Strategies & Insights

Getting on the Bandwagon

Posted: October 12, 2009 by
Ron Romanik

The tide is rising in private label package design, and the level of sophistication in brand management must rise to meet higher consumer expectations. Today's consumers are savvy about the value they get from every dollar, and retailers are eager to cater to their needs and wants.

Package Design Magazine recently caught up with Glenn Pfeifer, vice president, design at Daymon Worldwide (, to discuss recent private label package design trends. Daymon is dedicated to building private brands and has developed award-winning designs for more than 25 years for retailers such as Wegmans, Meijer, Winn-Dixie, Giant Eagle, Harris Teeter, and Roundy's.

PDM: How has private label package design changed in recent years?
Pfeifer: More and more retailers are looking at their private label brand portfolios as true brand assets for their organization. They are looking to be more strategic in planning, to establish tiers of product offerings, and to develop versatile package design architecture. Fifteen years ago, private label would not have been able to implement sophisticated design strategies because the groundwork had not been laid. The evolutionary period was necessary to get us to where we are today.

PDM: What are the best ways to create tiers and introduce premium lines?
Pfeifer: Retailers are realizing more and more the power of their own brands. They have learned from their mistakes. A few years ago, many retailers would launch premium private label products without a definite plan. They'd launch a few products at time, or add a word like "Select" to a line, and expect the products to develop their own following. Now they are realizing that tiering is much more than adding on to their core brands. They know it is important to create new brands thoughtfully, with a long-term strategy.

PDM: How should retailers manage multiple store brands and multiple tiers without confusing the customer?
Pfeifer: The essence of today's successful private label brands rests partly on matching the brand with the product quality. Whereas this task used to be handled by category managers, now brand managers are charged with producing a clear position for each brand and consolidating the message from package design to advertising. When done properly, this ensures that the brand promise is not compromised.

PDM: How important are realistic photographs of the product on private label packages?
Pfeifer: We at Daymon have always preached that if consumers can't see the product inside, they should at least see a picture of what's inside. But again, it's important to select the right image that reflects the quality of the product.
In many cases, the only marketing of a private label product is the package, so that package has to advertise effectively the value and quality of the product. Some items may need no photography at all as long as its brand promise has been conveyed to the consumer through the entire package.

PDM: Are there any recent trends in the graphic content of private label package design?
Pfeifer: Retailers are beginning to realize how much "lifestyle" imagery can help. There are many ways a private label brand is similar to an established national brand. Both have to present a broad brand image that consumers can buy into on a personal level. Lifestyle cues can make that connection in consumers' minds.

PDM: Have retailers invested in research to discover how to connect with consumers?
Pfeifer: Yes, more and more. They are trying to find out the true feelings of their loyal consumers. Retailers then develop private label portfolios and package design strategies around consumer decision-making processes. Deeper understanding of consumers—both loyal and potential—will drive the private label design strategies of the next decade.

PDM: What is the role of illustration on private label package designs?
Pfeifer: Illustrations that are well executed can allow retailers to differentiate themselves more in the current retail environment. Illustrations can convey both high quality and lightheartedness, but it depends on the category. Food can be fun, but some categories need to maintain a more serious package design tone.

PDM: How can more adventurous private label package designs pay off?
Pfeifer: Publix tin foil is an interesting example of an exception that proves a rule. The white tin foil boxes features animal shapes formed out of tin foil. In this category, the customer already knows the function of the product, so the goal here is to get a second glance from a browsing customer.

PDM: Are there any other expanding trends that have come about because of the poor economy?
Pfeifer: Retailers are realizing the "me-too" strategy of mimicking package designs of established brands is not a long-term strategy. Building market share through traditional brand building is the trend here. Retailers really need to present each brand well, and emphasize the strength of each brand. On top of that, staying up with packaging structure innovations, functionality improvements, and sustainable goals will reap brand-building benefits when the economy rebounds.

PDM: Who will be the retail winners in the long run?
Pfeifer: The larger retailers have the advantage of being able to try more different ideas. With production schedules contracting, you might look for retailers testing out new ideas even more often. Larger retailers can respond quicker to the market if an idea doesn't gain traction. Retailers that can get in and out of brands with minimal risk can chart their course more effectively for the long term.

Note: Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series appeared in the May, June, and July issues respectively.