Value comes at a price. At least that seems to be the case with sustainable packaging. Browns, drab greens, and other functional touches (and wordings) dominate the designs of the most cutting-edge green products on the shelves. It seems that brands are faced with a choice: to create a look that is pleasing to the eye or pleasing to the planet.
In reality, dull browns and greens are more of a thoughtful design choice. They have become synonymous with sustainability, which means that design does its main job: communicating these ecological benefits to the consumer. âBrands want to send the message to consumers that they take this sort of thing seriously,â says Elliot Wilson, strategy expert at The Cabinet Agency, specializing in branding and design.
âThe packaging is pretty plain and doesn’t really exploit the brand’s personality. But I suspect they’re doing it on purpose to show they’re on this trip, âhe says.
A look at our main innovations in paper packaging illustrates this point. All of them required careful thought and an investment in cutting edge techniques, but the designs are pretty consistent. Unilever’s brown colored paper laundry detergent bottles could almost be mistaken for Absolut vodka paper bottles.
That may not be a problem now, as the innovative nature of these technologies – and their appeal to consumers – outweighs the need for a strong branding image. But that could be the case in the future, Wilson says, as these sustainable alternatives become more common. And especially for high-end products. âI just don’t think people would buy a 12 year old whiskey in what looks like a carton of milk,â he says. âSo the question is, how do you really integrate the brand into it? Because, for now, it’s very invisible.
Jack Holloway, Industrial Design Manager at Landor & Fitch, reiterates this point. âIt is not enough to rise up on the issue of sustainable development, brands must also stand out, with packs that consumers want to put in their shopping cart.
So we asked design agencies to come up with answers to this delicate packaging dilemma, while always keeping the design up to date. Here’s what they came up with, from packs of soluble drinks to a vending machine for chips …
ONS: A pack of drinks that dissolves in water
The very concept of ONS seems unlikely: beverage packaging that dissolves in water. But The Cabinet Agency, which came up with this design, overcame the obvious practical challenges with innovative thinking about what a beverage brand really is.
The ONS works like this: consumers buy flavored lozenges, which they dissolve in water to make the drink of their choice. Now for the killer element. The packaging can also be dissolved in water (throw away, not drink). Its biodegradable properties mean that it could also be thrown away as compost. But dissolving is a lot more fun – and as the marketing posters suggest, the packs can even be dumped.
And fun is exactly what this brand is all about. The ONS is full of innuendo and conscious nods to its target audience of Gen Z and young millennial consumers. The reusable bottle you receive in an ONS Starter Pack (Image 2) has deliberate similarities to Love Island water bottles. The name ONS – an abbreviation of “one night stand”, for the uninitiated – seeks to communicate the ephemeral nature of products in a playful way. And yes, the packaging was deliberately designed to look like condom packaging, says Elliot Wilson of The Cabinet Agency. These carry slogans like “I could drink you right now”.
It’s all part of a âyouthful, irreverentâ tone for the brand. âIt’s communicating that ‘we’re leaving no mark’ but in a really engaging, humorous, gen Z way,â Wilson explains. The Cabinet Agency has also given some thought to what kind of drink this audience will want. It aims to put “the fun in the functional” by infusing drink lozenges with vitamins designed to improve mood.
The young target market means that social media will play a major role in the marketing strategy, alongside outside advertising. So who knows? It could simply “partner” with a Love Islander for a sponsorship deal …
Dream: crisps without the environmental crunch
Crisps, but not as you know them. Notoriously difficult to recycle flexible plastic packaging is nowhere to be found. And there is no compromise on freshness either.
This is thanks to a whole new way of distributing crisps, imagined by global design company Marks. Vending machines are at the heart of its Reve brand. These are filled with different flavors of crisps, kept in bulk in a condition that preserves quality.
When someone fancies a snack, they just need to select an option from the vending machine and they’ll dispense the crisps in pocket-sized packaging made from 100% recyclable, FSC-certified cardboard. As the chips are designed to be eaten on the go, the packs can dispense with the foil layer that typically preserves freshness.
In addition, Reve makes recycling easier. Vending machines accept used flattened packaging, and each returned item earns a âloyalty creditâ that buyers can use to try out new flavors.
Certainly, these vending machines need electricity. But in line with the sustainable concept, they exclusively use energy from renewable sources and will only light up when the built-in sensors detect movement nearby.
Even the flavors have a lasting feel, with ingredients turning seasonally to showcase âthe diversity of natureâ. For example, winter flavors will feature turnips, while peas will be a key ingredient in the summer. And all the flavors are plant-based, of course. It’s all part of the slogan “small bite, big impact”.
High attendance will be crucial for the principle of the vending machine. For this reason, Reve is aimed at cities – a strategy reflected in his urban-style graffiti artwork.
The design and tone of voice reflect “the increasingly familiar semiotics of herbal brands that rely heavily on personality and tone of voice,” says Marks. Add a cool vending machine to the mix and you have crisps for the next generation.
Scoop: make cooking refills stylish
With the rise of refill store concepts, this opens the door to specially designed refill containers.
âThe bakery suffers from a number of usability issues that are difficult to solve with its low-cost disposable packaging,â says Echo, the design agency behind Scoop. âMany consumers have developed their own home storage systems for flours and sugars, but as we move to circular systems and in-store refills they are no longer practical. “
The Scoop container would be built on a loop system, with the aim of being desirable, display-worthy, hygienic and mess-free. Echo says it would also represent an improvement in the cooking experience thanks to easy measurement with the built-in measuring cup.
The scoop can hold a multitude of bakery ingredients as well as other dry products of a sealable nature, ensuring products stay fresh and in pristine condition.