In design jargon, “appetite appeal” describes the level of sensory stimulation that food packaging should have in order to attract consumers. A product covered with only type is by default less mouth-watering than one with photographs of a delicious chicken taco or cheese pizza.
But for brands, elegant typography and bold design can telegraph its own appetizing message. For more upscale chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, getting customers to keep coming back is about more than just hunger: Food packaging has to signal reliability, trustworthiness, and consistency. Different companies might want to emphasize different qualities in their products—Trader Joe’s, for example, might want to signal its quirky personality, while the New York-based mini-chain Fairway might emphasize value for money. But for every single product, design has to consider a wealth of different factors in order to best sell and market its products, and, on the whole, American stores are considerably less creative and inspired than their European counterparts.
First things first: Shoppers aren’t at the store for beautifully designed labels. They’re there for food. So price is often the most important factor, particularly for staples such as milk, butter, eggs, and cereal. Other than a design snob, who really cares whether or not the Trader Joe’s generic Bran Flakes box looks like the national brand as long as the product is cheaper? And does it really matter that Fairway’s “Golden Honey” plastic bear is a cloned copy of the more expensive original Dutch Gold Honey?
But good design is good business. Supermarket “private labels” don’t have to be bland, and there are reasons, aside from aesthetic pleasure, why a little improvement can go a long way. A package contains more than a product—it’s a reliquary, of sorts, of that product’s story (even its fabricated story), which can be a powerful selling tool. Scores of memorable brands have iconic packaging, like Heinz, Coca-Cola, and Kraft. Companies use bottles and labels to represent their respective reputations, which gives customers a certain pride of purchase and helps maintain the products’ market superiority.