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Poking the Yolk: How to transform your food product concept (Part II of IV)

September 15, 2016

From home kitchen recipe to grocery shelf moneymaker:

How to transform your food product concept

By Bruno J. Codispoti, Founding Partner, BrandFusion; Co-Founder at Crazy Uncle Cocktails

Here’s the second instalment in a four-part series featuring material from my book Food Fight Inc.: An Entrepreneur’s Journey and Subsequent Lessons on Trying to Make Money in the Grocery Business, scheduled for release in early 2017.

Packaging Design

Unless you’re an Adobe Illustrator design pro, investing in a praiseworthy package design is an investment I suggest that you may want to consider. Take my word for it, it’ll be challenging for most folks to see, understand and believe in your vision unless you show them, more or less, precisely what the product will look and feel like when it’s perched up on the shelf. An impressive napkin sketch, or a poor attempt at using Keynote or PowerPoint can end up creating more confusion, questions and doubt than interest and praise. What’s more, unless your packaging design complies with the necessary CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) or US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) labelling guidelines, a retailer cannot legally retail your product—e.g. ingredients, allergens, nutrition facts, weight declaration and domicile statements all with a very specific font size, orientation and placement requirement.

Find a young and aspiring freelance graphic artist who’s looking to add relevant CPG (consumer packaged goods) projects to their up-and-coming design portfolio and you might be able to dodge a very costly design bullet and spend practically nothing up to only a few hundred dollars. If not, budget around sixty to seventy-five dollars per hour, or a couple of thousand dollars per sku for a proper design. Search on-line or visit the local graphic design colleges in your area to begin your quest for a packaging Picasso. If you do opt for a more established and reputable design firm, consider appointing a smaller, boutique-sized company (e.g. creativerock.net) as opposed to enlisting a larger and potentially overly-structured one. You’ll most likely find their services to be markedly cheaper, faster, flexible and less fastidious.

Once you find a willing and capable candidate, be sure to arm them with a clear, well-written and succinct packaging design brief. A packaging design brief document will aid both you and your designer, or marketing agency, in arriving at the target without wasting more time and money than is needed. If your direction is unclear, unfinished and uncertain, there will inevitably be frustration between you and the designer brought about by multiple design attempts that miss the mark and unnecessarily rack up the bill. A poorly thought out design brief and strategy will also eventually suck the fun out of the process. Try to operate under the mantra ‘garbage in, garbage out’ instead of hoping that the designer can read your mind.

I suggest sharing the relevant project background info (who, what, why, when, where, how, how much), a snapshot of the current grocery landscape and the hierarchy of messaging you’d like to incorporate. It’s not necessary, but I find it both fun and useful to name a well-known person or character who best embodies the essence of your brand. For example, Bill Murray is a great specimen for our Crazy Uncle brand as he represents the loveable quirkiness and straight-up delivery that we shoot for. When I was at Quaker Oats, we wanted our Crispy Minis® rice chips to personify Meg Ryan (although, it was the late nineties, and was probably because I had a thing for her). It’s also a good barometer for the designer to measure their work against.

Be sure to bring along packaging examples and tasting samples of other brands that capture the look, feel and vibe of what you’re hoping to create. Always include a UPC (universal product code) in your design to ensure that you can officially sell your product should it graduate to the big leagues. Visit GS1 Canada (gs1ca.org) to register and secure a 6-digit company prefix license. It’s well worth the initiation set-up charge and annual license fee. Once you have a kick-ass design, roll-up your sleeves and mock-up a sample, using glue guns, Avery labels or the like so that your prototype looks as legitimate and genuine as possible. Perfecto. Now you’re more suitably armed and one full-size step closer to going live. It’s also a prudent point in time to begin (cautiously) showing your product concept around. Share it with would-be consumers and visit prospective supplier partners (contract packers and suppliers of raw material ingredients and packaging) to gauge unbiased interest and to collect value feedback.

Genuine Consumer Input

It’s time to develop a monster-thick and bulletproof skin. Presenting your masterpiece to friends and family at first, and then deliberately moving to show supplier partners, and yes, even prospective customers, is an indispensable piece of the process. But beware, most comments, especially in the early goings before you’ve had a chance to tinker and tweak, will be painful pinches more than congratulatory pats on the back. Everyone’s a seasoned critic and an industry expert when it comes to providing feedback. It’ll be mondo uncomfortable, but keep the wincing down to a bare minimum and work to develop an aptitude for sifting the gold nuggets out from the wet sand. Consider the alternative of shutting out worthwhile feedback only to learn that that you should’ve listened and made an adjustment to the recipe or packaging after the product hits the shelf. It’s free to listen to and filter feedback, but it can cost you dearly to ignore it.

Gathering opinions can be as simple as staging a basic qualitative taste test among a handful of family and friends who best fit your targeted demographic profile. Your objective is to better understand the obvious and the underlying purchase intents of both your product and of the food category you’ll be selling it in. If you want to structure a larger, more quantitative test, to help quantify preferences using numerical data, there are a number of turnkey online survey tools to help you out (e.g. visit surveymonkey.com). Either way, don’t become too proud or fearful to open yourself up to criticism.

Let it Simmer ~

  1. Have you taken the time to write a proper, clear and concise packaging design brief before collaborating with a designer?
  2. Are you opening your mind to the feedback of others, or are you too proud and anxious to actively listen to what they have to say?

Even if you’re not prepared to make a binding commitment to launching your food product, simply knowing that you have a willing and capable supply partner network (contract packers and suppliers of raw material ingredients and packaging) waiting in the wings is advisable. To be continued in Part III: Connecting with Supply Partners.


Article written by Bruno J. Codispoti. Bruno is the Founding Partner, BrandFusion, as well as the Co-Founder at Crazy Uncle Cocktails.