Hot Pockets Gets a Hot New Packaging Design
by Theresa Christine Johnson on 07/11/2022 | 5 Minute Read
Hot Pockets have grown quite a lot from the days when that catchy jingle would play on the television. But while they’d been a staple of the frozen food section for years, their packaging felt frozen in time. Nestlé, who owns the brand, decided it was time to switch things up.
“Every couple of years, we do a brand essence refresh, if you will,” said Tom Davie, strategic design manager at Design Center of Excellence, Nestlé USA. He worked closely alongside Joey Mann and Neil Sadler to give Hot Pockets a revamped look. “There is sort of an evaluation of where the brand stands. In this case, there was a major pivot in the brand positioning. Historically, we had always leaned into the buyer. They were always our main target. There has been a push internally to switch that, so we focused on both the eater and the buyer.”
So aside from getting parent approval and purchasing power, the refresh also needed to get the ideal eater—13 to 17-year-old males—excited about Hot Pockets.
Some initial internal workshops showed that the Nestle team wanted to push boundaries with the redesign. Nestlé decided to bring in Interact Brands, an agency they’d worked with previously on Rallies, to bring a fresh perspective. Since there really isn’t anything quite like Hot Pockets in the freezer section, inspiration came from food and beverage brands like McDonald’s and Mountain Dew, as well as Supreme and Vans. They wanted Hot Pockets to have a pop-cultural resonance that teenagers would love.
“We feel like America is on a first-name basis with Hot Pockets,” said Fred Hart, partner and creative director at Interact Brands. “But from a design and attitudinal perspective, it lacked confidence.”
For the new packaging, the Interact team—including Fred, Karoline Johnson, Sean Serafini, and Jorge Arteaga—did an analysis of the brand to understand every last centimeter of those crispy pockets. They looked at the various touchpoints, examined the category as a whole, and considered what both the buyer and eater wanted. Plenty of moving parts had to appear in the packaging in some way—like the satiety of the snack along with its coolness and the appetite appeal along with its nutrition.
“We truly believe that people don’t read; they recognize,” said Fred. “There are a lot of recognizable assets on the table. So in some ways, the sandbox we were playing in was confined enough with the product attributes that keep us accountable because it still needs to look like Hot Pockets at the end of the day.”
For the design, Interact leaned Hot Pockets into things that its consumers tend to worship—video games and cartoons. “We could not be cliche,” Fred said. “We could not be stereotypical. We could not use 8-bit graphics. We didn’t want to come off as pandering or really out of touch. So we set up some digital guardrails upfront but still gave ourselves room to explore things because digital is more of a medium than an aesthetic.”
They played around with retro-inspired elements but were more concerned with what felt appropriate for today’s gamer and what would feel more next-gen. So they ditched the old serif font and asked type designer Greg Lindy to give the wordmark a more playful, youthful look. It’s still red and still very much Hot Pockets, but the look is current while also possessing longevity for the brand. The graphic that advertises protein content has a small bite out of it, and mouthwatering product photography by Brian Wright shows customers what awaits. Whoever looks at the back will find fun, instructional copy that gives Hot Pockets heaps of personality, and the brand is also doing promotions with video games like Halo.
There’s a design treat hidden inside the packaging, too. “The susceptor, which is what we call the heating sleeve, was an opportunity to give the eater something unexpected,” Tom explained. This heating sleeve looks like a page from a comic book, with bubbly lettering and joy-filled graphics. “Internally, our name for the project was Easter Egg as a nod to finding those secret elements within games. We thought this was something we could explicitly give the eater, and there’s no indication or clue on the front of the pack that they’re going to get this.”
The Hot Pockets packaging redesign moved rapidly—in roughly half a year, the brand had fresh packs for 55 unique SKUs. But both Tom and Fred agreed that they executed the new design so quickly because both teams were aligned on the project. Even with many levels of approval from Nestlé, the process continued moving forward with an energetic momentum.
“It’s a challenge to get a refresh approved because there are so many internal hurdles,” admitted Tom. “At any point, somebody with enough authority can just sort of say, ‘This isn’t the right approach.’ And to Interact’s credit, they did a great job from a design execution standpoint, and we did an amazing job from a timing standpoint. You’re talking about nearly a billion-dollar business, and to be able to do all the exploration, get internal buy-ins, and do revisions in about a six-month process was an incredible feat.”
After a successful redesign, Nestle used the work Interact did for the packaging to lead them to a refreshed brand story as well. Elements like the custom typefaces and updated color system were chosen specifically for the packaging, but they’ve also flown into more expansive campaigns on social media or in commercials.
It’s not just the appearance, either—this new Hot Pockets has attitude and personality. These aren’t the Hot Pockets you grew up with and the brand is making the frozen food aisle that much cooler.
Images courtesy of Interact Brands.