Unboxing Tomorrow: Dieline’s 2023 Trend Report
by The Dieline on 12/14/2022 | 45 Minute Read
So, here’s the thing. We look at a lot of packaging design—a lot. This year, we published over 1,700 pieces, a wide-ranging collection of interviews, features, news items, editorials, and packaging projects.
And that’s just the stuff that gets published.
Take an infinite scroll back through the year, and a detailed story about the packaging space would start to unfold—you’d be in the know about the designers and agencies you need to follow on Instagram and Behance, the innovative packaging substrates that could potentially become a single-use plastic killer, or what start-up brands everyone is fiending over.
But trends? Trends are hard.
You’re taking your best, educated guess at what the future holds, and while every designer will tell you that they detest trends, they will happily gobble up a few thousand words on the topic because it’s fun. Who doesn’t want to play Miss Cleo and tell you about the next thing in design? And, if you truly refuse to abide by all of the latest trends, well then maybe you should pull a chair up and read on just so you know what to avoid.
Of course, part of the problem with forecasting packaging trends is that packaging touches so many things. Yes, we’re talking about design, but you also can’t explore packaging without discussing branding and sustainability. And while we’ve covered these topics in past trend reports, this year, it made sense to break it down into those three distinct categories—package design, branding, and sustainability—because the space demands that you take a closer look at these three categories.
Oh, and did we mention there are 27 trends? That’s right. It’s Dieline’s biggest trend report yet.
So strap in, folks. We’re going to cover a lot of ground. From cozy redesigns and head-scratching brand collabs to YouTuber brands and making powdered everything, we’re breaking down what 2023 has in store for the world of package design, branding, and material innovation. And, yes, there will even be mushrooms (again).
In 2008 Starbucks promised consumers that they would develop a recyclable cup by 2015. Of course, that never happened, and while they have trialed reusables and plastic-free cups and incentivized customers to use their own refillable tumblers, back in 2015, they made another announcement saying that now they will phase out single-serve cups by 2025.
A quick Google search of Dieline and 2025 will show you even more far-fetched promises from brands that know more about moving the goalposts than disrupting their supply chain and innovating with plastic-free materials.
You might even start to think that brands are waving the white flag—Coca-Cola claims they want to collect a bottle for every one they sell, and that they’ll use more recycled content, while STILL using virgin plastic. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo could tell you tomorrow that they’re never going to sell a beverage in plastic again, that they’re going to shift entirely to aluminum cans, but you and I both know that’s never going to happen.
So, is this a trend? We guess it is, and we’re guessing it’s a trend of sadness. The fact is, you can’t trust many of the major CPG players to get this right, particularly when it feels like they can't be transparent about the goals and benchmarks they set for themselves. Regardless, brands need to be held accountable for the waste they create and distribute.
If we’re looking for sustainable answers and innovation from the major CPG players, we might need to start looking elsewhere.
Open Source Sustainability
Where do we draw the line between profit and progress? While we understand that companies have to look out for the bottom line, when it comes to sustainability—particularly with single-use plastic waste—we’re dealing with an issue that affects the entire world in the immediate future. If companies and brands don’t band together and share their sustainability discoveries, we risk advancement in this space happening at a much slower rate than if knowledge is openly shared.
And that’s why we’re excited to see more open-sourced sustainability initiatives in the packaging industry.
Colgate developed recyclable toothpaste tubes and has made the design information accessible to anyone, royalty-free. Guacamole Airplane, a design studio focusing on sustainable packaging, lists their supplier guide online “to inform and encourage brands beyond our client base to work toward better packaging solutions.” The same can be said for PlasticFree. Built "by creatives, for creatives," this army of material scientists and innovative dreamers work to solve the single-use plastic crisis by sharing proven circular systems alongside material change and creating a veritable library of inspiration. Because Ecovative open-sources some of their information, companies like Magical Mushroom Company can exist and further push the boundaries of what is possible in eco-friendly packaging design.
By open-sourcing materials or information, processes and products can essentially be double-checked by a different party. Knowledge from one discovery can also get used to further other research and other research beyond that. The phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” couldn’t be more fitting—and when it comes to the future of Mother Earth, shouldn’t we all be in this together?
Sustainable From The Start
There are a lot of considerations when starting a new company. Aside from developing a product, raising money, hiring, designing a visual identity, and so much more, many consumers expect a new brand to have some sustainability bonafides.
We’re seeing many new companies put sustainability at the top of the list and develop the entire enterprise in a way that creates the smallest ecological footprint. That has inspired clever designs and solutions requiring no compromises for the planet.
Babies go through a lot of stuff. Unfortunately, that means a lot of plastic. Juno makes bassinets from organic materials, including durable cardboard components and cotton mats (the shipping box also serves as a portable carrying case). Woolybubs makes infant shoes from a material that safely dissolves in boiling water. The kicks are durable enough for a new human but also break down easily; even if the Woolybubs don't get boiled, they will biodegrade. Instead of shipping a box inside another box, Woolybub’s packaging, made from 100% recycled materials, serves as packaging and shipper.
But there are plenty of obvious ways to achieve this. Are you making a hip nootropic wellness beverage or a mushroom-powered energy drink? Well, why would you use plastic, to begin with?
Before Liquid Death, Brita was one of the original plastic bottle killers. The brand recently expanded into the RTD space and built on the sustainability of its home products with premium water in aluminum bottles.
It’s easy to take cheap shots against companies using materials like plastic. But it’s more challenging for an established brand to upend its supply chain to be more sustainable. That’s no license to continue using plastic, and brands should be held accountable for their progress (or lack thereof) on sustainable packaging. But let's face it—if you’re a new brand, it will always be easier to start with sustainability and stick to it than to course correct down the road.
Mighty Mycelium Is the New Fun Guy On the Block
As the search for plastic alternatives continues, many look to nature for inspiration. By using organic substrates, brands reduce their dependence on petroleum and synthetic materials like plastic. But they also create single-use packaging that degrades in nature instead of festering forever in our waterways, in sea life, and inside human bodies.
Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), Styrofoam, is a handy type of plastic. It’s lightweight and can be formed into suitable shapes to protect fragile products in shipping. But it's also next to impossible to recycle, and it's particularly awful when it hits waterways as it floats and erodes quickly, turning into ingestable pieces.
Mycelium-based substrates like Ecovative provide a sustainable alternative to materials like EPS. In 2022, we also saw Adidas and Mr. Bailey use a mycelium-based substrate from Magical Mushroom Company to make the box for their OZULENT sneaker collab. Candle packaging is a great use case for mycelium-based substrates. Like EPS, materials made using mycelium can be custom formed into light, rigid forms, but these fungus-based blocks naturally decompose. Personal care brand Haeckles also uses mycelium-based materials to protect its candles.
Life Element’s CBD bath bombs come packaged using compostable materials; the outer sleeve is paper and surrounds a heat-treated mycelium-based, 2-piece box that protects the fragile bath bombs from moisture and impacts, which would ruin the product.
Replacing EPS with a compostable, organic alternative like mushroom packaging is genuine progress, and we can look forward to seeing more brands take up the 'shroom.
Materials of the Future
We’ve always been material nerds. If there’s something completely insane you can utilize for packaging, we’re here for it.
Material innovation is fast becoming the name of the game when it comes to sustainability, particularly when the world’s most iconic and recognizable beverage maker is shooting for 50% recycled plastic in all of their packaging by 2030—that’s not going to cut it. More than ever, we need viable solutions and genuine, scalable alternatives for single-use plastic.
Luxe personal care brand Haeckels underwent a refresh this past year and started using compostable jars and tubes made from a biopolymer that's essentially fish food called Vivomer. Companies like Newlight Technologies are capturing carbon emissions and creating new kinds of biodegradable plastics that can break down in water or on land—there’s even a company taking air pollution and making inks with it, similar to how Johnnie Walker and Bulletproofdid this past year. And let's not forget beeswax, carrot pomace, coffee grounds, potato waste, and seaweed materials. If you really want full circularity, it helps if you’re using non-synthetic materials. Duh.
Of course, all those things take time—no one is saying waste-free packaging will happen overnight (though it would be nice if brands were a skosh more committed to making it happen). But it’s OK to get excited about what the future holds. Next thing you know they’ll be making packaging out of pineapples.
Oh, wait, they can already do that.
Bursting the Plastic Bubble
Clear windows, plastic bubbles, clamshells.
It's the dreaded plastic packaging decision we see in everything from pasta to collectible toys, the reasoning of which has always been sound as it allows shoppers to inspect the product. In the case of premium toys, the transparent window or bubble lets collectors protect and display their items.
But pressure, legal or self-imposed, has companies redesigning packaging by omitting those plastic bits. Toy maker Hasbro aims to eliminate nearly all plastic from its packaging by the end of 2022. Packaging for all 6-inch figures will now come in cardboard boxes with “highly detailed artwork” instead of the actual figure (though the toymaker will continue to use blister packs for its retro and vintage 3.75-inch collectibles).
As part of its 145th anniversary, Barilla turned to agency Robilant for a brand refresh, which included replacing plastic windows with eye-catching pasta illustrations in European markets.
Pasta packaging doesn’t need plastic windows to be attractive and win over consumers—we all know what spaghetti looks like by now. This year we saw Lupii launch a line of lupine-based pasta with packaging design by Gander that wows through great typography and food photography, with no plastic windows required. Makaria is a pasta brand that does more than remove plastic windows. Alvardo Design and Clara Vendrell's concept uses upcycled wheat waste to create molded fiber packaging. The two-piece boxes are biodegradable and feature striking illustrations of pasta.
There will be industries where removing plastic packaging features like transparent windows and bubbles will meet consumer pushback, such as collectible toys. The transition to plastic-free packaging means big changes to the toy-collecting hobby. But the only ones crying foul are adults, not kids, and keeping grown-ass people devoted to amassing action figures appeased at the expense of more plastic is perhaps one of the most wasteful uses of the planet-choking material.
Refillable & Fabulous: The Best of Both Worlds
We know the mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. In a world where sustainability is taking center stage, packaging that puts Reuse to good use has flourished. Gorgeous and refillable packs give consumers the best of both worlds—aesthetics and eco-friendliness.
Consumers increasingly report they want to buy brands that embrace a purpose and champion sustainability, and refillable packaging satisfies today’s eco-conscious consumers. Loop was a big player that came onto the scene in 2019, offering food, beauty products, and household essentials from well-loved brands like Herbal Essences and Häagen-Dazs, all in reusable packaging. In recent years Unilever has set up refillable shampoo stations in select Walmart locations in Mexico and for other personal care at Target locations in the U.S. While demand for refillable items exists, though, actual consumer behavior may reflect a lower usage rate.
This intersection of pretty packaging and sustainability is where brands can put more energy into improving that rate. Haeckels not only offers a discount for customers who want to refill their body care items, but the packaging gets made from Vivomer, a bio-polymer that’s both industrial and home-compostable. Meanwhile, deodorant brand Bite makes reusable containers a thing of luxury. Refillables have touched other industries, too, including healthcare, with sleek medicine bottles from Cabinet Health.
It’s helpful to remember that Reduce, Reuse, Recycle gets listed in that order for a reason. Recycling is a last resort, especially since only 5% of plastic waste gets recycled in the U.S. Aside from getting consumers to become more aware of what they use, encouraging them to reuse what they can is one of the best ways to battle the planet’s single-use epidemic.
Powder To The People
If there’s one CPG product that’s tied to the space program, it’s Tang. NASA engineers quickly realized that injecting water into a pouch filled with the flavored powder made for an efficient, non-messy way of keeping astronauts hydrated, even if Buzz Aldrin thought Tang sucked.
But there’s a lesson that we can learn from that flavored orange beverage—add water, stir, and maybe we can rid ourselves of plastic waste. And not just powdered drinks. We mean powdered everything.
Brands love to moan about how hard it is to go sustainable, but one of the best-kept secrets in reducing your carbon (and packaging) footprint is to remove the water from your product. After all, how much water constitutes some of the products we love? Ketchup, for instance, is about 70% water. But if you buy AWSM Sauce, a line of powdered condiments, you skip out on the plastic bottle and get a pouch of deliciously flavored powder you add water to in your own jar. It’s that easy AND tasty. There are also smoothies and fizzy drinks in Alka Seltzer form.
Powdered products aren’t anything new, but consumers are catching on to the fact that when you ship products, often you're just shipping around a lot of H2O that you can provide yourself. It’s coming for your bathroom as well. Blueland was already doing this with cleaning products, but they’ve since expanded into skincare. Want powdered shampoo and conditioner? Try Meow Meow Tweet. And, if you ever long for the suds of your youth, Mr. Bubble will always have your back.
So take note young brands—be like Tang. Just add your own water.
Literally “Literal” Typefaces
Proprietary typefaces have been all the rage for years. So long as they exist as another line for an agency’s invoice to a client, they’re likely not going anywhere anytime soon, even if they look like Helvetica knockoffs straight out of Canal Street.
Recently, some agencies have taken direct inspiration from the brands themselves, incorporating some of their notable attributes and characteristics into bespoke typefaces. Sure, it’s not uncommon to see some thematic details worked into a logo, but some brands are willing to take it further.
There’s no better example than JKR’s refresh for Kraft Mac & Cheese. Dubbed Blue Box Sans, the shape of Kraft’s noodles makes its way into the typeface and has an over-the-top—but adorable—macaroni-powered shelf presence. Auge’s redesign for Leibniz-Kek takes the rounded edges of the biscuits themselves, applying them to the customized logo and type used throughout the project. Casey Roarty’s design for chili oil Gulp takes the oily drips from the logo and works it into other parts of the branding suite and typography, while Collected Works’ Slug Club uses sea slugs to form the letter shapes for a funky, fun kombucha.
Quirky, imaginative letterforms are all the rage, boldly-shaped formations that break from the stranglehold of Helvetica and Futura. Look for more thematically on-point typefaces that express a brand’s individuality and add a little more pizzazz in the process.
Some of this year’s most striking wordmarks kept things straightforward, but that doesn’t mean brands sacrificed cleverness for the sake of minimalism. These wordmarks say more with less and beg you to read between the lines.
Facile, for example, has a crisp and colorful design, but the word itself, facile, is Italian for easy or simple. Bath Bomb is just that, but the fun, squiggly font mimics the fizziness of the product when it’s dropped in water. Neat keeps things clean, quite literally, with a design that works perfectly with their personal care and home cleaning products. And if you like greenery in your home—ahem, of the cannabis variety—then Houseplant has you covered for all the sophisticated paraphernalia your heart could desire.
That we get bombarded with four thousand marketing messages on the daily makes a no-nonsense brand name a bit of a mental relief. But the surprise and delight that comes when realizing there are hidden layers underneath connect consumers to the brand in a significantly more meaningful way.
Give us the vibes and nothing but the vibes.
You know all about travel through packaging as discussed in last year’s Trend Report. Now brands are all about gentle nods toward destinations and other cultures—enough to evoke the feelings of a place but not enough to look like tourism board-approved swag at a souvenir shop. Think of these designs as going to your friend’s house and having a cocktail while they show you a slideshow of their best Greek island vacation photos. Instead of beachy sunsets and palm trees, it's all about textures, patterns, and design motifs that celebrate a destination's culture.
Take Harry Styles’ beauty line, Pleasing, which looks almost as good as a holiday on the Mediterranean with its cobalt blue and sun-drenched yellow hues. Sonoran Desert-inspired Parch uses adorable desert illustrations paired with a Southwestern US and Mexican design-inspired layout. Whole Foods’ exclusive bourbon whiskey Rustic River features a Kentucky waterfall in the background of the label—not any one waterfall in particular but one that’s representative of what it feels like to explore and find one in the wilds of the state.
Brands and individuals fear the ominous cancel culture, but at the same time, consumers crave something simple and feel-good after life got turned upside down by COVID. Packaging that gives us pure vibes is satisfying yet flexible—something that fits into our lives rather than forcing it the other way around. These designs may not be the most groundbreaking, but they do harken back to distinct cultures in a non-offensive way, and are comforting and fun in their own right.
Welcome to impossible fantasy worlds.
Brands are creating surreal designs and turning their packaging into a vibrant canvas with collage techniques. Besides, who doesn’t like playing around with a little Mod Podge and some old magazines (or at least pretending on Illustrator and PhotoShop)?
Mad Lemon’s kitchen sink aesthetic radiates with psychedelic-tinged images for their lemonade-based cocktails, while Magia Negra brings a soothing ethereal vibe to their coffee liquor bottle. Kilinga’s bacanora packaging from Colangelo and Algoritmo Design spices things up with a label featuring a collage of desert flora interweaved with portions of the female form. The punk rock-inspired Tank Garage Winery has been doing this for years but most recently created a mystical image of a woman wearing a helmet made of crystals for their crystal-fermented wine.
Liquor brands have been doing this for ages, but it’s interesting to see how other brands outside of that category experiment with the technique/aesthetic. Day Job made the “chuegyest shit” you’ve ever seen for sustainable bottled water brand Gen Z Water by utilizing 90s-styled computer graphics featuring seals puking waterfalls and orangutans resting on boom boxes. ToiletPaper Magazine also released a beauty and cleaning line with surrealist graphics and a bizarre POV—retro images of spaghetti on dish soap? Let’s do it.
Bottom line—it’s OK for brands to get a little weird! After years of primped and preened visual identities and blanding, brands are still getting out of their comfort zone and giving consumers something extra. Frankly, it’s a welcome sight.
So get out those scissors and glue sticks, kids. Channel your inner Bob Pollard.
I Still Love the Old World
We’re all drowning in the aesthetics of yesteryear. For every significant brand redesign, it feels like designers look to the archives and bring back retro elements, just “refined.” But why try to emulate the 70s, 80s, 90s, or—heaven forbid—the early aughts when you can look back even further to the Old World?
Blink and you might miss it, but brands are going back to basics with elements of classical design, whether it’s inspiration from Greek gods and goddesses, Art Nouveau flourishes, or Renaissance-leaning looks. This past year, Botticelli-esque nudes grace OLDKNOW’s spiked seltzer cans, while the silhouette of Cere, the Greek goddess of agriculture, dominates Ceria’s non-alcoholic beers. Royal Salute is a blended Scotch whiskey fit for royalty, and Le Leccia’s olive oil is the very definition of sophistication.
Not only is there something lush and gentle about those designs, but the familiar classic looks add a touch of elegance. And maybe—just maybe—it’s giving cottage core, coastal grandma vibes? Who says you can't class up the joint anyway?
An emoji is worth a thousand words. Case in point: you can text your best friend a string of smileys, and they’ll understand exactly what you mean, no words needed. Sure, some may claim peoples’ attention spans have shrunk, but perhaps we’re just using modern-day hieroglyphs. Either way, stickers communicate something quickly in a way that all those wordy words cannot.
Brands are leaning more and more into the quirky, playful appearance that stickers can give—a mishmash of thoughts and ideas that’s reminiscent of Lisa Frank’s zany illustrations or middle school math class where you’d decorate your favorite notebook with doodles and actual stickers.
Glonuts and Henry Mantecas use stickers to bring the consumer’s attention to valuable product information, like the flavor, carb content, or the type of ingredients. In the case of Crema Colada, the graphic stickers look just like ones you’d find on fruit in the produce section—an adorable approach for a drink with pineapple and coconut flavors. GoodPop and the Fishwife and Fly by Jing collab use a combo of sticker-like graphics that reflect the product itself, but they also add a sense of joy and playfulness. Stickers can also get incorporated as part of secondary branding or assets, like with the heating sleeve of Hot Pockets or snack brand Toodaloo.
Thanks to emojis, memojis, GIFs, and photo and video social media apps, visual imagery has become a common way to communicate with others. At first glance, it might appear chaotic, but the designs harness an addictive, youthful energy with a method to its madness.
NFT Creatures From Beyond
Since we started googling “what’s an NFT” in 2021, we’re now witnessing brands bring the cartoon aesthetic that has dominated much of the space. Yes, we’re all bored of bored apes, and they have most likely worn out their welcome. But brands are still bringing adorable, anthropomorphic characters to their packaging, particularly in the beverage world.
Often, these cartoony personalities serve a dual purpose—sure, they’re fun and lively, but if you create a few thousand of them and sell them as NFTs, they can help a startup raise capital and drum-up interest. Functional beverage Leisure, for instance, created over 4,500 “leisure creatures,” inviting folks to fork over cash (er, ether) and get community perks like suggesting new flavors or accessing “partner experiences” (but, let's be honest here, mostly to get their money to fill their coffers).
But even beyond these Web3 beverages, plenty of brands deploy cartoony mascots. Companies like Jibby, Fillo’s, and Yummos have trotted out adorable, fun characters to win over consumers as they help build the brand’s personality and give them a playful boost. What’s more, they can become a natural extension of a brand’s identity, something beyond just a wordmark or logo. If you think of Coca-Cola’s brand world, it’s more than just an iconic logo and memorable glass bottle—frolicking polar bears are just as synonymous with the brand.
Mascots and cutesy figures are nothing new, and it’s not necessarily a surprise to see such a renewed interest in them—after all, they humanize a brand and help make it more approachable. We just didn’t think there would be so many.
But, hey. There’s merch that needs selling, guys.
The Comfy Redesign
The current economic outlook is cloudy. Inflation has hit consumers with rising prices on practically everything. As expenses balloon and stress over making ends meet collide, folks are looking towards their old, budget-friendly brand favorites to stretch paychecks and fill up on yummy, carb-loaded classics.
This year, we saw several brands that fit the bill go through refreshes that highlight the warm and familiar comfort of their offerings. The JKR refresh of Kraft’s Mac & Cheese retains the soothing blue and oozy yellow in a flattened design that includes a bespoke typeface inspired by the rounded curves of elbow pasta. Moreover, JKR’s Kraft refresh adds a prominent place for the satisfying drip that comes off a spoonful of macaroni and cheese.
Nestlé-owned Hot Pockets is another comfort brand that underwent a refresh in this Not-A-Recession year. Hot Pockets is the kind of frozen food that isn’t winning many culinary accolades, but it hits the right flavor notes, for the right audience for not a lot of coin. The brand turned to the agency Interact to create a new brand identity that plays to Hot Pocket’s strengths by leaning into its munchies legacy through a dynamic, comics-like graphic system that’s fun and relatable.
There’s also less cash for eating out these days, and many of us are more comfortable in our kitchens after spending the last couple of years at home anyway. Within this reality, cookware stalwart Pyrex recently turned to Pearlfisher to refresh the brand to encourage consumers to cook at home, even if every dish isn’t Insta-worthy. The illustrations have a homey look with varying widths and patterns seemingly drawn by a Sharpie marker that's both clever and confidence-boosting.
The latest global economic outlook report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sees a continued slowdown in the world economy, citing inflation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and lingering effects of the pandemic as reasons for the weakest slowdown profile since 2001, save for the 2008 financial crisis and the most acute period of COVID.
Get ready for more wallet-friendly brands to undergo refreshes as consumers turn to them for some comfort in these trying times.
Whether you lived through the Age of Aquarius or just really, really wish you did, packaging design inspired by psychedelia is giving us a trip through the 60s and 70s. Psychedelic art flourished during this age when drugs like magic mushrooms and LSD were popular. Plus, it was an era of free love, man!
This instantly recognizable aesthetic—band posters with bubbly, almost amorphous letters, dreamy depictions of animals like peacocks, and humans with luscious, flowing hair—pulled a lot of influence from Art Nouveau. This “new art” came about during the late 1800s and early 1900s, a time of technological change, so artists wanted to highlight the beauty and vibrancy of life in response. Their work incorporated plants and flowers, abstract lines and shapes, elegant figures living their best life, and juicy color palettes.
Today, we’re going through unbridled change, just like society was back in the Psychedelic 60s. Between political strife, racism, and war, these far-out designs remind us of the beauty in life. We’re seeing a resurgence of this design with heaps of trippy typography, including Crooked Coffee and Alive. Other brands like Mad Lemon and wine from Pedro Ximenez give us divine visuals with punchy color palettes.
As we look ahead, we can first take a gander back to see that Art Nouveau was followed by Art Deco. Perhaps we’ll soon enter an era of more angles and symmetry—but for now, we really dig the groovy vibes of this trend.
Unconventional Brand Collabs
In an age of fast-moving social media, brands have teamed up to capture the world’s attention for a day. Every week, there's a new publicity stunt that's more creative—and unhinged—than the last.
Some brand mashups make sense. A Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola RTD cocktail? A natural fit. But this year, we witnessed some mashups that are more unconventional.
In 2022, we saw Mondelez team up its brands Ritz and Oreo to create a new, salty-and-sweet snack that combines both and sparked plenty of conversation. Hipster favorite Milk Bar recently collaborated with Fruit of the Loom for a modern holiday collection. Earlier this year, pancake purveyors IHOP and Pepsi released a viral collab that mixed maple syrup with cola. Finally, beauty brand HipDot and instant ramen legend Cup Noodles worked together on a makeup collection inspired by the noodle snack. What about adults-only Happy Meals from McDonald's and Cactus Plant Flea Market, and are you brave enough to try French's Mustard Dough Doughnuts?
There seem to be no signs of unexpected brand collaboration, and we expect to see more brands band together to create limited-edition products that sell out before you get a chance at one. That said, we probably don’t need another 4Loko and Fleshlight collab.
Eat The Rich
The planet is boiling and buried in plastic. Still, the world’s billionaires—say, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos—are spending truckloads of money on colonizing new planets, creating virtual metaverses instead of fixing the home we have now, or union-busting. The Kardashians use 300,000 gallons of water in the summer; meanwhile, California asks everyone else to conserve throughout neverending drought conditions.
The resentment towards the 1% is genuine, with research from Pew showing roughly 3-in-10 Americans feel billionaires are worse for the country. You can even find it in the movies with the likes of The Menu and Triangle of Sadness.
Brands and agencies are taking that populist attitude towards the wealthy and adding a dose of playfulness.
Velveeta, for example, has positioned itself as a luxurious and opulent product, a play on years of being considered low-brow and “fake cheese.” In this Not-A-Recession, cheesy, gooey, warm Velveeta sauce drizzled over humble food is about as close as the hoi polloi will get to a Michelin-starred meal. Are they pouring on the satire with its La Dolce Velveeta campaign? Do we really even want a cheesy martini?
Art collective MSCHF poked fun at the billionaire uber-class with a set of frozen treats on a stick that resembled the likes of Bezos, Musk, Zuckerberg, and Gates. Similar to ice cream snacks with faces from our favorite superhero and cartoon franchises, the treats remind one that while we want to eat the rich, we also keep using their products. We can’t escape the ultra-wealthy, but thanks to MSCHF, we got to live philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s words as a tasty frozen snack.
Investment advisor firm Vanguard forecasts that global markets, except China, will continue to be affected by inflationary and supply-chain pressures, with an increase in unemployment. There’s little reason to believe that negative sentiment toward billionaires will suddenly turn positive in a sustained down economy.
Updated Delivery Systems
We love it when brands take nearly forgotten product delivery systems of the past and update them in new, fun ways for consumers.
TakePzaz and its Binaca roots—instead of doling out fresh breath, they spray misted energy down your throat. Or considerPlink and those Alka Seltzer vibes. Just drop one of these tablets in your drink, and you’re not only being eco-conscious, but you’re getting a tasty, fizzy beverage without the single-use plastic bottle.
The humble whipped cream can is for more than just topping off a slice of pie now. Sure, our former middle school self stans an Easy Cheese nozzle shot, but what if you could put ranch or blue cheese dressing in one of those cans for a more decorative ??hors d'oeuvre presentation. And what about sunscreen? Because that’s just what the retro-fantastic luxury sunscreen brand Vacation just did.
Products like these have a nostalgic kick built into their design, and using packaging that typically has another more well-established use, gives consumers something to jaw about online and create silly TikTok Videos.
So what’s next? Body wash in soda cans? Cannabis in sardine tins? What about butter in a Magic 8 Ball?
All signs point to yes.
Year of the Designated Driver
No alcohol, no problem.
We’ve reported before on the rise of non-alcoholic booze, but 2022 took it to the next level. Due to the desire for a healthier lifestyle and the sheer cost of alcoholic beverages, drinking rates have declined worldwide since 2000. Furthermore, as a result of the pandemic, drinking did increase, but the number of people drinking alcohol actually decreased. In tandem, we’ve seen plenty more low- and no-alcohol options pop up, meaning no one even misses that ABV.
Still, Americans turned to the bottle to deal with pandemic-related stress, and plenty of us needed a break.
Canned mocktails were a hit this summer, with designs ranging from folklore-inspired Wild Folk to RuPaul's delightfully retro House of Love. Non-alcoholic aperitif Figlia is no-nonsense and sophisticated, reflecting the drink’s “all-natural ingredients, no added sugars, no preservatives, no pressure.” Surely also goes for simplicity, giving us a classy wordmark and minimalist approach. Meanwhile, Amplify looks like a gorgeous piece of abstract art, giving consumers a feast for the eyes and an array of refreshing tasting notes.
With these beverages, consumers can enjoy unique flavor profiles and creative ingredient combinations in the same way someone might admire a lovely French cabernet or a finely crafted cocktail. They’re not hiding that they lack alcohol, although they may play up the appeal of a night out experience. Since these low- and no-alcohol options have become more prominent, we’re naturally getting the same innovative and stunning packaging design that we’ve seen for years in the wine and spirits space.
DTC Now Includes IRL
For the last few years, nearly every Consumer Packaged Good (CPG) startup launched as Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) stans. Who needs Big Box Retail when you can reach your target consumers online without spending all that money and effort to land on a Target shelf?
Startups now understand that you can't ignore a physical presence. Brands might launch with a DTC play, but many are now chasing retail sooner than they might have as recently as a year or two ago. Retail isn’t just landing in Walmart or Target; it also means regional distribution deals with supermarkets like Whole Foods, Erewhon, and Gelson’s.
New digital commerce platforms like GoPuff and Foxtrot can bridge the gap between the costs and friction of DTC and retail. Consumers not only turn to services like GoPuff for convenient delivery of snacks and booze, but these apps keep customers coming back to discover new products, like Good Eat’n. The conventional path to big retail is no longer the only IRL path for emerging brands—pop-up stores like Pop Up Grocer are becoming destinations for adventurous consumers looking for the newest products.
“The middleman has become more of an ally as opposed to an obstacle,” says Andrea Hernández, snack trendspotter and founder of Snaxshot. “Pop-Up Grocer is just starting their first headquarters but has had an impact already as a validation for brands. Stores like Pop-Up Grocer, Foxtrot, and independent grocers likeMonsoon Market, have become beacons of what's cool, trendy, and new.”
“I do think we're starting to see a redemption arc for the middleman,” Andrea added.
Mushroom Hype Is Real—No Cap.
Riding the alt-meat trend, mushrooms are popping up as the base for plant-based proteins like Meati, which promises animal-free alternatives to popular meats like steak and whose drops sell out fast. In the snack food aisle, we saw the debut of Popadelics, a mushroom-based, vacuum-fried, better-for-you vegan crisp. The branding and packaging, by agency Freshmade, incorporate psychedelic graphics as a nod to mild-altering fungi like psilocybin (Popadelics won’t get you high, though).
The decriminalization of psychedelic mushrooms has perhaps nudged interest in fungi with purported positive effects on health and well-being, as they have proven helpful in treating depression and PTSD. But totally legal mushrooms like chaga, lion’s mane, reishi, and cordyceps get used in brewed teas and coffees from brands such as North Spore and Inlands Mushroom Coffee. This year, RTD kombucha brand Rowdy Mermaid expanded with a line of sparkling “clarity tonics” featuring lion’s mane.
So as the fungus among us continues to sprout up in pop culture, packaging, and the grocery aisle, be on the lookout for those functional friends, as the market can expect even more growth.
Smash that like button and order some burgers.
Celebrities parlaying their fame and fortune into new brands and business ventures are nothing new. What’s unique is the rise of brands helmed by online streamers and content creators that your kids spend hours watching on Twitch, YouTube, and TikTok.
In 2020, YouTube sensation Mr. Beast successfully launched MrBeast Burger, a chain of virtual, delivery-only restaurants that continues to expand nationally, including the recent grand opening of a non-virtual location that drew 10,000 fans. Early in 2022, content creators Logan Paul and KSI launched Prime, a line of hydration drinks initially sold via heavily hyped drops that sold out quickly. Now you can score Prime at retailers like GNC, Walmart, and ASDA.
Betches is a female-led media giant with a community of 45 million that rose to prominence thanks to its ability to leverage social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. The female-focused social media giant took what it knew about its followers to develop an RTD cocktail line in partnership with Gallo called Faux Pas with bright, approachable branding and packaging.
Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight have amassed nearly 7 million subscribers on YouTube with their vlog-style videos. The twins recently launched itk (“in the know”), a skincare line, as a Walmart exclusive this year. Focused on simplicity, affordability, and transparency, itk leverages the direct feedback of Brooklyn and Bailey’s millions of subscribers and followers.
Fans of new media stars respond to the sense of authenticity these creators present to their audience. Online platforms allow fans and celebrities to engage directly with each other, and the current crop of social media stars are digital natives that best understand what it means to be famous in the age of content creators because it’s what we have always known.
When Beyond and Impossible came onto the scene in the 2010s, they brought a product so meat-like in texture, taste, smell, and appearance that my little vegetarian heart could hardly handle it. Over time, these brands won consumers over, offering an option to lessen or eliminate meat consumption—something better for health, better for the environment, and better (or at least different) than the Morningstar Farms brand that seemed to long dominate the veggie meat section.
Nearly one in four in the U.S. report cutting back on meat, and the number of people in the country dedicated to plant-based diets has surpassed 9.7 million. With growing numbers and interest, brands can experiment more with ingredients, flavors, and packaging.
Simulate leans into the forward-thinking, lab-created aspect of their products, while Prime Roots will make you look twice because their packs look like they come straight from the deli. Nowadays, Mantra, and Meati lean into taste appeal. Peas of Heaven has an elegant, downright divine look, Nuaqui looks hip and modern, and Carrot Dog is fun and playful. And these are strictly plant-based meats—other plant-based brands like Camp do nostalgically premium packaging, while Wholly Veggie uses a punchy color palette and bubble letters that pop on the shelf.
The bottom line? When it comes to designing plant-based products, anything is fair game.
It’s one thing to treat yo’self to a big-ticket item, but 2022 proved that anything and everything feels a little bit luxe. After all, we spent much of 2020 and 2021 social distancing and stuck at home, so it makes sense we’d want to look at things that actually look nice. If you’re not able to engage in pricier revenge spending, then this everyday luxury for the most common of items proves that even in the face of an economic downfall, it’s possible—nay, necessary—to indulge.
Elegant lighters for lighting fancy candles. A delightfully designed cheese that transforms the dairy compartment of your fridge into a thing of beauty. Feminine hygiene products that make menstruating a little less painful. A gorgeous, refillable deodorant stick to turn those armpits into a rose garden. Chic dog food packs for our furry BFFs. The ordinary becomes extraordinary.
It’s no news that we’re heading into another recession, battling epic inflation, and floating along a sea of stagnant wages. Consumers will continue to look for products they interact with daily to boost their serotonin, even just a little, and design can play a part. For the near future, at least, it might be the only way folks can genuinely splurge
Welcome to the next generation of hydration.
Long the domain of uber triathletes and gridiron gods, the Gatorades, Powerades, and Vitamin Waters of the world have asserted their sports supremacy for decades, resulting in a visual aesthetic built on athletic extremes and performance enhancement of the non-steroidal variety.
But it’s also fair to say that the category has not only grown tired but that our idea of what a “sports beverage” is might be changing. Athletics no longer just constitute sportsballs and their ilk—there’s gaming and hiking, two opposite ends of the spectrum, sure, but they also point to a new generation of thirst-quenchers. Nootropic beverage brand Local Weather’s entire ethos stems from this central idea—that we need to consider movement and the mind when replacing electrolytes. That means basketball, yes, but it could also mean TikTok dances, a day-long DnD fest, chess, rollerskating, or painting.
Beverages like Courtside and Almighty Active have an endearing, preppy shine and wouldn’t seem out of place at the US Open, even if their vibe is more local pickleball league. Yes, some of these drinks come loaded with caffeine or electrolytes, but there’s less emphasis on performance and more focus on fun, casual hangs where you might break a sweat.
Sports beverages share some DNA with the energy drink sector, but some of these drinks are making a play for an evolving audience, too. Juvee offers “rejuvenating energy” with a decidedly non-aggressive Monster shine (and a more curated 7-Eleven cooler mainstay). Madrinas Coffee is a caffeinated powdered beverage made specifically FOR gamers that promise improved performance but with flavor illustrations that are definitely not Gatorade lightning bolts.
And do we have a Gym Weed (er, “hemp extract”) now? Yes, there’s even a Gym Weed.
So whether you’re hounding beasties in a dungeon crawl, entering a cornhole competition, or chasing your personal best marathon time, there’s a beverage for you.
Trend Report by: Theresa Christine, Bill McCool, & Rudy Sanchez