As the bite-sized snack brand turns the big 3-0, it calls on an updated design to increase its appetite appeal.



The story:A bite-sized, cheese-filled cracker, pretzel or tortilla, COMBOS was developed by Mars Chocolate North America in the late 1970s. Since the first nacho cheese variety was introduced, the line has expanded to seven distinct flavor combinations (cheddar cheese pretzel, pizzeria pretzel, cheddar cheese cracker, pepperoni pizza cracker, zesty salsa tortilla and jalapeno cheddar tortilla). In 2002, the brand became an “Official Partner” of NASCAR and teamed with Joe Gibbs Racing and driver Kyle Busch.
The challenge:COMBOS Snacks packaging had not undergone a significant redesign in nearly 10 years, resulting in an outdated look and feel. This year, as the brand celebrates its 30th anniversary, it sought to update its packaging with a modern design that increased shelf impact and appetite appeal but also maintained brand equity.

“COMBOS are mostly seven-ounce packages, but the package size is actually smaller because of the denseness [of the product],” says Janice Fazenbaker, senior account manager at CAG BrandFirst, the agency responsible for the redesign. “So, [the challenge was] how do we get it noticed on the shelf with all the other packaging that is considerably much larger?”

The solution:
Although it was looking to refresh its brand, it was also critical that COMBOS retain its identity and heritage. To do so, the new packaging maintained the distinctive brand architecture, which included a red and white logo, color-coded packaging and the nuggets imagery.

Each element was then slightly enhanced to improve shelf presence. The logo now incorporates “Baked Snacks” to distinguish COMBOS from its fried competitors. The brand colors are brighter and extend to the bottom of the pack. And, the food imagery, from the nuggets to the ingredients, was reshot to add “appetite appeal.”  “We wanted appetizing shots that made your mouth water,” says Fazenbaker. The images are now larger, more enticing and more eye-catching.

The most significant change is the addition of the black arch design at the top, which creates a billboard-background effect that makes the products standout. “The addition of black brings a new, modern element to the shelf, which we think will appeal to our core consumers,” says Craig Hall, general manager of ice cream and substantial snacks for Mars Chocolate North America.

The results:After the designs were completed, COMBOS conducted extensive consumer research, which included eye-tracking, shelf-set studies and focus groups. The study concluded that black was a relevant color for the brand and an important point of difference on shelf. The new photography also engaged consumers, bringing renewed interest to the flavors.
Most importantly, the research found that the new packaging increased purchase intent, and that it has more shelf impact versus the prior design, providing greater visibility.

“We reached out to all our major retailers for feedback during the process, and they were very happy and aligned with the redesign,” says Hall.

In May, COMBOS will release a snack-sized (.93oz) portion, which will be available in 12-count boxes in cheddar cheese pretzel, cheddar cheese cracker, pizzeria pretzel and a variety mix. The brand will also launch a limited-edition buffalo blue cheese variety. 

Where to go for more information…

CAG BrandFirst, 908.813.0855,