Pack of the Month: Allegra Poschmann Gives Kona Coffee Purveyors A Stunning Redesign

by Bill McCool on 06/01/2020 | 6 Minute Read

Rebranding is hard, especially when you’ve tried your hand at it a few times.

Luckily, Kona Coffee Purveyors found the perfect designer in Allegra Poschmann, who got at the heart of the brand and their Hawaiin roots. The strayed from the stereotypical tiki torches and leis, and went straight to the source, digging deep into the brand’s essence and the creation of their coffee. 

The result? Our Pack of the Month for May 2020. Not bad for her studio's first-ever packaging project. We sat down with Allegra Poschmann herself and dug into all things Kona Coffee.

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Walk us through the design process you went through for this project.

The founder, Raymond Suiter, had gone through a series of failed attempts at a rebrand. He felt everything presented previously lacked the uniqueness and richness required to convey what makes Kona Coffee Purveyors so special. 

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Previous branding endeavor that overplayed Hawaiian tropes.

We spent three months in an intensive research phase—speaking to people who care deeply about coffee, chatting with existing customers, understanding the competitive landscape—both in terms of Hawaiian coffee and the specialty coffee market overall. 

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What we discovered is that Hawaiian coffee gets a pretty bad rap—there’s a lot of fraud and counterfeit coffee that’s sub-par—and perhaps more importantly, very few people even know about Hawaiian coffee. In short, we realized we not only needed to educate people about Kona Coffee as a specialty good but also to express that this was an authentic product. 

Many clients choose to forego this type of research, but I really can’t express how invaluable it was to us and our process. Good coffee is highly commoditized these days, so we needed to design something truly unique that got at something deeper than just a nice bag. 

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Shortly after, we took a trip to Hawaii. As a designer, it’s so rare to experience the full spectrum of a client’s operations. We spent every morning at the café in Oahu—observing customers, chatting with the baristas, and understanding more about what makes them tick. We also flew to Big Island to spend the day at the coffee farm—observing the plants, the processing, the terroir. We also spent quite a bit of time at the roastery, gaining a better sense of what goes into roasting and packaging coffee on a larger scale. We got the time to understand so many aspects of this operation, and that truly helped us understand what made it unique. 

Getting this sense of place was so critical to the outcome of the packaging—seeing the richness of the colors and the uniqueness of the landscape helped to bring about a brand and packaging system that feels rooted in Hawaii without playing into typical tropes, like tiki torches and Hawaiian flowers. 

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What was one of the biggest goals you set out to achieve with the Kona packaging, and how did you accomplish it? 

There are so many things that make this project unique, so I’ll name a few of them: 

The founders, Raymond and Jacqueline Suiter, bring so much rigor, intellect, and hard-won experience to the equation. Raymond is a serial coffee entrepreneur, and Jacqueline was a food scientist before co-founding Kona Coffee Purveyors. You cannot overstate the level of precision and attention-to-detail that goes into every decision they make. 

Their position within the specialty coffee landscape is unique as they have the privilege to be at the origin. This means they aren’t thousands of miles away from their coffee farm. They are there, in the thick of it, and can adapt accordingly. You can't say the same for most other coffee companies that we know and love. For Raymond and Jacqueline, it’s personal.

Lastly, Hawaii’s terroir and climate are unique—the soil’s acidity and the region’s microclimate makes it an ideal candidate for coffee farming in a way that is nearly impossible elsewhere in North America. This also means it’s one of the few companies that picks, processes, roasts, and ships from the United States. 

All of these factors—the founders’ history, combined with the inimitable terroir, meant that we needed to find some way to telegraph quality, legacy, and landscape into a piece of design. 

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We chose to nod to the heritage and legacy piece with our labels—subtle foil stamping, textured paper, and more refined typographic treatments—are set against the backdrop of a more modern take on Hawaii’s lush landscape. We made an explicit choice to use pattern and color to speak to Hawaii’s terroir, and I think that led us towards something that feels unique to the region and the company. 

How did you modernize the brand while celebrating their roots? 

We focused on small choices that would convey quality. It was a central throughline to everything we did. 

Typography that hearkened to the past, a nod to Raymond’s extensive travels throughout Europe, and the place he fell in love with coffee more than 30 years ago. 

Printing processes and techniques that felt elevated and different—matte bags, a slim profile—all conveyed a more upscale, premium aesthetic. Using foil choicefully, and purposefully on the labels and tin tie. 

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We explored an opportunity to bring in a sense of humanity. Hand-stamped lot numbers helped reinforce that this is a small business crafting and creating their product by hand. 

I could go on and on. But I think the key takeaway is not that any one design decision was important, but it was about hundreds of small, intentional decisions made along the way. 

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What was the most challenging part of this project?

If you will believe this, it was our first packaging project, so there were many technical aspects to the project that we needed to learn as we went. 

In hindsight, detailed patterns on the bags made for a painstaking production process—but we were privileged to have a client who championed good design and quality at every turn, so that pushed us. This quite literally could not have been possible without working for a person who believes in design as an investment.

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Share one lesson that you learned while developing the finished product.

It really is remarkable how rich the outcome of design can be if designers get exposure to the operation itself. 

This project would not be what it is if it was a two-hour kick off with a creative brief attached. Being there—watching the ocean, seeing the sunset, standing in line at the café (yes, there is a line out the door every morning!), and visiting the farm—all helped us to better understand the company and its mission.

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Exploring Oahu's coastline with Raymond, Jaqueline, and Kona employees.

Without experiencing those things firsthand, we would have been left to Google and probably would have ended up with the same standard colors and tiki torches that almost every Hawaiian brand uses.

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