lean_bodyAs Senior Package Design Manager for Nestlé USA’s Prepared Foods Brands, Amanda Bach’s role is closer to that of an orchestra conductor than to first trumpet. Serving as the creative liaison between Nestlé and its strategically aligned packaging design agencies, Bach and her team of six design managers communicate strategic business goals set forth by Nestlé’s marketing department and provide visionary direction to the design firms. Her responsibilities include staff coaching; managing projects, budgets, and external design resources; and ensuring overall timelines are being met.

That role was not what Bach had in mind when she pursued a degree in Communication Design from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, in the late 1980s. She had taken several hands-on design classes and her family encouraged her to develop her talents in graphic design in the city. But just as Bach was about to graduate from Pratt, the Institute’s dean got a call from someone at Procter & Gamble, seeking a packaging intern for an eight-month stint at the company’s Richardson-Vicks subsidiary in Shelton, CT. Believing Bach to be qualified and knowing that she hailed from Connecticut, the dean recommended her for the position – and then strongly urged her to take it.

“That post-graduate internship at Richardson-Vicks was a major turning point for me and the cornerstone of my success in this business,” Bach remarks. “All my formal training had focused on developing the right side of my brain, but I found I really enjoyed being able to use the left side of my brain as well. I was intrigued by the marketing-driven nature of package design and by how strategic marketing objectives could be realized through design management. My fever for packaging began there.”

In addition to giving Bach a focus for her career development, the Richardson-Vicks internship gave her the opportunity to meet the principals of New York-based Wallace Church Associates. In turn, that led to her first “real” job as a designer for Wallace Church. After three years with the design firm, Bach moved into a design management position at entertainment giant Warner Bros., where she stayed for nearly five years before joining Nestlé in October 1997.

“Packaging is our number one marketing tool.”

More than 14 years later, Bach says she still loves what she does every day. “For most consumers, our packaging is usually the first direct contact with our products and our brands, so there’s always a new challenge,” she points out. “Packaging is our number one marketing tool.”

Bach adds, “What I tell my kids is that it is my job to design the Nestlé food packages so that they stand out on shelf, catch your eye, look absolutely delicious – better than any other brand – and ultimately to get the shopper to put our product in his or her cart.”

One factor that keeps Bach’s plate full of challenges is the breadth of products under her purview. She is in charge of packaging design for all Nestlé Prepared Foods Brands, including Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine, Hot Pockets, and Lean Pockets in the freezer case; Buitoni pastas and sauces and Toll House brand cookie dough in the refrigerated case; and, in the baking aisle, Toll House chips, Carnation evaporated milk, and Libby’s canned pumpkin.

Those products are subject to seasonal fluctuations in demand, ongoing changes in consumers’ taste preferences, and changes in the extent to which consumers seek convenient meals vs. items that require some human involvement in preparation. Some of those brands are nearly 100 years old, whereas Lean Cuisine, Hot Pockets, and Lean Pockets debuted in the 1980s.

Bach explains that Nestlé conducts extensive consumer research to ensure that its products are relevant and on trend in their formulation and their packaging design. She says that although she does not have a “favorite” among the many design projects she has managed over the years, the recent redesign of the entire Lean Cuisine line is the most comprehensive project she has undertaken.

Asked why Nestlé felt such an overhaul was necessary, Bach points out, "there have been many successful package redesigns over the years, but when you’re a leader in the category – as Lean Cuisine is in healthful frozen entrees – we have to constantly refresh our overall look and feel. Lean Cuisine has been around since 1981; that gives us both stability and a challenge to stay relevant.”

In particular, she says, the previous Lean Cuisine package design lacked a key attitudinal element. “The brand is about bringing out the best in women by helping them to eat healthier and happier every day,” Bach explains. “The old package design didn’t reflect this attitude. Although it was ‘good looking,’ had a very strong design presence and stood out on shelf, it just didn’t capture the happy, culinary spirit the brand wanted to portray.”

Bach and her team launched a redesign project to “put a little spark back in our relationship with our consumers.”

So in late 2010, Bach and her team launched a redesign project to “put a little spark back in our relationship with our consumers.” They partnered with Wallace Church, which gave Bach the opportunity to work with her former colleagues again. Their premise was that the new package “should reflect modern sensibilities and the vernacular of the space in which our consumers live,” Bach notes, adding that it was especially important that the package design elements deliver on “the brand’s vibrant and optimistic personality.”

“I remember the first time we briefed Wallace Church; we were saying things like, ‘Shift from a serious, dieting look and feel to a more modern, healthy, happy, delicious experience,’ ” she recalls. In conjunction with the design agency, Bach’s team created four meaningful sublines (see www.leancuisine.com/Products/ExploreProducts.aspx), differentiated by color and specific graphic elements: the Culinary Collection (65 items with brick red as a signature color), Spa Collection (17 items sporting a sage green background), Market Collection (19 items that use regal purple to pop on shelf), and Simple Favorites (31 items, making greater use of Lean Cuisine’s traditional white background color).

“I think the casual, fresh food styling, whimsical ‘doodles’ and bold colors distinctly speak to the personality and type of food within each subline,” Bach observes. “With these new segment personalities in place, we could now let the graphics transcend to other brand touchpoints like print, TV, and the Internet – all linking back to the packaging. We also introduced a much more fun, friendly, and inviting logo to reflect the brand personality.”

The redesign also incorporated other attention-getting twists. When the first new packages began hitting retail freezer cases in late 2011, 10 of the 19 Market Collection entrees were packaged in steam-in bags – Lean Cuisine’s first foray into this increasingly popular package format. In addition, Nestlé enlisted a group of on-trend chefs and culinary experts to develop new entrée and snack items under the Lean Cuisine brand. Lean Cuisine’s director of marketing, Mike Niethammer, has featured the Culinary Roundtable prominently on the brand’s Website (see www.leancuisine.com/CulinaryRoundtable), and several new or reformulated Lean Cuisine items bear a special “Chef’s Pick” logo.

In the end, although Bach’s career path has diverged from hands-on aspects of design, she remains a student of communication design. “Our packaging is the perfect opportunity to communicate to our consumers and tell them our brand story,” she says. “Our strategic package design tells consumers that they made a good choice, urges them to repeat the purchase, suggests new ways for them to use our products, and encourages them to try other varieties. Our packaging communicates the product benefits loudly and clearly – it is integral to winning the war at shelf.”