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Natural Product Packaging

Red R. Thalhammer

In today’s crowded marketplace, it is extremely difficult for a cosmetic product to stand out among the many others on the shelf. The current rise in popularity of natural products makes today the perfect time to introduce a whole new experience to beauty product packaging. It is imperative that companies place emphasis on packaging for subtle yet strong brand execution, and in so doing, communicate a contemporary philosophy while ensuring their distinct place in the natural cosmetics market.

Getting back to what is natural is not just a short-term trend; it has a promising and profitable future in the cosmetics business, to which many companies have already caught on. However, with the recent influx of organic and natural cosmetic lines, it is tiring for the customer to visually differentiate between the natural cosmetic brands and their generic counterparts. Differentiating between various levels of quality within the natural sector is yet another challenge.

Research shows that approximately 70% of consumers’ product-buying decisions are based on presentation. So how does a product grab the consumer’s attention? To say it simply—it is the packaging, with all of its subtle cues and subliminal communication, that makes the customer notice a product on the shelf, pick it up, take it to the register and swipe her credit card. It can be asserted, without eqivocation, that the lifestyle, tastes and purchasing psychology of today’s consumers have changed vastly in the past 25 years. As that is the case, why then does much of the cosmetic industry turn to the same outdated packaging design that has ruled the marketplace over the past two decades? Products in the natural arena have changed yet the packaging hasn’t—it is like draping a drab old cover over a swanky new couch.

Kudos to Exceptions

Jurlique just launched new packaging that reflects its vision of purity, integrity and care. The greatness of the previous packaging was in the consistency of dark blue type across the product line, applied mostly on white tinted glass containers and tubes. Each product had a unique appearance that echoed the history of the company’s family-owned herb farm and business in South Australia. The new brand design has a coherent look with its beautifully shaped new containers; on the other hand, the graphics are not that different from other generic cosmetic lines.

Packaging design for most cosmetic brands is in dire need of a makeover. But to find a different path, we must first look at the patterns that have been repeated consistently over the years. Imagine the packaging of a cosmetic product. The picture that most typically comes to mind is a bottle or a jar with centered serif or non-serif type describing its contents. Often the label features a small icon above the font to add a visual kick to the presentation. Sadly, this simple yet unimaginative design still sets the norm for most premium brands in the cosmetic industry.

A major shift is needed in the area of organic and natural products especially. For this segment, the concept of health-conscious products has made critical advances but the packaging hasn’t. Most natural products are still sold in containers that are pure waste. Consumers seeking organic and natural products look for brands that speak to their lifestyle approach. In order to engage and keep these consumers, the packaging of such products must also appeal to this contemporary mindset.

First and most important, the packaging of natural cosmetics should be biodegradable. With the right materials having been used in its creation, the packaging should make this fact very clear by using alternative visual cues to raise itself above the norm. Some brands have attempted to distinguish themselves through label design; however, the result often appears overly crafted and regressive, weak and cheap, or simply plain. Assuming that the natural product is of a high-level, sophisticated quality, why is there so little innovation and fresh approach when it comes to presenting it on the store shelves?

Consumers of health-conscious, natural, organic and sustainable products comprise a progressive group that is not afraid to try new things. When branding products for such consumers, be daringly sophisticated, innovative and different. As the number of products targeting this audience grows, it is vital to sustain their interest on a sociological and aesthetic level. The modern consumer is asking for products that show true improvement on the status quo and wants to do business with companies that communicate honestly, passionately and with authenticity. These natural products must present a healthy alternative to everyday living and stand out from generic skin care, both in the content of the product and in the packaging design.

The branding of natural cosmetics and skin care needs to be fresh and lively. These products should carry a message that conveys a certain luxury, special pampering, or that sweet skin pleasure not provided by a generic product. This message must be aligned with the company’s unique philosophy of contemporary elegance and the enhanced quality that natural ingredients bring to the product. A successful example of such a natural product line is Korres, of Athens, Greece, with its roots in homeopathic pharmacy. This inventive line has an engrossing and contemporary look that is mirrored both in the packaging of its products and the interior design of its stores worldwide. The combination of partially vertical type and pleasing product shots effectively communicates the pure ingredients used to manufacture the products. In this way, the packaging reflects the authenticity and honesty needed to attract new customers.

Structure and Art

To improve and support the differentiation between natural and generic brands, packaging design must focus on two areas: the container structure and the graphic art. In order to achieve concrete and innovative results, these two aspects of packaging must blend seamlessly during the process of creating a brand identity.

The entire design of a product, from the company’s story and its purpose to its ingredients and packaging, should reflect a successful synergy. This is particularly important in the arena of natural cosmetics and skin care. It is in fact essential to leave behind the dull side of eco-packaging and use green materials that go beyond what is just recyclable. With the diverse range of new sustainable and biodegradable materials that have become available in recent years, the packaging of cosmetic products finally has a chance to pave a new road in this saturated market.

The next step is to find a source for new materials. Material Connexion, a consulting agency with an extensive library of materials, can be a helpful resource. The organization offers innovative material solutions for any business idea. Andrew H. Dent, vice president of library and materials research, says that Material Connexion sees a trend in materials development that works with nature rather than against it. The box to the right features a selection of materials that are biodegradable and suitable for container manufacturing of cosmetic products.

“We are learning that natural systems for the production of materials are by necessity more efficient, less wasteful and inherently beautiful,” says Dent, “This selection mirrors this trend with biopolymers grown from plants, papers that either come from waste or act as compost, and the naturally tough and resilient properties of agricultural fibers, bark and grasses.”

The market leader that sets a good example is Aveda, whose clear ideology is reflected in every product through the use of sustainable packaging. Another successful brand is Pangea, first in the use of 100% compostable, biodegradable and plantable packaging for its products. Created from recycled postconsumer newsprint, the brand is able to keep its promise—always beneficial, never artificial—by manufacturing the product with zero waste and without any glues or dies. In addition, the off-center type and rawness of the drawings energizes the line. The combination of type, coloring and design goes all the way to the paper box, which reflects the beauty of all that is natural. Pangea has excelled at setting itself apart in a beautiful and sophisticated way.

In today’s digital and virtual world, our body care has become even more precious. In opposition to all that is technical, metal and material, consumers ache for natural and organic experiences. When creating a package design for natural skin care products, it is therefore essential to speak to the senses and invoke a fresh spirit. To gain preference in an overloaded marketplace, the communication of the brand’s story must be clear and sincere so that the consumer can relate to it and trust the product and its affiliated company.

An example of a line that succeeds in communicating a candid and natural message is the salon hair care line Modern Organic Products (MOP). MOP focuses on simple solutions to hair care that work in unison with nature. The translucent, clean-shaped bottle with a fairly small left-center type supports their mission and creates synergy. What makes MOP outstanding and ultimately recognizable as a modern and organic product is the total emotional experience that its products reflect.

When discussing natural cosmetic and skin care products, it is important to emphasize the benefits of sustainability and environmental consciousness. Within a single product, this message must be integrated consistently in all aspects—from the graphic design of the packaging to the container structure that minimizes environmental impact. Natural products exist for use, not abuse. Designers must therefore not let the consumer forget why they chose the natural product over the generic. Consumers must be reminded every step of the way—from the moment they remove the product from the store shelf to when it is placed it on their bathroom counter to when it is thrown into the recycling bin—of all of the product’s personal and environmental benefits. The packaging of today sets the standard for the future.

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