A craft aesthetic: how indie brands are elevating packaging

26 July 2021, 07:27 AM
  • Revamping the visuals, function and feel of packaging isn’t just about projecting brand values, but helping a premium product jump off the shelf whatever its price tag
A craft aesthetic: how indie brands are elevating packaging

We ask a lot of the packaging that gently swaddles, cups and seals our finest produce. From the gratifying rustle of a branded wax cheese paper to the soft click of a zip-lock pouch, and the gentle sigh from a soft-fizzed kombucha to the crack of a Champagne cork, packaging is a fundamental part of your customers’ sensory experience.

Speciality food brands do a great job of harking back to the heritage of their origins, with Victorian-inspired moulded bottles, iconic retro graphics and luxury ribbons, foils and embossing helping punters spot the real McCoy among a marketplace full of imitations.

Fine food so often stands head and shoulders above the competition thanks to the care, time and skill involved in its production. Small batch, handmade and slow-matured products deserve packaging that tells that story, but interestingly that hasn’t always been the priority of small craft makers.

“The change within the craft aesthetic can be exemplified through beer,” says Peter Macqueen, course leader and senior lecturer on Sheffield Hallam’s BSc Packaging Professional Apprenticeship, and self-confessed packaging anorak.

“Throughout the ’90s to the mid noughties, small brewers used foil blocking, big logos and traditional imagery to look and feel like the larger companies. Now the larger companies are pursuing quirky branding, illustrated solutions, and often obscuring their involvement in an attempt to appear artisanal.”

A short stroll down any supermarket beer aisle will showcase the eye-popping designs now firmly appropriated by Big Beer. So what can designers do to communicate their craft credentials? Right now simple recipes and small-batch, handmade processes are increasingly flagged by striking naive prints. Witness Fieldfare’s new roughly hewn print logo, and woodcuts on Tiba Tempeh labelling and natural wines from Offbeat Wines. Materials also play a part in signalling ‘craft’ status, turning the traditional ideas of luxury vs low grade finishes on their head.

“The biggest swing in recent times has been around making more of a virtue of natural materials,” says Peter. “Recycled papers, less glossy finishing, simpler print processes. Where high-end processes such as foil blocking remain popular, this is now commonly used with muted pallets, and on kraft papers or with non-metallic finishing.”

Peter cites Tom Dixon, a renowned British designer. “His name is a byword in luxury and yet the packaging is moving entirely into natural craft materials. Using nice-quality papers, hand-signing it all to get that hand touch. If that’s happening to a product manufacturer it’s totally where the trend is going in retail.”

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