The Marketer’s Guide to Food Packaging Design

Assortment of food items with various brands and packaging designs

Have you ever tried a new product simply because the packaging caught your eye? If so, you know how effective a great packaging design can be.

Whether consumers are browsing store shelves or shopping online, companies face a constant battle to make their products stand out from the competition and win a spot in a customer’s cart.

Beverages dominated the largest market share (20%) in the United States in 2020. The other top contenders included bakery and confectionery goods, dairy products, snacks, and nutritional bars.

Pie chart showing U.S. packaged food market shares in 2020

Image Source:

With so much competition in the food and beverage industry, how are brands supposed to compete?

This marketing guide will take you step-by-step through the phases of packaging design so you can understand the process from start to finish. Let’s dive in!

Key Takeaways:

  • The primary goals of food packaging design are to establish brand visibility and identity, attract customers’ interest, and protect the product.
  • The global packaging market is projected to grow by $170.61 billion between 2021 and 2025.
  • The packaging design process has seven key phases: product brief, research, concept design, review and refinement, production, market launch, and post-launch feedback.

What Are the Most Important Goals of Packaging Design?

The primary intent of basic graphic design is to increase brand visibility and communicate a campaign message for marketing purposes.

But designing food packaging goes a step further than strictly visual designs such as billboards or social media ads. Food packaging serves another purpose – it has to protect the susceptible product inside. Colors, fonts, and graphic designs are still important, but other factors like package shape, size, materials, and production cost also come into play.

When designing food packaging, the most important goals are to:

  • Establish brand identity, visibility, and memorability
  • Attract customers and entice them to make a purchase
  • Protect the product during transportation, storage, and display

With the rise in food delivery and takeout during the pandemic, product packaging continues to be an important investment. Experts anticipate the global packaging market will accelerate at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4% between 2021 and 2025, totaling approximately $170.61 billion in growth.

Infographic for projected growth in the global packaging market 2021-2025

Packaging Market by End-user, Type, and Geography – Forecast and Analysis 2021-2025. Image Source:

7 Steps to Create a Market-Ready Food Packaging Design

From the consumer’s perspective, packaging design seems rather straightforward. Seasoned marketers know that a successful design is more work than simply picking pretty colors and slapping on a logo.

The process starts at a high level of brainstorming and research before diving into the technical details and finishing with post-launch analysis. Here are the main phases of packaging design to consider:

1. Product Brief

Marketers start by determining the problem they need to solve and looking at big-picture factors, including:

  • Client’s industry
  • Existing packaging
  • Products and messaging
  • Important branded elements such as colors, logos, fonts, etc.

This early phase is all about identifying the parameters of the project and determining its goals. What message does the company want to send? How will the packaging complement the product?

For example, Pringles designed a unique container that fits their stackable chips perfectly. They could have focused on the typical bag packaging like their competitors, but instead, the elongated tube differentiates Pringles from the numerous bags of chips lining store shelves.

How do you think that conversation went when marketers were first identifying the project goals and opportunities?

2. Research

The research phase is critical if a packaging design has any chance to make a successful impact. Marketers closely examine top competitors, trend forecasts, market opportunities, and audience demographics to guide their design strategy.

3. Concept Design

With the product specifications determined, marketers will then move into the conceptual phase. Early designs are usually quick, loose thumbnail sketches to jot down ideas and primary elements. Throughout this stage, the sketches become more detailed and refined.

Marketers often put several concepts forward for feedback. They may go with a single design idea ready to be finalized or combine the client’s favorite elements in multiple concepts.

4. Review and Refinement

Now that a marketer has a clear direction, it’s time to tweak and polish the final design. This may include multiple rounds of feedback and adjustments to colors, fonts, materials, and other elements until the client is satisfied with the final result.

5. Production

Once the design is approved, it enters the production phase. Marketers often review samples to see how colors print on different materials. The goal is to strike an optimal balance between packaging that looks great and uses the most cost-effective materials.

Sizing is another factor marketers must take into consideration. Is the product being shipped in bulk quantities? What packaging size allows shipping companies to pack the most products in the smallest amount of space?

6. Market Launch

Launch day is the most exciting (and nerve-wracking) step of the packaging design process.

Many companies take an all-hands-in omnichannel approach. They coordinate the launch across multiple teams so the brand’s social media pages, retailer displays, website, e-commerce messaging, digital ads, customer service reps, etc. are all on the same page with cohesive messaging and visuals.

7. Post-Launch Feedback

To understand whether a packaging design was successful, marketers need to gather analytical data and feedback.

On the technical side, they may look at sales numbers, ad reach, website traffic, clicks and conversions, wholesale orders, and other measurements.

On the objective side, marketers may create focus groups and send surveys to customers, retailers, and distributors to collect direct feedback about the new design.

A comprehensive post-launch analysis is crucial to understand what worked, what didn’t, how the product is performing, and whether the packaging has impacted brand awareness and consumer interest.

The Importance of Branding and Packaging in the Food Industry

Packaging is an element that is just as important as the product itself. You could have the best product in the world, but if you present it in a boring, unimaginative package, customers will never give it a chance.

Likewise, you could have an eye-catching packaging design, but if the product inside falls short of expectations, you’ll have an unsatisfied base of one-time customers and bad reviews.

The product and the packaging must work together to deliver a memorable customer experience. When done correctly, the packaging and product can tell a story about the brand’s personality and communicate a message to consumers at a glance.

What story does your packaging tell?

If you’re interested in keeping up with the latest packaging trends in the food and beverage industry, register to attend the inaugural SIAL America exhibition as an attendee or exhibitor.