector, we’ve gained important insights about consumer attitudes and preferences. We thought we’d share a high-level overview and some ways you might leverage these insights for your own fresh brand.

How can a brand and packaging effect freshness perceptions?

It should be no surprise that freshness is the most important factor influencing consumer buying habits in the produce environment. Consumers know that when products are fresher, they taste better, last longer and retain more nutrients.

Freshness is fundamentally tied to the farm and “the simple days” before factories and mass production. When you bought unbranded, unpackaged, “just-picked” produce at the farmers market, then and now, you knew it was fresh. For packaged brands trying to build equity and offer customers convenience and extended shelf life, it’s important to impart an assurance of freshness by finding the right balance between brand impact and product visibility.

In focus groups, we often hear shoppers say they want to see as much product as possible. This makes sense. A product’s appearance is the ultimate influence on whether a consumer believes a product is fresh. While product visibility is key, brand has its place in the freshness equation as well. Research indicates that while consumer confidence in “big food” corporations has waned over the last decade, fresh produce shoppers, more and more, are transferring their trust to branded produce for freshness, consistency and quality.

With branded produce on the rise, a larger brand footprint on packaging has become more acceptable. The key is to brand without over-branding, ensuring that product visibility and identification works from a distance as well as close up. You might consider adding more brand presence on the PDP (principal display panel). Research confirms that produce buyers almost always pick up the pack to inspect the product from all angles.

The on-pack branding goal is simple: Create maximum graphic impact with minimal real estate. That doesn’t mean you have to strip away or minimize all graphics. Let the product do the heavy lifting. Let the brand build trust.

How much does flavor influence purchase decisions in fresh?

With 10 varieties of tomatoes, 8 types of apples, 19 options for bagged salads, what’s the differentiating factor? It’s flavor.

When we ask shoppers how important flavor is to their buying decision, it usually ranks just behind freshness in priority. And since most consumers would say the real motivation to buying fresh is taste, you could argue communicating flavor is just as important as communicating freshness.

There are both direct and indirect ways to influence flavor on pack. Color and flavor descriptors are two ways.

In concept testing, bright, bold colors typically elicit favorable responses in regard to flavor. The right color selection can enhance the perception of freshness and in turn, increase flavor appeal. Your decision about pack color will be influenced by many factors, such as building your brand equity, responding to your competition’s visual identity, and targeting your brand personas. Therefore, no single color will work for every brand. But, using bright floods or accent colors can be an effective way to indirectly influence taste perceptions for any fresh product.

Do shoppers see value in flavor callouts? Yes, they do, but it’s not their highest motivation. Some research suggests that produce shoppers conflate freshness and flavor, so they’re intrinsically motivated by one if they’re motivated by the other. In ranking its impact on purchase decision, flavor callouts usually fall just behind nutrient claims and “Product of USA.”

Flavor callouts are a direct way to influence flavor appeal. They’re especially helpful in encouraging trial purchases for unique varieties and less familiar products. The goal with flavor callouts, as with any other pack communication, is to be simple and straightforward. When claims feel exaggerated, they can hurt brand transparency and damage consumer trust.

Recipe inclusion is a more subtle way to influence taste appeal. While it doesn’t rank high in priority for consumers in testing, there is no negative to sharing one, especially for products that are not as familiar. And since produce shoppers typically pick up the pack, as mentioned above, there’s a good chance they’ll see an eye-catching recipe photo even on the back of the pack. The other bonus of a recipe is just that: It’s a bonus. Shoppers consider it an added value when they choose your product.

Is there a specific brand personality that always wins in fresh?

In fresh, a winning personality could be clean and simple. Or bold and fun. Or artisan/small batch. You do have options. But we have identified two traits that, when used in tandem, support the most successful personalities for produce brands. And we urge you to keep them in mind as you create or update your brand and packaging:

Be bold and be human.

Bold personalities are imaginative and striking. They break through, a vital quality for packaging, especially in the retail produce section where shape and color are so varied and so often competing for attention.

What does bold look like? For produce brands, bold often means a vibrant color. But it could also be a lack of color, a stylized illustration or a strong brandmark. It all depends on the context. Bottom line, by being bold, your brand is more conspicuous and memorable — making it more effective on the shelf.

We’ve seen that sometimes bold traits can come across as showy and unapproachable. When you pair boldness with human qualities, though, you’ll inspire a much more positive response. Shoppers comment that a brand with a human touch seems more believable and can make consumers feel closer to the source. You can see how this could be a very important factor for fresh produce buyers. Consider options like handset typography/illustration and a conversational tone of voice in your content. Those touches, perceived as more “real” and less corporate, can go a long way in grounding your brand, and helping balance impact with approachability.

Breaking conventions, being bold and disruptive does not always initially provoke favorable responses in concept testing. In a vacuum, people gravitate towards things they know, the comfortable and the familiar. That’s not the case in the fresh produce aisle, though, where boldness is almost always well received.

So be bold, but make sure to nurture that human side, too. Research shows that the bold-friendly combination will make your brand more relevant to produce buyers, whether your positioning is contemporary farmers market or everyday gourmet.

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