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An earlier version of this post was one of the most popular I’ve published. So here it is again, 2013 style. Whether you enjoy my comments or not, please let me know. If you have alternate nominations, post them below!

Let’s get started.



Tea Forte Cocktail InfusionsTea Forte Cocktail Infusions packaging offers gorgeous photography, full of dynamic tension. This is an awesome use of color; it’s simply alive with energy. Understated design architecture perfectly balances the master brand with varietal information. The booth display was majestically staged too. Congratulations on this strong execution!


Wisecrackers Packaging

There’s so much to like, starting with the name, about Wisecrackers’ flatbread packaging from Partners. The visual flow begins with each plain but tastefully displayed hero image. This perfectly frames the brand badging, a ribbon that floats from one package to the next, multiplying the impact of a contiguous shelf set, and steering the eye across the product range. I think they could improve the layout of the remaining information: the brand descriptor, the flavor name, and the callout points; but that’s a minor point in the overall context. On the macro level, this is a well-balanced, inviting, and highly-effective design system.



Vermont Real Sticks Positioning SloganSo many artisanal brands are so darned good to eat that it becomes hard to build a platform on taste alone. I always find it enjoyable to see new ways of making the “tastes great” claim. From Vermont Smoke & Cure comes this winning line: “Damn Fine Flavor You Won’t Find Anywhere Else.” It ties a reason-to-believe (Vermont) to bold colorful packaging, with a folksy, genuine promise. All in eight simple words.


Just what fine chocolate has to do with pigs I may never understand. But it’s a connection that’s made so many nice ways in artisanal branding that I just have to call attention to it.

Hammond's Pigs 'N Taters Chocolate

Hammond’s Candies Pigs N’ Taters bar had an inspiring taste that opened my eyes to the possibilities of combining the two great tastes of bacon and chocolate!


Vosges Noble Pig Chocolate LibraryVosges three-bar collection, packaged like a set of books, is visually rich and offers strong production values. Along with the name, Noble Pig, it’s guaranteed to catch your eye in an upscale retail environment.


Bacon Bark from Bear Creek Smokehouse

I don’t care for this package design from Bear Creek Smokehouse. The product is probably too expensive for the average retail offering, and in contrast to Vosges’ approach, it lacks the design sensibility needed to stand out on a more upscale shelf set. But hey, it’s got pigs and bacon!


Truffle Pig from Hagensborg Chocolate

This offering from Hagensborg Chocolates is not only well-named, but features an appealing design that makes me believe something delicious is inside.


Fat Toad Caramel from Fat Toad Farm

Not quite pigs and chocolate, but toads and caramel comes from the same school of brand imagery! Kudos on the execution from Fat Toad Farm.



Blackberry Patch Fruit Syrups, Most Artisanal Packaging winner, chosen by Goldforest on Branding, Fancy Food Show 2013

This simple two colors-on-white presentation, combined with equally simple illustrations and an appropriate typeface, gives Blackberry Patch a strong home-made appeal. You just know this belongs in a guest house or on any special dining table.

.Bonnies's Jams, a winner for Most Artisanal Packaging, chosen by Goldforest on Branding, Fancy Food Show 2013

Bonnie’s Jams accomplishes the same task with one color and an attractive “handwritten” font. It works, but as a design consultant, I’d like to see better varietal differentiation, especially when the label covers up so much of the product. But don’t think I wouldn’t love to have a couple of jars in my fridge right now!


Grace & I, winner Most Artisanal Packaging, chosen by Goldforest on Branding, Fancy Food Show 2013Grace & I, winner, Most Artisanal Packaging, chosen by Goldforest on Branding, Fancy Food Show 2013

The name and visual identity of Grace & I’s line of fruit & nut presses and condiments are unique and original. The double entendre is intriguing; is the brand about personal redemption or partnership? The visual is a little coarse, like homespun fabric. It’s all just perfect for an artisanal brand.



It’s a four-way tie in this category, demonstrating once again, the power of color to engage the customer, differentiate varieties, and establish a brand proposition.


Maya Kaimal Indian Simmer Sauces, winner, Best Use of Color, chosen by Goldforest on Branding, Fancy Food Show 2013Provenance, or place-of-origin branding, can be a powerful brand platform.These otherwise simple labels for Maya Kaimal Indian Simmer Sauce work from a palette of colors that instantly evokes the visual richness of Mother India herself.


Republic of Tea Be Active Teas, winner, Best Use of Color, chosen by Goldforest on Branding, Fancy Food Show 2013The Republic of Tea created this energetic color palette for its Be Active line of herb teas. Leaning also on its healthy-looking sans-serif type treatment, this line has an upscale feel that lends credence to the functional claims the product names imply.


Taffy from Sweet Candy Company, winner, Best Use of Color, chosen by Goldforest on Branding, Fancy Food Show 2013You can’t get more summery than this packaging from Sweet Candy Company. These bright and charming gift boxes say just about everything that needs said about what comes inside.


Siggi's Swedish Style FilmjolkYou don’t need a lot of color to use color wisely! Siggi’s provides a splash — in the illustrations on its otherwise pure white containers. It conveys a healthy, delicious and gourmet image.



Found Beverages, winner, Most Original Primary Packaging, chosen by Goldforest on Branding, Fancy Food Show 2013The unique shape of Found beverage packaging from Australia, along with the strong graphic presentation, were a nice “find” at the show. I loved the enthusiasm and positive energy of its manufacturers, who were able to slow me down long enough to pass along their vision for an environmentally conscious beverage company (carbon neutral, pesticide free and more) with label-free glass bottles that encourage adaptive secondary uses.


Bornay Desserts Orange Sorbet, winner, Most Original Primary Packaging, chosen by Goldforest on Branding, Fancy Food Show 2013It’s not the retail packaging for this line of sorbet treats that thrills me. (The design seems more appropriate for home décor than food.) No, it’s the use of a real orange for the primary package that surprises in this presentation from Bornay Deserts. Along with sorbet-filled watermelon wedges, coconuts and other natural casings, the use of real fruit to contain and serve frozen desert earns applause for impact. You can’t get more original than this! (Although you could get a more heroic looking photograph.)


No idea can succeed without proper execution.

Sweet Potato Crackers from Millchap

Characters that animate products, mascots if you will, must be instantly loveable. The bar has been set high in this approach to branding. For Millchap Sweet Potato Company, the image on its line of salt and savory crackers more closely resembles a rough concept than a final design. It is unappealing in this presentation, and probably not worthy of the product inside.


gimMe Roasted Seaweed Snacks

Having presented for client consideration thousands of product names, I know that colloquial phrases and unique spellings can provide a strong brand foundation. The challenge is in knowing the line beyond which shoppers may struggle to read or understand your proposition. I feel that gimMe all natural Roasted Seaweed Snacks, a Sofi Awards Finalist, has crossed it.

Maybe it’s the capitalization. Maybe it’s the lounging turtle. But I don’t think they’ve succeeded in conveying the intended “gotta have it” feeling with the product name. For that matter, the pedestrian photography does not match the upbeat, almost whacky mood of the rest of the package design. I’d love to be asked to convey this product’s Sofi-winning qualities in a more compelling way!


Tukas Brand Tomato Paste

Unless your target market is extremely focused, cultural sensitivity should be liberally applied before the brand name goes on. This Turkish brand is more than 50 years old. That’s long enough to know what tukas means in American slang. This is the tomato paste equivalent of selling the Nova automobile in Mexico.

That’s my take on the show folks. I had a great time. Met lots of interesting people. And as you can see, found plenty of great design!

And I was serious when I said you should leave your thoughts. The button is just below.

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If you sell artisanal foods or beverages, or if you sell something that breaks out of better into best, you’ll be at the Jacob Javitz Center from June 30 to July 2 this year.

The economy continues to bubble. The recovery is real for a meaningful proportion of previously shorthanded Americans. Retailers feel it. They’ll be at the show looking for the next big thing, and doubling down on the last big thing. They’ll be helping some brands earn profits for their owners, and signaling hardship to others who can’t meet their standards or demands.

Yes, the show is a heady game whether you purvey or peruse. It’s a big investment that signals you are stepping up to the plate.

Let’s find out what’s in store after you arrive. What do you fancy from the Fancy Food Show?

Fancy Food Show Swami

What would YOU ask of the Swami at the Fancy Food Show?

Here are some questions you might consider asking the business Swami you just might find as you arrive to set up your booth.

  • How do I get profiled by Good Morning America within hours of the doors opening on Sunday?
  • Will I get one major distributor to fall in love with my line?
  • Can my products in the new product showcase win an award?
  • Is my goal of opening 70,000 case orders to two new accounts realistic?
  • How do I solve my cash flow problems?
  • Can I get my booth moved within sight of my biggest competitor, and away from that practical joker with the buttons and pinwheels?

You can pick your own questions of course.

What do you think the Guru would say?

“All that you wish for can be achieved if you can answer ‘yes’ to the following question.”

You lean forward, forgetting to breathe. Your lips are dry.

She opens her eyes and looks deeply into yours. You melt just a little.

“Are your brands meaningful?” she asks, and returns to her meditation.


Graciously, she opens her eyes again. “What do you promise of value? Would your package tell me that? Would I care?”

“Well,” you reply, offended, “I suppose someone who sits on a mat all day communing with the infinite might not care about something as mundane as $24 a pound yak jelly, but then you’re not really my market, are you?”

A kindly monk takes your elbow and ambles you along.

“A moment please,” the swami gestures with a precise nod to her courtier. He releases. “You got yak jelly?!”

That's a Yak! Creative Commons Credit:

Your inner salesperson takes over. You have her ear, if not yet her heart. You tell her how the hooves of 16 adolescent yaks are required to crush each bud of the florid bangtao bush, hand selected from volcanic slopes on the Sumatran coastal range. In February. And then  only when the moon is gibbous. And so on.

You show her the delicate packaging you’ve designed, with a natural finish and hand-written font. It explains that your profits support sustainable forests.

You describe your scalable production network, and assure her of domestic warehousing capabilities.

Just then, Robin Roberts emerges with her crew from the new product showcase warren. “Did someone say Yak Jelly? I just saw that package. A word with you please!”


In today’s world a viable brand is the closest thing there is to a silver bullet. It’s key to earning sustained premiums over the cost of production. It drives the market value of your company, gets you shelf space when there are no facings left, is raved about by customers to their friends, and it just might be the thing that saves you from ruin in a PR crisis.

Yak Jelly

Earliest known image of Yak Jelly. Based on Creative Commons Image:

Creating a brand, on the other hand, is so difficult that most products content themselves with commoditized returns, and live in fear of the next retail reset. They’re like dogs chewing off their own tails each time new concessions are demanded.

If your products are brands then you know that your brand is your entire offer. In fact it’s the only thing you CAN offer. This seems basic, yet executives at many CPG firms still treat the brand as a box they can check; it’s not at the core of every decision. You’ll find people like this in small companies that won’t get a shot. And you’ll find them, surprisingly, in some very big companies as well.

But when I meet with thriving companies and those on the verge, I usually find someone who gets the importance of brands, and knows how to manage them.

Which kind of company are you? You might think about that as you prepare for The Show this year. You might consider it as you ready the list of things you fancy.

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Breaking down categories by brand perception is one of my passions. It doesn’t matter how big or small your brand is, this kind of analysis never fails to provide competitive insight. Recently, I had a chance to take a brand snapshot of a playing field in the domestic beer sector. In addition to the bench-emptying kerfuffle among hundreds of individual labels, it turns out that conflict also lies at the place in the market spectrum where “mass” and “craft” beer categories reach out to each other.

Another passion is baseball, and since the new season is here, I hope you’ll forgive me for structuring this post as a metaphor to America’s game.

Setting the Playing Field
For the record, the domestic beer market is controlled by a very small number of America’s breweries. About 93% of US beer production comes from just 56 breweries (that’s 2% of all breweries). The other 7% comes from the 2,360 companies considered craft breweries by the Brewers Association, the trade organization of craft brewers. (, April 2013.)

Domestic beer consumption dropped 1% in 2011, while the craft sector grew 13% in volume! Not surprisingly, the trend was maddening (and terrifying) to the two percenters. In 2012, there were about 200,000,000 barrels (BBL) of domestic beer sold in the US. You figure the dollars foregone.

The volume below which a brewery, including all its labels, is considered by the Brewers Association to be a craft brewer is 6 million BBL annually. If you’re looking to hit a grand slam (the next Bud Light?), this isn’t the sector to target. It’s appealing enough, however, that the majors have stroked a series of singles and doubles in its direction, any one of which could potentially exceed the craft barrel limit.

Batter Up for the Bigs
Gambling that there might be a large demand for something that tastes like a craft, the big labels are pushing what are often referred to as “faux craft” beers, like AB InBev’s Shock Top, and from Miller Coors, Third Shift as well as Blue Moon Belgian Wheat. Working the free agent market, they’ve also bought actual craft breweries like Widmer Brothers, Redhook, Goose Island and Leinenkugel. Finally, although this master brand naming approach removes them from the craft beer conversation, beers like AB InBev’s Budweiser Black Crown and MillerCoors Molson XXX are super premium extensions of flagships.

Packaging for Shock Top, Blue Moon Belgian Wheat, Budweiser Black Crown, Third Shift

Faux Craft and Super Premium Packaging. Upscale, distinctive, and appealing.

The Brewers Association also takes the position that any label with more than 25% ownership by a major brewery is not a true craft beer. So AB InBev and MillerCoors can sell as much as they want, but they seem to have run up against a wall of perception regarding their craft legitimacy.

You’re Blind, Ump!
Hang on a gosh darned second. If it’s made like a craft and tastes like a craft, who says it isn’t a craft, barrel limits and ownership percentages be damned? That’s where an understanding of perception is involved. Managers who focus on numbers and fail to account for what ordinary people think about beer miss the boat.

It turns out that craft beer drinkers themselves care deeply about the distinction between mass-marketed beers and craft beers. They take pride in their ability to enjoy a wide range of tastes in limited production, often very local brews made with high quality hops, barley and other natural ingredients. In fact, and without the benefit of research that surely exists somewhere, I believe they control the public perception that this craft / non-craft construct is important. It seems to me that Americans accept the notion that, as with wineries, small makes better possible, while big means drinkable, reliable and reasonably priced.

The consultation that afforded me this sector snapshot was a review for market research firm Blueshift Research. A significant aspect was developing a POV, strictly from a brand perspective, on the infringement of faux crafts upon the traditional territory of Sam Adams brand labels. Sam is the most valuable craft in the sector (MVC?). The majors’ strategy must account first for him.

So let’s take a look at the brand identity issues involved.

Sam Adams brand extensions. The visual brand architecture is formalized.

Sam Adams, The King of Craft • 62 labels featured on web site (about 30 with formal Sam trade dress) • Brewed by The Boston Beer Co. • 3 million barrels (bbl) per year production • Respected among beer drinkers though some purists consider it “too big” • Founder and CEO Jim Koch is a fifth generation brewer

Scouting Report: Sam Adams’ Brand
Starting from scratch in the mid-1980’s, Sam Adams was the leader of the craft revival movement. Given its heritage in the craft brewing world, Sam’s is a pioneering brand identity, worthy of its historic New England namesake. It’s perceived as having integrity, courage and strength of character, in flavor as well as brand personality. Like the beers his great great grandfather and each successive male descendant in founder Jim Koch’s family brewed, it’s made with a craftsman’s touch. Sam Costs more than Bud, and an awfully lot of people buy it. Sam Adam’s brand identity seems well-matched to the craft beer sector.

Yet aspects of Sam’s identity resemble the national brands more than they do other crafts.

Its label hews to the principles of commercial graphic design, with consistent repetition of graphic icons, handsome and traditional typefaces, a helpful and attractive color palette, and more.

Craft Beer Labels

Craft Beer Branding. In contrast to Sam Adam’s more formal trade dress, many traditional crafts celebrate the uniqueness of their approach to brewing with highly expressive, sometimes even hand-drawn labels.

With a market cap over $2 Billion, the Boston Beer Co’s large scale (for a craft) affords it a more traditionally organized distribution system, including national coverage in multiple channels (liquor, supermarket, on tap, etc.)

It also provides a workable advertising budget (in 2010, about $30 million). It’s campaign effectively conveys Jim Koch’s obsession with taste and quality.

Sam gets the best of two worlds, the lucky boy! He’s found a sweet spot in the market that’s rooted in the craft sector, but delicately steps beyond it into the mainstream market without compromising its fundamentally “craft” identity.

On the Other Bench . . .
Threatening Sam’s prosperity, perhaps, is the emergence of faux crafts. What’s their brand identity? To true craft beer fans, the kind that care about the 6 million bbl size limitation, they’re not worthy. (See some reviews for Shock Top at But what about those on the rungs below, consumers who like a uniquely flavored, higher quality brew they can rely on for consistent satisfaction. How vulnerable is Sam in this area?

After all, real success for faux crafts depends on upgrading enough mainstream beer drinkers (of which there are tens of millions) to affect the bottom line, not stealing significant share from the smaller and more discerning craft sector. Early results are positive. In 2012, according to Nielsen (quoted here by food and beverage pundit Phil Lempert), the domestic super-premium segment generated sales of $2.1 Billion, with dollar growth of 29% year over year. That’s “just” a third less in dollar sales than the entire craft sector, which itself grew by 18% to $2.8 Billion.

I would argue that as long as the Boston Beer Co. plans to remain a true craft brewer, success for faux crafts is not a threat. The core markets are too different, as are the brand images. I think the bigger problem belongs to the makers of faux craft beers, which have to be perceived as superior to mainstream beers to earn price premiums. To communicate this, do they not have to reach out toward identity characteristics owned by the craft sector? Here’s a major source of their image problem. Authenticity is a critical brand element of most craft beers. Yet the majors do not even declare parenthood on their faux craft labels. A lot of people think that’s sneaky. And sneaky is the opposite of authentic.

Blue Moon and Shock Top "Faux" Craft Labels

Faux Craft Labels. These labels are craft-like, albeit slicker looking than is typical in the sector, suggesting distinct character and personality. Neither one declares its connection to the world's larges brewers.

A Look at the Telestrator
These charts provide a graphical summary of my point of view. Plotting perceived “craftiness” against sales volume, the dogleg shape of the distribution is clear. High quality and distinctiveness has been a niche market play. Craft manufacturers like Boston Beer Company might push outward toward the area of opportunity (the green rectangle), but if they remain true to their identity, they won’t exceed the craft manufacturing limit. Major brewers, on the other hand, not encumbered by the Brewers Association’s guild-like distinctions, are trying to approach the opportunity as well.
"Craftiness" of Craft Beer vs. Sales Volumes by Beer Label

Perceived Beer "Craftiness" vs. Sales Volumes in BBL (by label). There are hundreds (even thousands) of low volume but very crafty beers, dozens of low-to-moderate volume and non-crafty ones (the amorphous purple shape), and a few very large brands. The latter dominate mass market mind-share. Craftiness ratings are the author's. Volumes are approximated based on various published sources.

When Craftiness is plotted versus the size of the parent brewery, the market perception gap is even more apparent. As long as craft beer lovers prefer attributes like small and local, the majors will have difficulty luring them, no matter how craftily their beers are brewed.

Perceived Beer Craftiness vs. Sales Volume by Parent Brewer in BBL

Perceived Beer "Craftiness" vs. Parent Brewer Sales Volumes in BBL. The Perception Gap. (The size of each square represents sales volume by that specific label.)

Respecting Your Legacy

As a corollary, if The Boston Beer Co. is to remain true to it’s own brand, it won’t care about the success of faux crafts. An awakened taste in quality beers, and a continued migration upward toward “real” craft beers should be good for them and the craft sector as a whole. Also, the company is pursuing alternative beverage categories for now (hard tea and cider), a strategy that carries diversification value as well as the possibility of continued growth without compromising BBC’s craft brewery status.

The best news for crafts in general, at least those whose managers care more about quality than market domination, is that if they stick to their core identities, there appears to be plenty of room for continued growth, even in an economy that is still in recovery.

The Wrap
In EVERY category, brand identity analysis is a big league tool you can use to size up the competition. It’s not enough to know the current stats: sales, penetration, promotional spending. You have to establish a context for evaluating potential. I’ve written elsewhere about the fundamentals of brand identity (for example here and here), but the bottom line is that every brand has an essence that carries valuable genetic information about the strategies and tactics it can pursue to fulfill its destiny, as well as those it must avoid. If you understand the brands, you’re half-way home!

What are your thoughts on this line of thinking? If you’re in the brewing sector and have a take on the category, please chime in. And if you’re in another sector, do you see how these principles apply in your case too?

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Late in 2009, National Raisin Company — a Fowler California grower / packer responsible for one out of every three raisins sold in the United States — engaged Goldforest to develop and execute a brand strategy for an innovative new snack food product. National’s R&D department had developed a unique process of flavoring raisins with natural juices from other fruits, adding citric and ascorbic acids and a light dusting of sugar (about 10% of the sugar that naturally occurs in raisins), to create a sweet and sour taste profile that more resembled candy than dried fruit.

Raisels Strategy Chart

Goldforest's key marketing insight was that Raisels could be used to reposition raisins from healthy but "boring" to healthy and exciting, while cookies and candy could be made a bit healthier but would never be perceived as "as healthy" as Raisels, which are, after all, real fruit.

Raisels Packaging

Raisels come in film-wrapped bricks containing six 1.25 oz. paperboard cartons each.

Though preliminary research indicated that people of all ages loved the taste, Goldforest proposed a kid-focused strategy in order to compete directly with cookies and candy as a healthy, real fruit alternative to sugar-based snack foods. Mom might buy the product for her kids, but in the end, it would be consumed by anyone with a sweet & sour tooth.

Sour Orange Burst Raisels

Each Raisels carton is illustrated with a Raisels character interacting with another fruit. Here Ozzie Orange shoots his pal Flying Otis from a canon!

The brand platform Goldforest proposed was fun, friendly and responsible; the Hollywood, Florida brand consultancy developed the name Raisels to communicate a relationship to raisins but at the same time to differentiate the new product. The colorful, energetic packaging features a series of illustrations, one for each flavor, of Raisels characters interacting with other fruits.

Raisels achieved national distribution by the end of 2010, six months after introduction.

Goldforest also developed Raisels’ Web site, and social media presence (via Facebook and Twitter pages), and a brand introduction marketing strategy. This included retailer and media sampling kits, a very successful Mommy Blog tour and a Facebook promotion that netted 20,000 “likes” in one day.

National Raisin Company is America’s largest processor of raisins for private label and industrial sales distribution.

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