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Wasted To Wanted: How To Brand Unlikely Snacking Alternatives

by Nick Dormon on 05/30/2022 | 5 Minute Read

Lots of folks say that we eat first with our eyes. 

We can't underestimate the multi-sensory hedonistic attitude we have about food and the way it's presented. Food has a multi-dimensional role in society. From sparking our senses to its social function, we don’t just experience food from its taste, texture, and the setting in which we eat—we also make choices that we believe are beneficial to our health and our world. 

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Unlikely Alternatives

Climate change threatens our food systems. We know less meat is better, yet we struggle to adapt to these necessary changes. Purpose-led propositions have created a new generation of culinary custodians. Driven by eco-anxiety, we seek unconventional ways to reduce our "foodie" footprint. That means exploring previously unimaginable ingredients to satisfy our snacking needs, from insects to jellyfish.

But with our innate resistance to change and the unfamiliar, we will increasingly need to rely on branding and design to repackage alternative foods for taste appeal. It must allure and entice the fastidious and squeamish if you want to impact the mass market and effect positive, meaningful change. We must urgently harness the power of branding to change our perceptions of alternative foods and innovate ourselves out of this crisis.

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Bold Brand Messaging

 

Packaging plays a vital role in the success of a product. Brand visuals can stimulate hunger—or loss of it. For products to achieve cut-through, it’s critical to create design that commands attention and drives desire, if not curiosity and intrigue, to encourage trial. Never will this be more important than in alternative foods where we must disarm the propensity for our "disgust responses" getting triggered.

Take DUG, a potato milk alternative launched earlier this year, making waves in the alt-milk market. Its deep colors and swirling design alludes to a luxurious, velveteen creaminess that subverts a less than palatable idea of drinking potatoes as milk. Yet its brand design dares to challenge the ingrained assumptions that prevent us from culinary exploration. Drinking potatoes doesn’t seem ludicrous or left-field when presented in a way that adheres to the design codes of gourmet foods. It becomes natural, convincing, and possible. 

Although the idea of potato milk does not elicit initial excitement, many plant-based products have been using this bold style within their branding to ramp up desire. Much of the messaging is a testament to brands’ mission to give plant-based eating an outsized personality. Since these alternatives get touted as bland and uninspiring, the meat-free market has worked hard to champion this new way of eating—which is why analysts predict it will rise to $22.27 billion by 2025. We can learn a lot from plant-based products’ radical rebranding.

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A Playful Celebration of Benefits

Audiences are becoming more demanding. They are now seeking out purpose-led products while still meeting taste, convenience, and health requirements. Nowadays, consumers don't want to compromise on flavor for ethics, and successful products must encompass the whole package.

Insect protein has long been touted as a sustainable alternative. But this unusual—and sometimes uninviting—substitute leaves little to the imagination. Many food products in this category feature insects in their entirety, with little eyes and tiny legs in view. Even the most persuasive brand design may not convince us that the product isn’t disgusting (despite some of those tasty critters like crickets being a staple of African, Asian, and Latin American cuisines).

Think about it: even the most avid carnivore might not enjoy tucking into a steak that looks decisively like the animal from which it came. Few would want a hog roast on the table with the porker’s head still in situ, its final facial expression fixed hard and fast by cooking. Many of us will happily eat meat so long as the food is devoid of any harsh reminders that this was once a sentient animal happily skipping through the fields. We want to assuage our conscience. You might say the same for insects. No one wants a reminder that the mealworms in our ice cream once happily wriggled about under a log in the undergrowth. It’s fair to say that the format of alternative foods is as important as its function.  

Human Improvement is a protein powder that uses blended cricket as a core ingredient in its offering. Yet, with the branding, no visual bug-like cues are to be seen. In brand copy, there is also a focus on the “deliciously blended flavor with smooth vanilla, creamy coconut milk and a sprinkle of pink Himalayan salt,” which overrides the unpalatable prospect of cricket consumption. Instead, there is a heavy focus on all the benefits of the powder—healthy fiber, no bloating, "clean" ingredients, and sustainability, offering consumers great taste and health appeal without compromise. It’s a vibrant, confident design that communicates quality and impactfully conveys the benefits, helping it stand out as a go-to choice without even the thought of insects.

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Tap Into the Familiar

Research has shown that nostalgia can encourage consumers to spend their money as it promotes a sense of social connectedness and an immediate return in the form of happy memories and comfort. Brands can therefore leverage this emotional-marketing power to better connect with their audience. 

Jellyfish crisps are the product of technology from Denmark, discovered by Gastrophysicist Mie Thorborg, that turns these ecosystem-wrecking creatures into a sustainable and tasty snack. Leaning into the idea of "eat them to defeat them," brand design agency Echo designed the crisps’ packaging using inspiration from Kaiju film art (think Godzilla). Its retro-inspired branding tickles the nostalgic nerve of the consumer and brings taste appeal and familiarity to this unconventional snack alternative. 

Tapping into what is familiar for the consumer can subtly provoke emotional responses. In this case, the "Taste Odyssey" concept has retro-roots and gamifies the idea of eating this invasive species, encouraging people to channel their hunger and unite on the frontier of sustainable food alternatives.

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Boosting Impactful Design

A consumer’s enjoyment of food is influenced by what they see. When used effectively, design can bring appeal, excitement, and desire to food that was once previously unappetizing. Plant-based food saw this revolution before, and now the category is booming. 

As unlikely snacking substitutes emerge to bring sustainable solutions to our eating habits, designers hold the challenge of convincing consumers to discover and enjoy new food experiences. If consumers are to concede to the notion of eating these unappealing alternatives, brands need to work hard to tackle misconceptions and change the status quo.

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