Lessons from the Box

Andrew Benett, global chief executive officer of Havas Creative Group, on what marketers can learn from subscription meal startups

If you’ve ordered any subscription meal boxes lately, you’ll know they have a lot to say. Not the meals. The boxes themselves. Hello Fresh’s box lets customers know about ingredients sourcing and the Instagram-worthy meals that await. It even includes a cautionary note that the "contents may be extremely delicious." Plated’s box urges you to "Unleash your inner chef!" and then, as you lift the outer flap, informs you that "This is your moment of glory." It wasn’t the moment I was expecting when I was a kid, but I’ll take what I can get.

When brands communicate without speaking—and not just through printed words, but with colors and imagery—it adds meaning to the interaction and helps to establish a sense of personality. Such communication is important in every industry, but especially for those that suffer from a lack of transparency and trust, as is the case with the food industry. A new global study by Havas reveals that only 38% of consumers trust the food industry to provide healthful foods, while just under three-quarters worry that our food supply is becoming increasingly unsafe. 

Many food brands have taken steps lately to restore consumer confidence, whether by pledging to label GMOs, removing artificial ingredients or simply providing clearer information about manufacturing processes and sourcing. Smart brands also are adding visual cues that speak to freshness, purity and transparency. Freshii, b.good, Newk’s, and other quick-serve and fast-casual restaurant chains are incorporating living greenery into their designs, with herbs and sometimes vegetables growing in containers attached to walls or on counters. Tender Greens sources produce at several of its restaurants through on-site aeroponic towers. Can’t get much fresher than that. Other restaurants—even McDonald’s in certain locations—are putting food prep on display, allowing customers to watch as their meals are prepared. And we’re also seeing more color-coding in grocery stores to help shoppers recognize the relative healthfulness of various items.

Communicating a purpose beyond profits also can be done through visual means. Inventure Foods’ Boulder Canyon snacks are sold in 100% compostable packaging. And a growing array of companies are incorporating certification labels on their packaging, from "Organic" and "Fair Trade" to "Grass-fed," "Dolphin Safe," "Carbon Neutral" and "Free Range." ZEGO Snacks, marketed to people with food sensitivities and allergies, puts a QR code on each product. Shoppers can scan the code to see what residual levels of major food allergens are contained within that particular batch. Yes, they test each and every batch. Having some experience with food allergies, I can tell you that’s the sort of information parents like to see.

Whether you’re a small-business owner just starting out or the head of an established company that isn’t connecting as well as it could with end users, make the time to assess all the visual cues you’re transmitting. And stay on top of what’s happening in the packaging design space among online retailers. Sometimes the best marketing tips arrive via UPS.

Andrew Benett is global chief executive officer of Havas Creative Group and author of The Talent Mandate. Follow him on Twitter @andrewbbenett.

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