Case Study by Gareth Lind RGD, Creative Director at LINDdesign
Planet Bean Coffee is a coffee roastery based in Guelph, Ontario. They have three coffee houses and sell their coffee wholesale to about 200 retail, office and foodservice customers in Southern Ontario. Owned by a worker co-operative, the organization is Fairtrade certified (and has been since before it was trendy), certified organic in all aspects of coffee operations and active in the community, promoting environmental and social justice initiatives.
LINDdesign has been Planet Bean’s designer since it was founded in the mid-nineties. I met the company's founder Bill Barrett while working pro bono on branding a carshare co-operative. When Barrett started Planet Bean, he asked me to help with branding.
Through two logo re-designs, most recently in 2012, we've helped establish the iconic ringed bean as the brand logo to establish greater recognition for the product.
Above: top left: 1999 original logo on a bag label; bottom left: 2006 logo makeover; right: 2012 logo makeover (two logo variations and icon)
2010: The White Bag
When Planet Bean started wholesaling, the coffee was distributed in generic black plastic bags labelled with the brand. An important next step was to design packaging that would stand out on grocery store shelves.
An audit of coffee aisle shelves showed predominantly black or solid colour packages with type-heavy designs and a proliferation of loose unground coffee bean imagery.
Coffee packaging, 2009:
Few coffee companies at the time were using white with a single, iconic image. With the phrase “There is only one planet Earth” in mind, we opted for a single, super-enlarged bean on a simple white background. This photograph was retouched so that the crack in the bean formed a smile.
The number one selling point for Planet Bean is that you can't purchase fresher coffee anywhere else in Guelph, so we highlighted 'fresh local roast' on the ribbon. This tag-line also capitalized on the burgeoning 'buy local' movement which was becoming increasingly popular at the time of the re-design.
Roasted in small batches with over 15 different origins and roasts, the design also needed to incorporate identifiers for the different types of coffee. For this we allowed space for the client to affix die-cut labels in house.
Package design, 2010
"The new bag redefined us as a serious contender in the grocery store coffee aisle. The bag spoke to the quality of its contents. The clean white base and fun smiley bean had immediate appeal, and retailers became more interested in our product." — Planet Bean founder Bill Barrett
But the new packaging soon became a victim of its own success. A competitor out of Toronto adopted a similar white bag and in just a few years, packaging everywhere had “lightened up.”
Coffee packaging, 2012:
2014: The Foil Bag
In 2013, the sales for Planet Bean Coffee bags had started to decline, and Bill Barrett felt a new look was necessary to move more product. An updated design sharpened the logo, minimizing the colour palette to rusty orange and black, to create a more distinctive image. This new logo design was rolled out in coffeehouses first, laying the groundwork for a new take on the packaging.
Early-stage design options for the front of the Planet Bean package.
The challenge was to come up with a package that would once again stand out from the crowd. By this point, the number of Fairtrade-certified coffee companies had multiplied, meaning this was no longer a narrow niche that one company could own. But within Guelph and the surrounding smaller communities, Planet Bean was still the only local roastery.
One of the most successful aspects of the white package from 2010 had been the use of matte varnish to create a sophisticated feel. Matte sides with gloss touches and a gloss front informed consumers this was a premium product.
For the new package, we came up with the idea to print a pattern of repeated swirls (one of the brand assets) with matte varnish and lett the foil package show through the design. This made the package seem to glimmer and flow. Because the colours were limited to black and a Pantone orange the cost was minimal, even with the extra varnish.
The development of the design was a close collaboration with Barrett, who produces all of the printing for his company's retail displays in-house. Barrett knows the coffee business and has a good eye for design, making him a great partner. For example, it was his suggestion to drop the previous brown of the logo and go with black.
Once the design had been shortlisted, we produced a number of mockups to ascertain how much foil was the right amount to show. As it turned out, using foil on the package sides as well as the front flattened the design and impeded readability of the text. We decided to use black for the sides of the bag, which helped make the front of the package pop.
Mock-ups of potential design variations
As a local roast, Planet Bean's limited distribution area meant the package text did not need to appear in both French and English, although bilingual copy is a legal requirement for most packaging that is distributed across larger regions of Canada.
One problem with the previous bag was that it had a tendency to fall over on the shelf. The image of bags in disarray did not help sales and needed to be addressed in the design of the new package. Barrett reached out to Pacific Bag, a U.S.-based package printer with whom he was familiar, who turned him on to a newly designed flat-bottomed bag currently on the market. At the time these bags were not being manufactured in the U.S., which meant the printing needed to happen in China.
The project of designing the new bags began in June (2013) and was completed by the end of August, but stalled during the proofing stage. Hard proofing was necessary to ensure the application of the matte varnish met our expectations, and it took over a month from the approval of the PDF to the delivery of the final tear sheet from the press. In the end, the new bags were delivered just in time for the holidays.
The New Package
In the new design, the logo is front and centre for greater brand recognition — and “fresh local roast” can’t be missed. The space for the customized label has been switched from horizontal to vertical, in a die-cut rounded ribbon form. This bold orange/black/silver palette is found nowhere else on shelves.
LINDdesign also finessed the copy for the packaging, using every part of the bag to drive home the brand's message, even on the bottom: "If you are looking at this, you've likely just poured out the last of your Planet Bean Coffee. Don't panic. There's plenty more where that came from. We roast fresh for each order — no warehousing, so our coffee is fresh on the shelf."
The new bag has now been on shelves for nearly nine months. Barrett says that after the introduction of the new design, the sales slump ended. “Sales went up to where they had been, and in some markets they actually increased.”
The Planet Bean package on Guelph grocery store shelves
”We wanted to stand out in a very crowded grocery category. Our own retail coffee bar outlets are built around a counter area that involves a lot of stainless steel highlighted by warm hardwood detailing. Very classy. The bag’s silver and orange picks up on this aesthetic and attracts the eye of consumers as they scan retail shelves in the grocery store. People want to pick up the bag, and once they see the mix of playful icons and text that outlines our values and focus on quality, they want to bring our bag home. The message on the bottom is just one of those little surprises that Gareth came up with to add to the charm of the package."
"The new design has certainly enhanced sales and drawn the envy of a few of our peers in the coffee world because of its non-traditional approach. Because Gareth is fairly omnivorous in his graphic design projects, and not specifically a package designer, we can approach things creatively first, drawing on his wide experience, then see how we can translate that creativity into a specific product." - Planet Bean founder Bill Barrett
- When designing packaging, consider the raw material on which it is to be printed. Can it play a role in the design? In this case, foil packaging was leveraged to act as a pricy metallic ink — at no extra cost.
- Don’t be afraid of client collaboration. Try to develop long-term relationships with clients who value design. I've worked with Planet Bean's Bill Barrett for nearly 20 years. A trusting, collaborative approach has evolved that keeps the design budget down — important for a small, co-operatively owned retail operation.
- To avoid last-minute stress and surprises, be sure to include ample time for proofing.
- Consider doing more with less. Often a more limited colour palette can be more effective and free up budget for varnishes or other details.
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