Macondo Chocolate is a single origin chocolate line handmade by Kernow Chocolate Company in the UK. According to Kernow’s website, the flavor of cacao beans, like that of coffee beans and wine grapes, is affected by where the beans are grown, the regional temperature, annual rainfall, and nutrients in the soil. It’s said that chocolate connoisseurs are familiar with the appellations of cacao beans and have their preferences. Hence, Macondo Chocolate set out to appeal to their discerning taste by sourcing its cacao beans from different corners of the world, and processing each batch separately to maintain the distinct and pure flavor of their country of origin.
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We all know that beautiful packaging helps sell products, but what is the effect of a package purposely designed to be ugly — not just ugly, but gross and icky?
In December 2012, Australia took an unusual approach to curb smoking. It didn’t ban cigarettes outright, but it did ban all design branding devices on cigarette packs. It outlawed any evidence of brand distinction and personality. Gone are iconic images of rugged, independent men on horseback and slim, stylish women who look like they know how to have fun. Instead Australia imposed what it described as standardized, or plain, packaging on tobacco products. Based on the premise that great design is persuasive and sells products, Australia used reverse psychology to change attitudes. It outlawed brand design elements including bright colors, logotypes, slogans, and taglines. It ruled that packs can only use Pantone 448c opaque couche, which market researchers deemed the world’s ugliest color, and the brand name now has to be shown in a specified generic font, size and location. Health warnings have to cover 60 percent of the pack’s surface, with photographs of diseases brought on by smoking. Instead of glamorizing the “coolness” of smoking, the plain packaging aims to get people to think twice about how smoking affects their health, and discourage youth from taking up the habit at all. In the first 36 months of Australia’s program, it is estimated that there are about 118,000 fewer Australians smoking as a direct result of standardized packaging.
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Every summer since 2011, Budweiser has touted its allegiance to America by rolling out packaging with patriotic themes. Its beer cans and bottles have featured the Statue of Liberty’s crowned head or raised torch. The red, white and blue stars and stripes have been presented in various slanted angles and patterns. This summer the self-proclaimed “King of Beers” has boldly gone where no brand has gone before. It dropped the renowned Budweiser logo completely and replaced it with the generic name “America.” Before you decide this is branding suicide, consider the rationale.
Budweiser was founded by Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, Missouri, around 1870. Adolphus Busch named his beer Budweiser to appeal to German immigrants like himself. He modeled the beer after a Bavarian lager made in the German town of Budweis, founded by King Ottokar in 1245. King Ottokar actually coined the slogan “The Beer of Kings.” Also, in what is now the Czech Republic, the name Budweiser name had existed in Budějovice since the 16th century. In fact, there is still a Czech beer called Budweiser Budvar.
All was well for decades since beer was mostly a local product, which didn’t travel well over long distances. But pasteurization and refrigerated freight cars turned the St. Louis-produced Budweiser into a brand known throughout the land. This forced the St. Louis brewer and the two European brewers that all called their beer Budweiser into a trademark dispute, which was resolved in 1938, with the agreement that Anheuser-Busch could use the brand name Budweiser only in North America.
Fast forward to 2008, when a Belgium-based beer giant acquired the St. Louis-produced Budweiser label and changed its corporate name to Anheuser-Busch InBev. That made Budweiser’s American roots even more confusing – this at a time when other U.S.-made beer brands were heavily cutting into Budweiser’s market share.
Budweiser decided to strengthen its American heritage by launching a major campaign during the peak beer-guzzling summer months. The New York-based design firm Jones Knowles and Ritchie was asked to create limited edition packaging for a summer-long campaign called “America is in your hands.” The 2016 marketing effort runs from May 23 through the November general election.
Temporarily replacing the Budweiser label with “America” was a bold move, but one that probably won’t confuse consumers. The graphic styling of the cans and bottles look identical to the usual packaging. Only the text has been swapped out with phrases like “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave,” “e pluribus unum,” and the lyrics to the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The bottles look eerily the same as the regular ones, except for arousing an inexplicable urge to salute and sing “America the Beautiful.”
Designed by Yurko Gutsulvak in Kviv, Ukraine, the packaging for Ridna Mapka fruit juice line is noteworthy for its commanding retail shelf presence. The juice cartons have identical images front and back, with informational text printed on the flap ends. The wraparound graphics project a highly visible diamond-shape pattern when displayed side-by-side on store shelves.
For the packaging design, Gutsulvak aimed to suggest a nostalgic tone for Ridna Mapka (meaning “native brand”) to appeal to consumers who yearn for the authentic natural flavors of yesteryears. Featuring illustrations by Oleksij Volkov, the Ridna Mapka packaging evokes the style and feel of Russian design in the 1960s and 1970s. The retro look harkens to a time when fruit juices had the unadulterated taste of real fruit.
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Those familiar with San Francisco’s landscape will recognize the iconic landmarks depicted on Fort Point Beer packaging. Those who aren’t will simply appreciate the packaging for its lovely minimalist design and smart, consistent execution. Designed by San Francisco-based Manual, the packaging is illustrated with geometric-line drawings of the undergirding of the Golden Gate Bridge, the rooftops of old Army barracks, the windmill in Golden Gate Park, the Ferry Building clock, the Alcatraz guard tower, and other well-known sites. Like scaffolding, the graphics form an arched frame around the Fort Point brand name, setting it apart.
San Francisco’s fastest-growing craft beer brand, Fort Point Brewery is located in San Francisco’s historic Presidio, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Presidio was originally built as a military outpost in 1776 when California was owned by Spain. It was subsequently occupied by the U.S. Army between 1846 and 1994.
The Fort Point Brewery, founded in 2014 by brothers Tyler and Justin Catalana, resides in an old Army motor pool building near Fort Point, which stands at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Fort was constructed at the entrance to San Francisco Bay just before the Civil War, circa 1854, to keep the California gold fields from falling into rebel hands — just a few historical factoids to reflect on while enjoying a can of Fort Point beer.
The rice-growing region in Japan’s Niigata Prefecture is renowned for its excellent sake (made from fermented rice) and its colorful ornamental carp fish, called Nishikigoi, or koi for short. Tokyo-based design agency, Bullet, was inspired by this regional icon when developing the packaging for a recently released sake product produced by Imayotsukasa Sake Brewery, based in Niigata. The sake brand named Nishikigoi features the distinctive bright red and white mottled patterns of the carp on its bottle and a white box cut-out in the simple silhouette of a carp. Stunning and stylish, the packaging displayed together in a retail setting look like a school of swimming Nishikigoi fish.
The ornamental carp originated in Niigata around AD 1500 when rice farmers began using the common carp as fish food, raising them in the reservoirs above the rice paddies. Around 1800, farmers began seeing colorful mutations of the fish and cross-bred them to create and stabilize new strains in vibrant colors and patterns. The ornamental carp were largely unknown outside of Niigata until they were sent to the 1914 Tokyo Taisho Exhibition as a unique product of the prefecture. By 1938, they were being exported as decorative objects to other parts of the world. Today they are prized as their own unique living art form gracing the ponds of many home gardens — and on the bottles of premium sake.
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SKYY, the American-made vodka, is transforming cities across the country into a knitted wonderland by taking everyone’s favorite ugly holiday sweater and wrapping it around everything from city buses in San Francisco, to bus shelters in Boston and downtown Chicago, to art installations in Manhattan’s Union Square and the Meatpacking District. Available for a limited time during the holiday season, SKYY’s iconic cobalt blue bottles are actually wrapped in blue and white Fair Isle knit sweaters. “Ugly sweaters have become a big pop culture trend, with people theming entire parties around them, and vodka is the number one spirit consumed during the holidays. It was a natural fit to combine the two, ” explains Umberto Luchini, Vice President of Marketing at Campari America.
— SKYY Vodka (@SKYYVodka) November 14, 2015
Boytjie Braai Sauce describes itself as “South Africa in a bottle.” It boasts that every part of the barbecue sauce product is sourced and produced locally in South Africa, from the raw ingredients and manufacturing to the packaging design. Muti, a creative agency in Cape Town, worked with Malinco Foods to develop the logo and labels for the line of sauces. Eschewing the use of slick food photography, Boytjie built its packaging identity around bold and quirky hand-drawn letters and illustrations. The name of the flavor and key words are expressed in a different vibrant colors with fleck of black from the background peeking through like peppery spice. The effect is rich with personality.
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Zombis, made in Iceland by Kjöris, is a soft ice cream product sold in single-serving-size packets, but what makes Zombis extra special is the story built into the packaging. Designed by Reykjavik-based Brandenburg, the packaging for Zombis Freezer Pops features 24 zombi personalities, each with its own name and “death-ography.” Inside each zombi is a colorful, squishy “brain” that tastes exactly like strawberry, raspberry or pistachio-flavored ice cream. Buyers are instructed to snip off the top of the zombi’s head and suck out the brain. Eating ice cream has never been so ghoulish and fun.
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More than 3,000 mourners came to the rural Japanese village of Kinokawa last weekend to pay their final respects to Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station, the last stop on the Wakayama Electric Railway line. Tama was elevated from stray cat to stationmaster in 2007, at a time when the regional rail line was $4.7 million in the red, forcing the layoff of all employees at Kishi Station and leaving the stop unmanned. Reluctant to evict the charming calico cat that hung around the station, the railway’s president announced that he was appointing Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station — a position that included free housing in the ticket booth, her own litter box, and an annual salary paid in cat food. For her official duties of meeting and greeting passengers, Tama was outfitted in a tiny custom-made stationmaster cap and cape.
What started out as a playful marketing ploy to raise awareness of the railway’s plight quickly turned into a media sensation with tourists from across Japan and around the world flocking to the village to see Tama at work. Train ridership increased significantly, and Kishi Station itself became a tourist attraction.
The railway’s management capitalized on Tama’s appeal and developed an extensive line of souvenir items bearing a cartoon likeness of Tama, including T-shirts, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, and even a full set of dining room furniture featuring carved silhouettes of cats. In 2009, Wakayama Electric Railway rolled out a train car decorated with cartoon images of Tama, and redesigned the exterior architecture of Kishi station to resemble a cat’s face.
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Designed by Futura, a Mexican branding agency in Monterrey, the packaging for Mezcal Buen Suceso looks like a joyful shower of multi-colored confetti. A premium artisanal form of tequila, made from the heart of agave plants. Mezcal Buen Suceso is handcrafted in the Oaxacan village of San Juan del Rio. The vibrant hues of Oaxacan houses inspired the bright colors of Buen Suceso packaging. Rather than print the pattern on the exterior face of the mezcal bottle, Futura called out the pure crystalline quality of the drink by displaying the colorful geometric shapes through the clear liquid and transparent glass. The festive pattern is also presented on the inner lining of Buen Suceso boxes, company stationery, promotional materials, and a rain of tiny confetti dots on Buen Suceso’s website.
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It might be considered tacky to give a bar of soap as a gift, but not if it is beautifully wrapped.
Established in New York more than 30 years ago, Michel Design Works found its niche merchandising tasteful gift products in lovely garden-themed designs and packaging. Scented bar and bubble bath soaps, body lotions, paper napkins, coasters and placemats, kitchen towels and potholders, and the like are delightfully decorated with antique botanical prints. In the case of the soap, the wrapping paper makes the product look like a luxury item, but is inexpensively priced to give as an appropriate hostess thank-you or as a shower party favor. The packaging for the soap even features the Michel Design Works’ elephant logo as a hot-wax seal. What makes this soap “gift-worthy” is not the actual bar of soap (however good it is); it’s the packaging. The packaging defines the brand.
The credits for Elephant Gin read like a project conceived by the United Nations. Handcrafted by London Dry Gin, the product is distilled in Hamburg, Germany, using 14 botanicals including African ingredients like Devil’s Claw, Baobab and Wormwood. The packaging design by South African designer Simon Frouws was inspired by the pioneering spirit of early explorers in Africa. In keeping with the theme, the packaging design features a finely drawn map of South Africa and an old-fashioned cork label with a seal wrapped around the bottle neck with twine. Produced in small batches of 800 bottles, each batch is named after past great elephants or those that the group is committed to protect. The names are handwritten and numbered at the bottom of each label. Fifteen percent of the sales profits are donated to two African elephant foundations. Great packaging, good cause.
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Anyone who doubts that we live in a global economy needs to look at packaging and products from the far-flung reaches of the planet. These lovely labels for sauces and marmalades were made for Italbu Charcuterie in Burundi, a little landlocked country in Southeast Africa, bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Italbu Charcuterie is a deli shop offering organic products made from original Italian recipes.The design firm Ya Ye lists studios both in Zagreb, Croatia, and Bujumbura, Burundi. Ya Ye’s design has a contemporary universal quality that could have just as easily been produced in New York, London or Sydney. Cultural design differences were more distinctly identifiable before air travel and multinational retailers. A World War II vet once told me that if a soldier was parachuted onto foreign terrain, he would know where he landed by the typography and architecture, even before hearing the spoken language. With the Internet today, the whole world is exposed to the same visual references and design styles can’t be pinpointed to a particular culture or part of the world.
Who would have thought that a box of No. 2 pencils could exude style, sophistication and Art Deco flair? But leave it to New York-based designer Louise Fili to use her mastery of typography, pattern, color and all things Italian to create a product that you would be proud to present as a gift – and thrilled to receive. Invited by Princeton Architectural Press to design a line of elegant gift products, Fili came up with a boxed set of 12 double-tipped pencils. Fili felt that the two-sided pencils seemed perfect, thus the name “Perfetto.” On her website, Fili explains that her design was inspired by her collection of 1930s Italian pencil boxes. “Our most preferred are the two-color, double-sided pencils, commonly in red and blue, for teachers to correct homework…red for a minor infringement, blue for a serious offense.” Fili says that they chose not to use blue because it was our least favorite color. Instead she says, “We opted for our signature red and black.” There’s no eraser because that would spoil the beautiful symmetry.
Only a few decades ago, a common belief was that the more contemporary the design of the label, the more mediocre the quality of the wine inside. The legendary luxury wines of Europe remained faithful to the centuries-old tradition of featuring labels with ornate script lettering, fine line engravings of chateaus, gold foil borders and corks sealed and stamped with red wax. Only upstart nouveau wineries in places like California ignored proper wine labeling etiquette by hiring graphic designers to come up with something colorful and stylish.
But perceptions have changed. Fine wines are being sold in supermarkets, online and even Costco. Wines from around the world compete for consumer attention and shelf space. The assumption that bottles with traditional labels contain better wine no longer has validity. Wine packaging and labels are projecting unique brand personalities, and not shying away from presenting a look that is bold and innovative.