As recent as the 80s, certain shows made Thursdays “Must-See TV” nights. But there are simply too many choices these days for any one to earn that moniker. Brands are in the same position; their sheer numbers make it difficult to grab our attention longer than a moment. That's why we consider these five independents--and their respective packaging strategies--exceptional for making it onto our schedule of Brands to Watch.
Five Independents Earn "MUST SEE" Status
Starting with a high-end candy boutique in San Francisco called Sweet Dish, the artisan brand has swiftly expanded distribution in the Bay Area and across California and built an equally viable online corporate and consumer gift business.
Founder Jean Arnold says that, in developing the brand identity with its San Francisco design firm The Engine Room, it was clear the focus had to be on the popcorn. Using a close-up of popping kernels as the iconic graphic, the minimalist packaging communicates a “made in small batches” quality message and also translates what might be perceived as an old-fashioned product into a modern offering that appeals to foodies, the brand’s target audience.
“What I learned in the process is that it’s hard to be very streamlined and simplified,” says Jean. “But we stuck to it. Anyone who picks up our packaging can get a sense of our attention to detail, and our focus on quality and perfection.”
That’s not to say the paperboard cartons and canisters are stripped of character. Color bands and textile patterns add personality and play up each of the brand’s eight varieties-a tactic meant to help shoppers identify 479’s adventurous flavors and distinguish them from the boring, basic assortment typical of mass brands.
It was also important for the packaging to stand up to the demands of mail order, another strong channel for the brand. Orders for 479’s five-box sampler packs and the larger canister collections ship out in a master carton that’s designed as gift packaging, with a UV coating that helps withstand the rigors of distribution.
Arnold makes a point to say that all of the detail that went into the packaging is also indicative of the work that went into the premium popping corn itself. She spent more than a year and a half in the test kitchen, sourcing heirloom popcorn varieties, developing flavor profiles and certifying the brand organic.
“It’s essential that your product meets the expectations and delivers the promises you make on the packaging,” she explains. The most important thing, she says, “is that the two work together.”
Oral Fixation Mints
“The second moment after we thought of the name,” says founder Henry Rich, who dreamed up the idea for a mint company when a friend excused himself for a cigarette break with the parting words, “I’m off to serve my oral fixation.”
“[The] wax paper is an element of our commitment to thoroughness in design,” says Rich.
“We wanted to put many different access points to the personality of each flavor,” says Rich. “The wax paper, the mint, the package, the colors and the words around a flavor.”
Since its 1998 founding, Revolution has used that contemporary identity in combination with convenient packaging to pursue a mission of making premium, full-leaf teas more widely available to a broader range of consumers.
A unique tea infuser served as the launching pad. The clear, nylon tea bag showcased the colorful fruits, herbs and spices comingled with the tea, while the roomy, pyramid shape better replicated the proper brewing method for the whole leaves Revolution uses (conventional bags typically hold “fannings,” or tea dust).
“It’s the combination of the brand look and feel, the unique flow-through infuser and the high-quality full-leaf tea and herbs,” says Irish. “Revolution was the first to offer this level of quality in a complete experience.”
The tea infuser also inspired other packaging successes. From the three-sided T-Pot Revolution tin designed for countertop display (because out of sight is out of mind) to the T-Mini travel tins that make tea conveniently mobile, Revolution’s packaging innovations are designed to make tea an “anytime, anywhere” drink-a far cry from the exclusive, aspirational tone and occasion-based positioning of many premium tea brands.
“Revolution’s brand represents change,” says Irish.
Judging by the company’s successful distribution in the retail, restaurant and hospitality segments across the United States and in the EU, it is change that consumers are, well, believing in.
It was markedly different from anything in the marketplace at the time, which rallied on “conspicuous consumption” and the elevation of brands and labels as status symbols. Thymes-with a quieter, more thoughtful attitude than most-garnered a loyal, though small, base of specialty retailers.
But it wasn’t until the brand showed at the New York Gift Show that it truly got its legs. Generating $30,000+ in orders, greater than the two prior years combined, Thymes was able to move its operations from the founder’s Minneapolis basement into a 500-square-foot production facility in city’s Warehouse District.
As Thymes grew, so did the category and the threat posed by new competitors. And, ultimately, in 2005, the company experienced a plateau.
The stall turned out to be brief, though, because it came as Thymes was launching Kimono Rose-a collection with colorful paperboard cartons that folded in unexpected ways and heralded a new aesthetic direction for the company.
“We broke the mold of previous brand iconography and allowed Kimono Rose to have [its] own distinct personality,” says Christiana Kippels, Thymes’ chief marketing and strategic officer.
The delightful details earned the line a significant customer base that Kippels credits for breathing new life into the company, and impacting the way subsequent collections would come to be. Thymes earmarks packaging funds for each line and pairs an in-house engineer with the Minneapolis-based branding firm Zeus Jones to develop new concepts.
It’s an approach that’s clearly working, with Thymes now boasting a 50,000 square foot facility and 4,000+ retail customers in the United States, Canada and overseas. And, even in these rocky economic times, as Thymes boldly unveils a spring 2009 collection, Kippels says the company will maintain its commitments to packaging and innovation.
“We recently interviewed our consumers and [learned that], together with our custom fragrances, our packaging and aesthetic are truly why people are drawn to our brand.” BP