How Sweet  it Is!
by Jeffrey Spear
Good things come from smaller confectionery packagers.  
When it comes to foodstuffs, there are countless ways for consumers to indulge their senses. Candy is always dandy, it seems, and chocolate is the ultimate luxury—in fact, if you agree with Jessica Walker, a charming chocolatier I met at the NASFT Fancy Food Show in New York, chocolate is “better than sex.”
While I’m not sure I would go to that extreme, I’d say there are more than enough preparations and presentations in the arena to satisfy every preference. And the packaging solutions, brand presentations and promises of sweet ecstasy are equally extensive.
That’s why I was amazed to see that many of the more established companies are falling short when it comes to innovative packaging introductions. Both Ghirardelli and its parent company Lindt presented Valentine’s Day packages at the recent All Candy Expo in Chicago that were, for all practical purposes, bland.
Both relied on a red, heart-shaped box decorated with florid ornaments—not exactly groundbreaking ideas. I understand that heart-shaped boxes are a seasonal icon and that smaller producers rely on such designs and/or stock containers for no reason other than cost. But I cannot understand why these two confectionery giants, with significant resources, demonstrated such an obvious lack of imagination.
Personally, I find this practice disappointing. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, such copycat packaging is confusing to buyers. With all the time, effort and resources involved in building powerful and distinctive brands, why would brand owners risk bewildering their customers?
Fortunately, all is not lost. There are a number of smaller confectionery brands that make the design and impact of packaging and graphic imagery their number one concern. What I find both interesting and exciting is their abandonment of confectionery color, material and design standards. For years, gold, red and silver were (excuse the pun) the gold standard and a shiny, metallic box with a blind-embossed logo and fancy ribbon was the ultimate in packaging.
But, more and more, confectioners are using a broader palette of structures, materials, images and colors (some of which appear to be following fashion forecasts) to give their brand packaging greater and more distinctive recognition. It is clear that, when it comes to confectionery purchases, you can no longer “judge a book by its cover”.
Saxon Chocolates does a fabulous job embracing design in what results in a beautiful line of products. While some of its color choices (red, gold, silver) are the same over-used options, the company is making use of pattern, texture, typography, structural innovation and print technologies in a manner that clearly communicates the brand’s messages of elegance, quality and luxury. I’m particularly impressed with the textural qualities of the White Fondue package and the level of sculptural invention that inspired the Dark Chocolate Dipped Dried Fruit packs. And when you look closely at many of these packages, you’ll find a subtle, yet alluring, use of varnish that compliments the container shape and enhances the overall perception of quality.
Another favorite, in spite of the fact that I’m not part of the target demographic, is the Jessica Walker line of handmade chocolates, which is positioned for women. While there’s no mistaking the intended audience (the brand personality and attitude are well-aimed), Walker cleverly contrasts bold stripes, romance colors and polka dots across her entire product range. Each container, whether a two-piece rectangular box or a more distinctive inverted pyramid (square-sectioned cone), is well constructed and beautifully presented. Walker also extends the women’s theme with a “handbag” package that contains six of her truffles and chocolates molded into the shape of stiletto heels. As with Saxon, the overall impression is one of undeniable quality, luxury and elegance—exactly what’s needed to sell high-end chocolates.
Without drooling too much longer, I also want to call your attention to the way De Bas has molded its Chocolate Biscotti into triangular wedges. These distinctive three-sided morsels can be sold individually or nested together with a ribbon to form a lovely hexagonal gift set. With a little innovation, De Bas has broken away from the “me too” crowd and offered a very attractive and compelling presentation. Many of the company’s other packaging solutions are equally effective in complementing the distinct shapes and colorings of the candies they protect.
A few other brands of note are Seattle Chocolates, BT McElrath, Woodhouse, Veré and Marie Belle. When looking at any one of these brands, we see evidence of a pioneering design spirit that takes a more progressive approach to material and color.
I particularly like the way Seattle Chocolates embraces bold colors and adds a subtle cut-out on its two-piece box to give the company logo prominence, and how Woodhouse applies a single shade of blue throughout its packaging (from the set-box and ribbon to the tissue and shopping bag) in what is likely an effort to “own” that color in the confectionery category. The effect is similar to the branding associations of Tiffany and robin’s-egg blue (and I don’t think it’s a coincidence).  
Although these chocolate companies have production volumes and degrees of market penetration that may be somewhat different from Hershey’s, Mars or Nestlé, their use of package design as a marketing tool and sales influence is conscious.
When it comes to other categories of confectionery, I am drawn to the fruit-based treats made by Harvest Sweets and Liberty Orchards. Their presentations exploit the color and sensuous nature of fruit, without duplicating the images, shapes or colors of other brands.
Another brand of interest is Rendez Vous. We’ve all seen metal cans and tins in myriad shapes gaining momentum for all sorts of products, but I found the hard candy brand’s use of high-quality illustrations on its round tins a refreshing departure for the category and an impressive point-of-sale display.
Regardless of style, ingredient or point of origin, increasing numbers of smaller brands are confidently breaking the rules, embracing innovation and making an effort to differentiate themselves. Sure, their larger mass-retail counterparts are innovating to some extent, but they are doing so in smaller and more cautious steps. Eventually, they too will have to change.
As other categories (coffee, wine, and kitchenware) have demonstrated, consumers recognize and are drawn to quality packaging. And it’s been proven that these same buyers will readily pay a premium for a better product and a well-conceived and executed brand. BP
Jeffrey Spear provides strategic and creative leadership for Studio Spear, a national marketing consultancy in Baltimore, Md. For more information, contact Jeff at or 410.486.8822.