Many natural and organic products have undergone a facelift, bringing them up to date for a place in mainstream retail.
“You know the usual look,” says Annie Morris, “very bright colours, lots of copy, that ‘back on the farm’ look – it’s hardly contemporary.” The co-founder of new granola brand Spoon, Ms Morris knew exactly what she didn’t want when it came to the branding of her product.
“Not only did I want clean lines, simplicity,” she adds, “but I didn’t want to put any claims on the front of the box. Its naturalness is implicit. Some people get that. They’re probably a minority, though that’s definitely changing.”
Certainly it speaks volumes that the buzzwords of so many products in the organic and natural foodstuffs sector, as well as the cosmetics and clothing markets, have not aged well: Earth, synergy, fair and soul are the kind of new-age terminologies that now seem to be on the way out.
Indeed, according to Jonathan Ford, the creative director of branding agency Pearlfisher, the latest raft of healthy food companies are driving a new market dynamic: a shift away from what he calls directive branding of “this will be good for you”, to more lifestyle-oriented branding of “this makes sense to the way you live”.
“Our understanding of what is healthy has been greatly improved in recent years, through the media, through government campaigns,” says Mr Ford, who has worked with brands including Innocent and Green & Black’s.
“Products in this sector used to push worrying messages or be somewhat hair-shirted in their attitude. But a much more creative approach has been shaped in particular by smaller, entrepreneurial brands, albeit often ones with some serious startup money. The massive health brands are probably in crisis facing this onslaught.”
He cites as good examples the likes of Graze, a company delivering healthy snacks direct to the door, and prepared-salad bowl company Bol, praising their straight-forward, boldly graphic packaging. But one of his own brands, Swedish juice company Froosh, launching in the UK later this year, also points to another important trend, namely a touch of direct humour – “Goji: strange name, super fruit” as one label has it or “No bad stuff. Zilch, zero, nada” as another stresses.
“This is a sector with a lot of flannel to cut through,” says Mr Ford. “There are lots of products masquerading as ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’. There needs to be truth backing up the directness, but directness can help.”
That’s been the route taken by new smoothie company Savse. Its head of marketing Orr Vinegold says it has seen a pretty amazing response from consumers, not to mention from potential stockists, to its in-house-designed, bus-side ad campaign launched this summer. Again, the message is blunt: “No Bull”.
“The fact is there is a lot of hype in this market and, to be honest, we were getting quite angry about it,” says Mr Vinegold. “We want to be mainstream, but we’re up against companies that aren’t always very open about what they do. A direct message to the consumer seemed a good way to go for a small company like ours.”
Is direct also cool, perhaps a touch anti-establishment? Gill Green is the marketing director of Wessanen UK, which counts among its organic brands Whole Earth, which underwent a major image overhaul a year ago, Kallo rice cakes and Clipper tea. She argues that, whatever the sector, an expression of modernity is now high among consumer expectations.
“Trends have simply changed in what consumers find attractive and the way you present a product, organic or not, is increasingly important,” she says. “Whole Earth had a yesteryear feel to it, the look of the kind of thing you’d find in a health food shop. It felt a little worthy. But the fact is all these organic or natural products are not tucked away in the health food trade now, but are up there alongside leading, conventional products.”
The overall effect on image might be accurately summarised as less is more. Intriguingly, many new or overhauled lines appealing to shoppers of organic, natural or healthy products make little effort to even foreground this information in packaging or brand-building.
According to Pearlfishers’ Mr Ford, if a brand is genuinely organic, it would be foolish not to say as much. “But since there are so many misconceptions about what that and ‘natural’ actually means, you have to stand out more than that,” he says. In foods, he stresses, getting across that you’re organic is not the primary concern; it’s getting across that you taste really good.
Besides, our ways of shopping are changing radically too, notes Charles Beardsall, the UK managing director of beauty brand Dr. Hauschka, which claims to make a certified 100 per cent natural product, yet states this only in the small print on the back of its packaging.
“We have a lot of data we could put on boxes, but when we rebranded two years ago we went for a much cleaner, fresher look,” says Mr Beardsall. “And the fact is that by the time consumers now come to buy natural products, typically they’ve already done a lot of their own research. In a market in which they may well not believe that many ‘natural’ products are actually natural, we want them to come to the brand only when they’re ready.”