How did you get into packaging design? Was there a specific project that opened your eyes to the industry?
I’m lucky to live in an area of Southwestern Ontario where there is a large focus on quality food production. By coincidence several companies in the area reached out to me for food packaging design, all within the same year. As I was working on them, I realized I was far more excited about this type of work than any other projects I’d done to date. I wondered if this could be an area that I could create a niche around and got to work making that happen!
What are some of the specialized skills you need to be a packaging designer?
Attention to detail, first and foremost. There are some really stringent rules around font sizes, leading, etc. when listing ingredients, creating nutritional fact panels, etc. Understanding and abiding by these rules is super important, as failing to do so could result in large fines for your client.
How do you market this as your specialty to get clients specifically in this sector?
First, I created a dedicated website that only showcased my food and beverage portfolio. Then I joined two associations (one in Canada, one in the US) whose members are primarily food and beverage companies. I’ve participated in knowledge-sharing events such as webinars as their in-house branding expert. I tried some old school tactics like snail mail but (not surprisingly) those didn’t really go anywhere! I’ve also introduced myself to companies in the industry who offer complementary services, for example, food business consultants, food photographers and videographers and translators and we’ve successfully referred business back and forth.
What is the process like from pitch to final product? How long does that usually take?
One thing I’ve learned is that this particular industry is much slower than most. Developing a food product that is ready for commercialization is a very tedious process. Typically the design cycle is much shorter and fits within that time frame pretty easily. However once the recipe is finalized, you can expect plenty of last minute changes to ingredient lists, nutrition facts panels, etc.
On a packaging project, I typically present two concepts along with a moodboard. If there are multiple flavours in the same product line, I will illustrate what that will look like across the various products. 3D mock-ups help clients visualize the end result, so I use sites like yellowimages.com to support my designs.
Then the client and I go back and forth to refine a selected concept and finalize the details. If it is a flat label design, the process can take anywhere from four to six weeks for multiple products in the same product line. Pre-printed pouches/bags/cans/bottles etc. can take a bit longer as there is more real estate to cover. The number of revision cycles I need to build into my quote can be quite high versus other design projects.
What other professionals do you typically partner with when designing for a new product?
I work with some really great people! It can be really helpful to work with someone focused on brand strategy, who understands the food industry and knows where the gaps in the particular category might be. Working with them to understand what the messaging needs to be and then translating that into its visual representation is very satisfying. Copywriters, translators, compliance reviewers and photographers are all key to a successful product launch.
Is it challenging to incorporate mandatory information like ingredients and nutritional facts? How do you keep up with changing requirements?
This is where outsourcing can be very helpful: I often turn to industry experts and will hire them to do a final review. For larger food companies, they will have this service in-house from their co-packer, so I need to work closely with them to ensure a perfect final product.
Do you get to choose the final materials for the package? How do recycling, sustainability and the life cycle of the product affect that?
If I’m fortunate enough to be involved in the early stages of product development, I do have an opportunity to present a case for one material over another. There has certainly been more of a desire to incorporate sustainable packaging, but costs are still keeping most small-medium businesses out of this game. I’ve already seen a difference with climate change on the minds of most people now: the demand is growing, so hopefully this will encourage packaging manufacturers to innovate and bring costs down.
I encourage the companies I work with to consider the idea of being a leader in their category when it comes to sustainable packaging; it can be a very strong marketing tactic in these early days as most companies aren’t yet willing to make the leap. Savvy customers will recognize this difference and will support those who take that risk.
Who designs the dieline for packaging? Are you responsible for production or do you partner with a vendor?
I’m not set up for production so that work is always outsourced. Almost always the dieline is supplied by the manufacturer, but in some cases I’ve designed some custom label shapes which required me to create a custom dieline.
Where do you find inspiration? Any recent favourites that you would like to share?
While it can be super fun to browse thedieline.com forever, I have to resist it as there is too much temptation to simply copy and paste. Instead, I look for inspiration in vintage and international packaging. On our last trip to Italy I found myself taking pictures of all the products in the fun little shops!
My current favourite project is a homegrown one – creative agency Wedge did a relabelling project for a cidery based in Quebec. I truly believe they hit all the right notes in typeface, colours and overall tone. To me, the packaging is an updated version of something you would have seen on a dining room table in rural Quebec decades ago (I can even hear Félix Leclerc playing softly in the background). Yes I did buy them because of the label, even though I really don’t drink much cider!
One last fun question – what is your favourite snack? Do you approve of their packaging?
Oh man, this one is hard!! In the savoury versus sweet snack debate I tend to lean towards the “chocolate” category :) My favourite go-to chocolate is Cocoa Camino – a Canadian brand that sells only fair trade organic chocolate. But that is only part of the reason I buy it – their products are high-quality and rich in flavour. I think it can be quite challenging to stand out in the chocolate bar category – and Cocoa Camino only ever gets stocked in organic sections of large grocery stores. They’ve done a great job using bright, saturated colours and a standardized layout while still maintaining a contemporary feel.
After 17 years running a general graphic design studio, Amanda DeVries RGD, decided to follow her passion for the culinary arts by founding a full-service culinary branding agency outside London, Ontario where she specializes in design and packaging for the food industry. Together with her team, she helps the creators behind some of the world’s best-tasting foods with branding and packaging that’s just as much of a delight to the eye as it is to the palate.