Trends don’t just happen overnight, and they aren’t always obvious—at least in the beginning. They can take years to develop. As a person who pays more attention to packaging design than most (it’s part of the job, after all), I’ve seen a subtle shift occurring. It’s there when I walk down the grocery aisles. I’ve seen it creeping in when I read all the new product releases and look at the photos. It’s on frozen food packaging, pet foods and beverages. Especially on packaging of spirits. Heck, I’ve even seen it on baby food. 

After years of seeing the color white predominant on all types packaging, I believe the pendulum has swung about as far as it can go. Maybe you’ve seen it, too. Black is back in a big way. Just search “black packaging” on Pinterest. You’ll see scads of interesting designs clad primarily in black.

For personal care products, white has always been synonymous with skin care packaging, according to a recent article in Beauty Packaging magazine. “Marketers and package designers often say that white conveys ‘clean’ and ‘clinical,’ while giving consumers the impression that a product will be effective,” the article says. “This seems to be changing—and now there are lots of skin care products ‘dressed’ in black.” Some skin care brands are choosing black to convey luxury.

Black is a powerful color, symbolic of control and authority. When used on packaging, it evokes mystery, class and elegance. It can communicate an enhanced perceived value. Black also is required for all other colors to have depth and variation of hue.

Its use in packaging may not be all that new. One article pointed to Smartfood popcorn as an early adopter of black packaging back in 2006. Since then, the article claims, black has become increasingly popular in the snack food section.

Marlboro Red is one of those standard brand colors that many can picture in their minds. Last year, Philip Morris USA switched to black cartons, with a tag line that says, “Be bold. Get black.” Despite society abhorring tobacco these days, the brand has seen an increase in sales.

Simon Thorneycroft, founder and CEO of Perspective: Branding just cautioned against use of black on packaging in an Ad Age article, saying: “Black does not always translate into beauty on the shelf at a store.” Why? Because most retail environments are surprisingly dark, and the packaging might not receive enough light to showcase its appeal to shoppers.

However, he goes on to say that black can create a “visual architectural block” that stands out on the shelf. I suppose that is especially true in those long aisles packed with white-based packaging. You’ll be seeing increasingly more black packaging designs in the future. Mark my words.


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