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Fat Snax’s Unapologetic Branding and Taste Appeal Make This One Smart Cookie (and Redesign)

by Kim Gaskins on 10/22/2021 | 6 Minute Read

By the early 2000s, the health industry’s long-standing war on fat had begun to wane, replaced by growing scrutiny of sugar and other refined carbohydrates. More than a decade later, fat is enjoying a veritable heyday, with more consumers than ever chanting, “bring on the butter!” In fact, the number of new products launched in the bakery category with a keto claim increased 212% globally from 2019 to 2020, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database. Sweet-toothed shoppers can now purchase a plethora of low-carb confections—from energy bars to peanut brittle to collagen-infused blondies.

Fat Snax, a keto-friendly cookie, launched in 2017—just as the low-carb revolution was reaching new heights. The brand started small, but quickly gained a following through e-commerce retailers. Like many fast-moving challenger brands, Fat Snax adopted a product-first, branding-second approach, intending to revisit its look later down the road.

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The reckoning came when Fat Snax began engaging brick-and-mortar retail partners, where competition for shelf-space is fierce and the branding benchmarks are higher. “You can sell a lot of things on Amazon but, if you look at grocery shelves now, there aren’t many winners with poor packaging. When we began talking to large retailers like Whole Foods and Sprouts, we thought, ‘Okay, now we need to start thinking seriously about a complete visual overhaul,’” said Brian Hemmert, chief marketing officer at Fat Snax.

In May 2019, Fat Snax engaged Interact, a Colorado-based branding agency, to lead its redesign initiative. Given that Fat Snax was a young brand without deeply-entrenched brand equities, the opportunities for creative exploration were considerable. “The brand name was the one piece we weren’t going to change. It stands for something from a nutritional perspective, and it’s fun and polarizing—a conversation piece. Everything else was on the table,” explained Hemmert.

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Fat Snax’s previous packaging.
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The agency had no qualms with this constraint—"Fat Snax" was distinctive and packed with personality in a competitive space dominated by jargon. “They just ignored the entire playbook and told a different story. They didn’t beat their chests and scream ‘keto’ like every other player. Their name was Fat Snax in a category filled with brands like Perfect and Paleo Factory and Keto this-and-that—all these SEO buzzwords meant to capitalize on a trend. We didn't have to try to get them to be brave or bolder than they wanted to be at the outset, and that made a big difference,” said Fred Hart, creative director and partner at Interact.

To begin, the team conducted a competitive audit of the space—which included both mainstream cookies and their healthier counterparts. “We have two kinds of competitors, the better-for-you, protein-plus-something kind of diet foods and the satisfying, Netflix-and-chill, mainstream cookie set. Historically, the former has tasted terrible, but some consumers feel they’re worth it because they deliver on certain macronutrients. The second group seemed more exciting. The primary purpose of mainstream cookies is to taste great, and we can compete on that. Instead of carbs, we’re all about the fat—and everyone knows fat makes food taste good,” said Hemmert.

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Rather than leaning into the specialty diet angle with its packaging, Fat Snax decided to take the opposite tack—appealing to a broad audience by emphasizing appetite appeal. “We wanted it to be very clear that, first and foremost, this is a cookie. It’s not some substance that’s 50% protein that just so happens to be taking the form of a cookie,” quipped Hemmert.

The brand’s decision to downplay its keto chops may seem surprising, but it was strategically savvy. Taste-centric packaging could capture mainstream cookie shoppers at the shelf while still allowing the brand to deliver targeted messaging to health-oriented consumers through digital and social channels.

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Interact completed three rounds of creative exploration, creating dozens of distinct design routes before honing in on the final concept. The broader set included everything from pop art graphics to detailed product photography to bold patterns. With each round, the team identified specific elements that spoke to them: a bold, approachable typeface, a bulls-eye pattern, and a peppy flag icon.

“One of our team members noticed something in the CEO’s email signature. He had this very subtle line at the end that said, ‘Fat yeah!’ It was nothing, just a sign-off. And as we were thinking about being unapologetic and planting our flag in the ground—maybe even waving our freak flag a little bit—that line really inspired us,” recalled Hart. An early design concept included a flag icon with this tagline, which eventually became part of the final design.

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“For the logo, we looked at very clean sans-serifs, cursive typefaces, bold and chunky—you name it. We knew we wanted something that was highly legible because the name is a big selling point. Practically speaking, if you put ‘Fat Snax’ on one line, it can only get so large. However, if you choose a more modular typeface, stacking the words on top of each other, suddenly the name can get a lot bigger,” explained Hart.

The choice of typeface had other benefits, too. Cleverly, the negative space within the “a” reveals an “i,” reinforcing the notion that one can eat fat to be fit.

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The team also decided to dispense with the transparent packaging and leverage product photography instead to drive appetite appeal. “Using photography enabled us to reliably control how the product appeared and freed up more space on the label for other things,” said Hemmert.

The switch to photography was a success: When asked which design better conveys “tastes great,” twice as many consumers selected the new design over the old one, according to a Designalytics’ evaluation. The updated packaging showed considerable communication gains on other key attributes, too, including “high-quality,” “easy to take on the go,” “satisfies a craving,” and “keeps me full.”

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In December 2019, the new design launched, contributing mightily to the brand’s success securing distribution at key brick-and-mortar retailers. “It’s clear the new packaging had a significant impact because, all of a sudden, we became a mainstay on Kroger shelves across the country and continued to win distribution elsewhere. I don’t think we ever would have seen that with the old packaging,” reflected Hemmert.

“Before, we’d talk to buyers and tell them the sales story, which was strong, and they were interested to an extent. But, then we came back with the new packaging and said, ‘Sure, we’ve got the data and everything, but just look at this thing.’ Suddenly, they started to say, ‘Okay, this can sit on my shelf. This should be next to Simple Mills and Enjoy Life. This should be a core offering in the category,’” he continued.

Unsurprisingly, these distribution wins contributed to an increase in sales velocity and volume—boosting retail sales by a whopping 94% after the new packaging hit shelves. However, even discounting distribution effects, the revamped design proved vastly more effective than the old one; for example, at Whole Foods, sales per point of distribution increased by 46%.

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When asked what made this redesign so successful, Hart—who has worked on many successful rebranding initiatives in his career—responded, “If you have a client that's willing to be brave, has a strong knowledge of retail spaces, and solid working principles such as ‘people don't read, they recognize’ and ‘challenge the category, not the consumer,’ then the stars will align.”

While there’s no cookie-cutter approach to effective design, Hart provides a critical reminder. There are principles and processes that, when combined with first-rate creative talent, reliably produce winning designs. Even little brands—maybe especially little brands—should have fat ambitions when it comes to design-driven growth.

For the data-minded, Designalytics’ report for Fat Snax’s redesign is available here.

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