Candy Bar Packaging Trends: What’s the Equation for Engaging Today’s Consumers?Published in Candy Buyer January/February 2011
Written by Jennifer Bohanan
In a challenging economy where consumers feel compelled to cut back on big-ticket expenses, a candy bar represents the ultimate affordable luxury, and producers are eager to help their customers indulge.
Few shoppers set out to purchase a candy bar. When they do, it’s usually a spontaneous decision, fulfilling an unmet desire for indulgence and a momentary respite from the tedium of an everyday routine. As the recession lingers and consumers continue to spend less on expensive items such as cars and vacations, they are still reaching into their wallets for the ultimate affordable luxury – the candy bar – so candy producers are working hard to identify the right equation for keeping customers engaged.
Tradition + Nostalgia = Comfort
“With this economy there’s a very large nostalgic trend,” says Greg Feinberg, president of Aisle 9, a strategic marketing and design agency that specializes in consumer packaged goods. “People want to go back to feeling safe, so many of the major players are bringing back their old-school wrapper designs. Hershey and Mars have retained market share by keeping their packages familiar – color, logo, look, feel. There hasn’t been big change in traditional candy bars.”
Confectionary historian Beth Kimmerle agrees. “People like to feel comfortable in uncertain economic times. Things from the past are somehow more reliable,” she says. Kimmerle notes that many designers are capitalizing on the success of AMC’s Mad Men,introducing vintage-inspired packaging and nostalgic themes.
Companies that continue to rely on their established brand image and classic design are updating their packaging—but not too much. “They might add a new color or a new type of ink, a touch of iridescence,” says Kimmerle, who is the author of Candy: The Sweet History, and Chocolate: The Sweet History. “I use the term ‘facelift.’ Companies are updating their packaging more subtly, and more often.”
Look + Feel = Luxury
Yael Miller, principal of Miller Creative, LLC, a boutique agency that provides strategic thinking and package design for a variety of chocolate and gourmet food clients, sees a trend toward clean, minimal design, typography used as a branding vehicle, and giving consumers a rich tactile experience.
“Rather than the traditional trickling-down from national products, we are seeing more trends coming up into the mainstream from niche brands,” she says. As consumers become more accustomed to a vast selection of chocolate bars with varying cocoa percentages offered by a growing number of producers from around the world, they develop an appreciation for a higher-end aesthetic.
Part of this trend includes innovations to the product itself, with unusual and interesting flavors and combinations, such as Le Belge Chocolatier’s “Single Original Dark Chocolate with Pomegranate and Green Tea” or The Painted Pretzel’s White Chocolate Pretzel Bark. If the product is new and different, the packaging must strike the same note.
“Some of the upstarts want to be more of a premium chocolate,” says Greg Feinberg. “The candy bar has become more of a gourmet adventure; many of the newer brands have taken a very high-brow, minimalist, luxurious look for their packaging.”
“There’s a trend toward personal indulgence, creating a sense of self through packaging,” says Feinberg. “Silkier looks, more swirls, more whimsical design. Not so much bright red and orange, but more beautiful shades of brown and words like ‘Bliss.’ It’s like getting a spa treatment in a candy bar.”
Curator Darlene Lacey of The Candy Wrapper Museum, who has been collecting wrappers and following packaging trends since she was a teenager, has noticed a recent trend “from a more papery material to something more plastic,” she says. “It tears very easily; the edges of the wrappers are crimped instead of folded and glued, and the material gives the ink a bit of a sheen…It has more of a sense that it’s meant to be torn open quickly.”
Clever + Conceptual = An Engaged Consumer
“Manufacturers are trying to drill down and find out what consumers want and need,” says Kimmerle. “They used to go blindly into the market, but now they take a more strategic approach, to move away from ‘one size fits all.’ They use focus groups and they are enthusiastic about developing products that fit consumers. There’s a great cost-saving benefit to this approach, and not just in the packaging. If you’re spending money to launch a product, it helps if you’ve already figured out how it will be used and accepted.”
Increasingly, copy is being used to invite consumer involvement with the product. “A little gentle humor in packaging helps things sell,” says Miller. “Using words or juxtaposing images and words – nothing overtly funny, but using subtle wit. People want to smile – it can go a long way. Even if it’s more serious than funny.” Dove, for example, uses empowering messages for woman on the inside of its wrappers.
Responding to this trend, Miller’s agency has developed a line of vanity bar codes. “We take bar codes, and without tampering with scan readability, make them more fun to look at,” she says, noting that this is seen more often in Japan than here, but it’s gaining momentum; the eye-catching codes have been seen on some Nestle products. “It’s clever, and forges a nice personal connection,” she says.
Licensing is another way that candy companies are capturing the attention of their consumers. According to Beth Kimmerle, we are seeing more images from movies on our candy products. Wrigley’s for instance, has the license for the blockbuster “Eclipse.” This cross-promotional strategy, which tends to happen more often during the holidays, helps sell both the movie and the product.
Packaging + Sustainability = ?
The impact of the green movement is still taking shape in the candy industry. Some candy manufacturers have started reducing the amount of packaging they use and making wrappers more environmentally friendly. This trend has the added benefit of reducing production costs, because the manufacturer uses fewer processes and materials.
Some companies are making the most of the public’s awareness of the green movement by using packaging that has a plain or recycled look, even if the wrapper itself isn’t particularly green. “The candy bar wrapper is a very important substrate,” says Feinberg. “You have to keep the candy safe and maintain freshness and shelf life. Too much green can interfere with the utility of the packaging.” He says the internal wrapper, which touches the candy will likely, for the time being, remain the same. “I’ve seen more use of natural papers as a secondary wrapper, a more natural, brown-based look, not as glossy.” Ultimately, he says, the sustainability debate ends up being a money issue. “In the end, the candy bar must still be affordable; it’s got to taste good and make us feel good.”
Today, candy companies are proactive in their quest to sell their products in a highly competitive market. The answer, for now, is to continue offering consumers a moment of affordable luxury and relief from the daily grind.
As candy bar packaging takes steps forward, some trends are left behind. Our experts have noted that they are seeing less of the following:
Supersizing: “Consumers are more aware of what they’re eating,” says confectionary historian Beth Kimmerle. “They know about things like sugar and corn syrup content. They know that supersizing is not good for you.”
One Size Fits All: “Candy companies have the tools now to find out what the consumer wants,” says Kimmerle. “They know if they do that, they can innovate products accordingly.”
Photorealistic Imagery: “There’s a growing emphasis on illustration,” says Yael Miller of Miller Creative, Inc. “Artwork is more stylized than realistic.”
Extreme Packaging: “In the ‘90s, ‘extreme’ candy came into vogue and we saw a lot of gross-out packaging,” says Candy Museum Curator Darlene Lacey. Colors and images are now becoming more subtle and less flashy.