Good Food Blog
The whole packagePosted at 12:20PM, 09 December 2008 by Andy Lynes - Food writer
I've got a confession to make. I once bought an ELO record just because I liked the cover. In my defence, I was a 12-year-old sci-fi nut and couldn't resist Out of The Blue's slick spaceship design. And it was a double album in a gatefold sleeve. And it came in blue vinyl. I rest my case. As a grown man, I can see past superficial packaging and concentrate on content. And anyway, they don't make double gatefold, blue vinyl albums anymore.
When it comes to food, for me it has to be all about quality and value and forget the box, bag, or wrapper it comes in. At least that's what I thought until a recent shopping trip to my local Sainsbury's to buy the ingredients for a chicken fricassée. Onions, chicken, white wine vinegar, wine, double cream, parsley and thyme all found their way effortlessly into my basket. But there was a problem when it came to the dried herbes de Provence.
I didn't want some ugly interloper spoiling the effect
I wanted Sainsbury's own brand. Not because they are noticeably different or better than any other herbes de Provence you can buy. True, they are a bit cheaper, but that's not why they were my first choice. The real reason is that I really, really like the jar they come in. Minimal, elegant and functional, they look fantastic all lined up along my kitchen shelf. Ruddy paprika next to dusky cumin next to sunny turmeric, and all with those effectively simple labels with their attractive fonts. I didn't want some ugly interloper spoiling the effect.
As it turned out, they were out of stock and I was forced to compromise. The fricassée was terrific, even if I do say so myself, and none the worse for the alternative herbs. But the fact that I felt so disappointed with my purchase gave me pause for thought. The 12-year-old boy in me was still very much alive, swayed by surface appearance and a sucker for a nicely packaged product.
But does that make me any different from the millions of other shoppers trudging the supermarket isles? Are we really innocent fools easily parted from our money, or just responding naturally to the visual prompts and stimuli of a highly sophisticated food marketing strategy?
"The design for the herbs and spices range for Sainsbury's was part of a much bigger brief to create a unifying design to help consumers find their storecupboard ingredients across the store, from self-raising flour to ground ginger," reveals Jo Saker, Creative Director of Parker Williams Design. "A strong black banner holds the colour-coded product title, whilst the simple icon photography, for example on chocolate, shows beautiful usage suggestions."
Dominic Ford, the man behind Food Inc. in Whiteley's shopping mall in London and formerly of Harvey Nichols Food Market, is in no doubt about the power of good packaging. "When we set up the Fifth Floor at Harvey Nichols 17 years ago, it was important for us to stand out from the competition, which was Harrods and Fortnum and Mason," says Ford.
"We used humour. The picture on a packet of nuts was of me bungee jumping and I know for sure that the reason we sold so much of our hot chocolate was because of the picture I took of my young godson with his face smeared with chocolate. It's also a great way to market your products. The way to get into the media is to have nice images that they want to put onto their pages."
So maybe I am being manipulated by designers a great deal cleverer than me, but you know what, I kinda like it. And Dominic Ford has some reassuring news for all of us who are swayed by the thought of how nice something will look sitting on our kitchen shelves. "Ensuring what's in the box, jar or tin is at least as good, if not better, than the packaging is what really matters."
I'll drink a cup of Harvey Nichols hot chocolate to that.