This Week on Supermarket Superstar: When branding, don’t forget your roots [Episode 2 – Global Cuisine]

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On the second episode of Supermarket Superstar (which you can watch here), finalists Don Chow and Lisa Barney competed to wow the judges in a global cuisine challenge. Don’s Chinese-Mexican food-truck fusion “chimales” went head to head with Lisa’s hearty Portuguese soup. 99designs’ in-house graphic design pros Kyle Lin (art director) and Matt Basham (visual designer) helped the pair create logos and package designs aimed to make their products jump into shoppers’ hands. (Check out this blog post to read about 99designs’ involvement in the show.) In this week’s column, Kyle, who worked with (spoiler alert!) winning contestant Don, shares his top tip from the episode: don’t forget your roots!

Your logo and package design should clearly represent the roots of your product, which play just as important role in attracting buyers as the appeal of the product itself. They are part of your brand’s narrative and key to grabbing consumers’ attention and making them care. In Lisa’s case, her inspiration for cooking and for her soup in particular came from her Portuguese grandmother. You can’t sell a Portuguese soup to mainstream customers in the U.S. without telling your Portuguese grandma story! As for Don, his chimale (Chinese + Tamale) was inspired by his ethnic background and his love for Mexican food – and it never would have gotten in the hands of eaters without his Los Angeles-area food-truck business.

So now you know that if you have a compelling story behind your product, you must impart it to shoppers. But how do you tell a narrative through your design? The key is to pinpoint the parts of your narrative that are key to your product, and get rid of the rest. Clean, clear, simply design is key, as always – and it can do a whole lot more than you might expect.

Don’s original logo gave no nod to his food-truck business. He had a lot of things to communicate – not only the way he originally sold his food, a culture of its own – but the fact that he was introducing a brand new fusion dish most people had ever heard of. (Have you ever sampled a Chinese-Mexican dish? Exactly.) So we made a decision to highlight the cultural aspect of the story first and foremost, and to make his food truck history a secondary theme. We ended up putting the food truck image on the side of the chimale box that would be sold in supermarkets, and including the truck in his logo but as a backdrop to his Chinese-Mexican story. His original logo said customers were buying fusion cuisine, but his new logo illustrates it.

Don Chow’s logo before and after; original image courtesy of Don Chow.

The thing to remember when you launch a product with a rich ethnic or cultural history is that you don’t just want to catch the eye of today’s consumers – you want to start an iconic brand that will be easily recognizable years from now. One good example is Orville Redenbacher popcorn. Orville hailed from the midwestern U.S., studied and worked in agriculture, and was obsessed with finding the perfect hybrid corn strains for popcorn. When he and his partner decided to market their product nearly 45 years ago, they wanted to launch it under the name “Chester Hybrids” after the seed corn plant they’d bought. Their ad agency suggested they use his name instead. Along with his moniker, his image appeared on product packaging. Initially, consumers may not have understood why a genial looking guy in horn-rimmed glasses and a bowtie had to do with fantastic popcorn. But there are few Americans today who don’t think “Orville Redenbacher” when they hear the word “popcorn.”

This isn’t to say you have to put your face – or any face – on your product. In Lisa’s case, a vintage photo of her Portuguese grandmother was a key element in her design. And although the judge’s worried that by using “Nana Gloria” in her company name she was limiting her options for introducing soups from other cultural origins in a potential line, she stuck to her guns.

Don didn’t even consider using a face or personality to reach consumers – that would have been tricky. Instead he clearly illustrated the most important aspects of his fusion brand in his design, getting across a much stronger point of view that in his original logo.

The bottom line? If you have a cultural story to tell, tell it. If you don’t have access to a branding team to guide you through the process, do the next best thing: make a trip to your local supermarket and study the brands that have made it to the shelves. What are they doing right? What “story” comes to mind when you examine their packaging?  Take notes. Get inspired. And then go your own route – because you know your story, and the story customers will understand and connect with, better than anyone else.

Which of the packaging designs below do you like the best? Tell us – and tell us why – in the comments!

Check out our branding tips from episode 1 here, and watch Supermarket Superstar on Lifetime every Thursday at 10:30 pm PT!

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