What makes a great food product package? And how do you get from idea to shelf? For a food brand creating their first product, the process of crafting packages that look good and meet regulatory requirements isn’t always clear. We sat down with experts in the field of food package design and branding, to get answers to your questions.

Jobin Design owners Gia and Marc have specialized in retail branding and packaging design since they founded their design studio in 2001. In recent years, Jobin Design has focused their work on the food and beverage industry, helping food businesses build their brands from the ground up, from initial logo design to retail packaging creation and everything in between. They’re well versed in both the regulatory and branding aspects of food packaging, so we’re excited to share their wisdom with you.

Want more resources, expert interviews, and industry news delivered to your inbox? Check out Foodboro’s weekly newsletter!

What are some of the food packaging misconceptions that clients come to you with?

It is important to hire a graphic designer who understands the FDA requirements so that they are able to balance the aesthetics of your brand with the legal requirements for food packaging. All too often, makers come to us with a package or label design that has already cost them a considerable amount of time and money to create, only to find out that it does not meet FDA standards. Your college roommate’s sister’s boyfriend may have a lovely graphic design portfolio, but without experience designing for food, they are likely ill-equipped to design your packaging.

What are some of the biggest differences between designing a food package and designing another kind of CPG package?

The amount of detailed information required by law on food packaging far exceeds the requirements of most if not all other kinds of CPG packaging. Food packaging designers need to find a way to create a package that is visually appealing while including lots of elements such as nutrition facts, ingredients, etc. It’s a challenging balancing act that requires some extra creativity as well as a firm grasp of the laws governing food product packaging.

What are resources that makers can use to understand what they need to put on their labels? Do makers come to you with that information, or do you help them find the answers?

Both. We have worked with makers who have extensive experience with labeling and we have also worked with makers who have chosen to focus their energies on other parts of their food business. The FDA website is the best place to start when trying to understand everything that is legally required. The FDA provides PDF documents that cover everything from general labeling to the specific font names and sizes required for the new Nutrition Facts label. We often refer to their Food Labeling Guide.

Can you give a range for how much a small maker might budget for package design?

A smaller maker should budget $1,500-$2,000 for their logo design and initial brand guide. After that, costs can vary based on the product and its packaging requirements. For example, the entry level cost to design a jar label for a jam may be $200-$400, whereas the cost to design a poly bag for a frozen food product may start at $800 depending on the complexity of the design.

How can product packaging contribute to a rich overall customer experience with a brand?

For many makers just launching their products, the packaging is the first and only experience a customer has with the brand until they actually try the product. So it is critical that the packaging makes a strong and lasting first impression! Even if a maker has the most delicious food product ever made, it will not sell if the packaging does not entice a customer to pick it up and try it.

With food packaging, the phrase “do not judge a book by its cover” does not apply.

What are the deliverables for a package designer? And how does a maker take those deliverables and turn them into a physical product?

We provide final art assets in an electronic format that can then be used to print actual packaging. In many cases, the printer will provide us with a die line and we develop the packaging artwork based on that. In the event that a maker is creating a custom package, we develop the packaging die line ourselves. We partner with printers who are experienced in food packaging, so we can coordinate that process for a maker.

How do package materials factor into package design? Can makers create a specific look or feel to their product with those materials?

Materials can play a vital role in the final look and feel of a packaged product. Makers selling their product at a higher price point often consider investing in higher quality packaging materials to support their product. A glass jar instead of a cheaper plastic jar elevates the product, the brand, and the perceived product value. This is often an area where new makers are tempted to cut costs a little, saving a few cents per unit. Depending on the product, choosing a cheaper package in order to save on cost may in fact hurt sales. Makers also need to consider how the packaging materials could affect the potential shelf life of the product.

Can you talk about how the design process works? What assets or ideas should makers come with when they have a meeting with a designer?

We work with makers at all stages of the process. Some come to us with an existing logo which we then use as the basis for their packaging. Others come to us with nothing but a product or company name and ask us to design their brand from the ground up. Either way, the process usually starts with a conversation about the maker’s product, their target customer, and both their short and long terms goals (i.e. is this the first in what will become a family of flavors or products, etc.). This overview gives us a feel for where the maker is present day as well as where they want to be in the future. We also ask makers to share any ideas they may have for their brand and/or packaging. Sometimes makers provide us with images of other packages or brands they love. Sometimes they provide verbal direction. Most makers are passionate about food, not packaging.

Our job is to take the passion they have for their product and translate it visually.

Can you describe a time when a maker has had to compromise on their packaging vision in order to meet regulatory or compliance needs?

We recently worked with a maker whose product is sold in a very small 6 oz. jar. Despite the small label size, the maker was adamant that we include 3 key selling points in addition to the logo, statement of identity, flavor and all of the mandatory legal elements. Despite our best efforts and multiple attempts to fit everything she wanted onto the label, there was simply not enough room. We suggested a larger jar, but it did not make sense for the product. We suggested eliminating the selling points, but she felt strongly that they were essential. In the end, the compromise was to revise the 3 selling points which were individual short phrases into a single, concise benefit statement that took up 60% less space on the label. This allowed us the room we needed for all of the other elements.

Get food industry insights in your inbox every week with Foodboro’s newsletter.