Would this package design catch your eye? Cheez-Its on sale at a local Chicago supermarket. Jana Kasperkevic/Marketplace
I've Always Wondered ...

Why do snack companies always change their packaging?

Jana Kasperkevic Jun 5, 2017
Would this package design catch your eye? Cheez-Its on sale at a local Chicago supermarket. Jana Kasperkevic/Marketplace

This is just one of the stories from our “I’ve Always Wondered” series, where we tackle all of your questions about the world of business, no matter how big or small. Ever wondered if recycling is worth it? Or how store brands stack up against name brands?  What do you wonder? Let us know here.

Listener Sagus Sampath sent in this question:

Why do cereal and snack companies keep changing their design on the boxes? For example, recently I noticed Cheez-It changed their font and some subtle changes to the layout. Does it actually translate to increased sales? Is the cost of changing the design worth it?

Sampath is not the only one to notice Cheez-It’s redesign. The new design was recently listed by Nielsen as an honorable mention in its inaugural Design Impact Awards. The redesign was aimed at modernizing the cheesy snack’s look, and according to the company, it has led to an increase in profit.

“Ever since I joined the company six years ago, I knew I wanted to revamp the Cheez-It line, both strategically and visually,” Lisa Einat Day, design leader at Kellogg’s, which produces Cheez-It, told Nielsen. “It’s a great brand and was doing well at the time, but I thought we could bring it into the 21st century, align the packaging more with the current consumer and broaden our base.”

Convincing the company to go through with the redesign was no easy task. 

“There’s definitely a fear with big, iconic brands that if you breathe on them the wrong way, you could be losing millions of dollars. It took about two years to convince senior leadership and the brand teams to consider the idea seriously,” Day said.

After conducting consumer research and incorporating the feedback, the Cheez-It redesign was launched in 2015. According to the Nielsen report, in the year after the redesign was introduced, Cheez-It sales grew by 6 percent, an increase of more than $50 million in retail sales.

To find out if other snack companies had a similar approach to packaging, Marketplace ventured out to the annual Sweets & Snacks Expo. This year, more than 800 companies came to Chicago to talk snacks.

Turns out, Cheez-It is not the only company to tackle its font. UTZ chips’ packaging gets a facelift “every few years,” according to Kevin J. Brick, senior vice president of marketing at UTZ Quality Foods.

“We want to keep it fresh,” he said. “We are trying to keep it contemporary. We have recently updated our fonts. Fonts over time become more or less trendy. We want to look good out there, so we are always making tweaks to excite people who are fans of UTZ.”

Utz Chips

A new line of UTZ chips was on display at the 2017 Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago. 

Some companies, like Palmer Candy Co., known for its Easter-themed chocolates, change their packaging because their products are more seasonal.

“We are always looking to innovate with new ideas and new products. And the packaging is part of that,” said John Kerr, Palmer’s director of marketing. “It’s really helpful. It catches the consumer’s eyes and lets them know what the product is and makes it interesting for them.”

Palmer has different packaging for its Halloween, Easter and Christmas candy. Packaging of its other products that are sold year-round “do not change as frequently,” he explained. “When we have news or product improvement, the packaging will help demonstrate that. Most of the changes are with the seasonal products.”

Welch’s fruit snacks also come in seasonal packaging for holidays such as Easter, Halloween and Valentine’s Day, but all make sure to highlight the ingredients.

“With Welch’s, in terms of packaging, the things that we focus on are making sure that the entire package is working together and the balance is really good between talking about the brand’s name, the flavor profile, the fruits that are part of the formula,” explained Lisa Eustic, marketing director at Promotion in Motion, which makes Welch’s fruit snacks. “It is important to us that we are driving home that fruit is our first ingredient, that we are made with real fruit, that we have 100 percent vitamin C, 25 percent A and B, that we are fat free, gluten free.”

Sometimes the company has no choice but to change its packaging, said Robert Swaigen, vice president of global marketing at Jelly Belly Candy Co.

“There are cases when we are asked to [do so] by the regulators that we work with,” he pointed out.

For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that food products sold in the U.S. list certain nutrition information on their packaging. This includes information such as the amount of calories and fat in a single serving. If such requirements are updated, food companies might have to change their packaging in order to comply.

For companies like Jelly Belly, packaging is important, as it is one of the main ways to get consumers’ attention.

“The big picture is that we are in the impulse category, and we have a fraction of a second to get someone’s attention and get them to think about our product and hopefully buy it. Packing plays a very big role in making that successful or not,” Swaigen said.

It’s why the company is continually improving packaging. At the moment, Jelly Belly is preparing to roll out new packaging for its single-flavor jelly beans. In the past, the packets of single-flavor jelly beans would have the same design with the flavor thermally printed on top of the package. Soon, each will have its own package design.

jelly belly

Jelly Belly display at the 2017 Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago.  

“First one that we changed was this cherry one, and when we did that, we saw our sales double just by changing the packaging,” Swaigen explained. The company then changed packaging for butter popcorn flavor and will soon be launching new packaging for a handful of other flavors, such as cinnamon and bubble gum. “That’s a really good example of how just the packaging itself can have a huge impact on sales. It makes it easier on consumers to see what they are buying and find their flavors.”

Besides just changing the graphics, Jelly Belly has also used embossing and three-dimensional design for some of its packages.

“Packaging is more than just the design,” Swaigen said.

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