Report 2

The market

The packaging world is in bullish form: it is taking a stand against low pitch fees and has a number of projects and roster spots changing hands.

Most major UK clients have their rosters in order, reviewing the list every year or so. A place on the roster of a client which prizes design is a coveted thing, and the competition is fierce when a slot comes up. Nucleus’ withdrawal from the Superdrug list at the end of last year exemplified this, with Wickens Tutt Southgate brought in as the replacement.

Other UK clients are doing away with the idea of rosters in favour of the single-consultancy route, handing all its design work over to one group. Jones Knowles Ritchie has profited from this approach at Heinz and Whitbread. And PI Design International is the sole consultancy for Best Foods. “Some people are getting the idea that rosters are old hat,” says Richard Watson of Global Design Register. “And, when these sorts of things move, it can be 500 000 in fees.” While promising regular, long-term work, such projects are also a huge creative responsibility. Design Bridge is also sole consultancy for an unnamed client – creative director Rod Petrie describes the pressure as being on “red alert every day of the week”.

The European market

As competition increases over here, more consultancies are looking to tap the market across the Channel. A pan-European pitch often benefits from Continental design contacts – look at Landor with offices in London, Paris, and Stockholm, and Design Bridge with its Dutch base. Unless a group is wealthy enough to open satellite offices, buying up existing Continental businesses is the only option. Most good European groups have now changed hands, like German group Windi Winderlich (which Enterprise IG bought a 50 per cent stake in earlier this year) and, more recently, Millford-Van den Berg in The Netherlands, bought into by The Coleman Group. “For bigger groups it is increasingly difficult to build international networks because every good group has been bought or has no intention of selling,” says GDR’s Watson. Looser networks are an option, with consultancies forming cross-border alliances, such as Elmwood’s Totem arrangement and Ideal with Siebert Head. But it is less easy to quantify the benefits of these arrangements.


Competition among a host of good UK design groups for any local project is taking its toll on fees. Watson says: “Fees have not really moved because the market is so over-supplied.” Christine Evans, design manager at Co-operative Retail Services, views some consultancies as under selling themselves. “Smaller or relatively young design groups have quite low fees – I think too low.” CRS, which has set up a roster with the Quite Extraordinary Design Partnership, has established a fee matrix.

The good small and medium-sized consultancies – those which combine strategy with real creativity – are finding that some clients still treat them as pack sweat shops. This means the companies which appreciate the value design adds to the process shine out. Superdrug continues to be applauded as a design-aware client by consultancies on and off its roster, and Aqualibra’s rebranding by Blackburns has been hailed as a creative success.

Some big multinationals are still accused of having a poor appreciation of design, with the layered process by which pack solutions get approved leading to a dilution of the design. But the fact is that companies such as SmithKline Beecham commission a huge amount of packaging and if you are smart and a big enough fish, you can push design higher up the agenda.

Meanwhile, the major European fmcg players are also building rosters. Mars’ line-up comprises PI Design International, JKR, Landor Paris and German group Windi Winderlich. Whitbread is also putting together a pan-European list.

While UK groups make inroads into the European market, our Continental rivals have not made much of an impression here. Perhaps there are just too many good UK consultancies, or perhaps “European groups don’t travel well or aren’t aggressive enough”, suggests Petrie of Design Bridge.

In addition, the number of good UK consultancies are not just restricted to the capital, as they were a few years ago. Watson cites Elmwood, Blue Marlin and FLB as strong regional contenders. FLB’s new branding for Lilt launched in February and Elmwood, now 45-strong, is staffing up like crazy. Without meaning to sound arrogant, Elmwood managing director Jonathan Sands puts some of the increase in good regional groups down to his own consultancy’s success: “We were the first to demonstrate that you could do it, and a lot of people have copied the things we have done.” The advent of technology, making proximity to clients less important, and the relocation of London businesses, such as Allied Domecq to Bristol, have also contributed, Sands adds.

Own-label versus brands

Certain supermarkets are still being accused of “copycatting” branded products, but CRS with QED has made a stand to create its own look. Time will tell whether the four-square grid design will prove too restrictive. Wolff Olins’ strategy for Tesco, which downsized its in-house design team in favour of a roster last autumn, will soon start to filter in-store. Wolff Olins is unable to comment on the project.

The strength of these retailers has forced a number of classic brands into getting the revamp treatment. Jonathan Gatward, group product manager of Paxo, owned by RHM’s Bisto Foods, sees classic brands “taking strong, but dormant attributes and turning them into assets for the current marketplace”. He cites Heinz’s advertising and HP as examples.

“Certain branded manufacturers are taking a bit more of a risk than they were,” says Dragon senior consultant Linda Mooney. The consultancy has created a new brand identity for the extended Amoy range, which appeared on shelves last month.

Wickens Tutt Southgate has worked on Kraft Jacob Suchard’s Bird’s Custard brand and Paxo, both of which were suffering from own-label competition. Paxo’s Gatward acknowledges a shift in the relationship between own-label and branded products. “There is a new legitimisation of the brand – a consequence of the retailer and manufacturer recognising that there is a distinct role for brands,” he says. This means, he says, that retailers are going for complementary rather than competing ranges.

A crowded marketplace can result in some eye-catching innovation as brands differentiate themselves. Siebert Head’s work for Harmony Hair Care will attempt to improve a classic brand’s flagging performance. The brand was sold by Unilever to new company EMVI. “We are looking at the structure of hairspray packaging, and how to make it simpler and easy to use,” says EMVI chief executive Mike Jatania. He plans to expand the range and take it worldwide.

EMVI is looking to buy other classic, but neglected brands and turn those around. “The intention is to build up a long-term relationship with Siebert Head, but we will keep our options open in design terms,” Jatania adds.

There is also a steady stream of millennium-related projects. “A lot of clients have got millennium taskforces,” says Wagstaffs associate director Judi Green, “to see if it’s relevant for them to do limited editions.” It is luxury manufacturers which see next year as a useful marketing tool. Drinks brand specialist The Flat Five Company is involved in millennium projects at the luxury end of the market – limited edition specialist decanters, to appear on shelf from the summer. “Normally, these high value items would be for duty free, or travel retail, but increasingly they have a broader market,” says Flat Five’s Jonathan Davies.

The future

With all this activity, and barely the hint of an economic downturn, it is surprising that we haven’t seen many young start-up companies in the branded packaging world.

“Where are the 22-year-old Bruce Duckworths and Kathy Millers?” asks Watson of GDR. Petrie wonders whether there is a “lack of entrepreneurial spirit” among young designers. Sands at Elmwood speculates that with many of the original young turks of ten or 15 years ago still running groups, there is “less breathing space for the new ones”. Dick Murray of Williams Murray Banks agrees, and says this has an impact on company structure: “It has made groups incredibly hierarchical – you have to start creating titles like associate director.”

Or is the dearth of breakaways because packaging is seen as passé by design students and they have chosen to go into Web design?

Boots The Chemists’ Skin Nutrition by Haines McGregor

Rather than following the fashion set by the brand manufacturers, Boots has innovated with this new range, launched last autumn. Aimed primarily at women over 35, Skin Nutrition has branding and structural packaging by 15-strong Haines McGregor. ‘This was based on the concept of integrating vitamin supplements with topical products,’ says consultancy creative director Jeremy Haines. No other range quite like this exists anywhere in the world, according to Haines. ‘It’s an interesting hybrid and has given rise to a very distinctive piece of skin care packaging, rich and appetising.’ An approach, he says, which is under-exploited in this sector. He accuses skin care ranges of tending to be clinical and sterile in appearance. There are four supplement products and four topical formats (such as the night nourisher). The consultancy also worked on Boots’ Spa range a few years ago.

Paxo by Wickens Tutt Southgate

Paxo is a classic brand owned by RHM’s Bisto Foods which has suffered from falling market demand through changes in the home and the own-label onslaught. Paxo group product manager Jonathan Gatward says WTS has been working on the project since 1996. ‘We wanted a consultancy with really good planning insight as well as creativity,’ he says. The new packaging for Paxo’s core range launched this month. WTS was brought in to ‘make the brand more relevant to the needs of the modern female consumer’, says a consultancy spokeswoman. The pack design features a subtle heart motif framing a dish which ‘could represent an “everyday” family meal… the motif not only increases on-shelf recognition, but works to emotionally engage consumers with values of love, warmth, nurturing mothers and home cooking,’ according to the WTS spokeswoman.

SunSilk by Brown Inc

Brown Inc has executed a worldwide redesign for Unilever’s SunSilk. It is Unilever’s biggest global haircare brand, in central and south-east Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. It has 20 per cent of the marketplace by value sales in its top three markets. Brown Inc’s redesign is intended to build on the brand’s beauty and performance credentials. The consultancy introduced a new supporting symbol on pack. ‘The harmonisation of the design is conveyed via the consistent use of the SunSilk brand flag and a strong packaging architecture, while allowing for local colour and cameo variations,’ says a consultancy spokesman.

Amoy by Dragon

A number of so-called classic brands have been worked on in an attempt to compete against own-label. Dragon has repackaged the entire Amoy range and introduced the Straight to Wok variant. Dragon founding partner Jane Mann says of the project: ‘A recent independent research study confirms Amoy’s position as an authentic brand – at least nine out of ten Chinese restaurants use one or more Amoy products. It was critical that the design reflected this authenticity and conveyed accessible restaurant quality.’ Amoy marketing controller Bharti Parsotam adds: ‘Amoy is an authentic Chinese brand and design of the Straight to Wok selection had to reflect this as well as communicate the product detail in a distinctive way.’

Sundsvall by Pearlfisher

Innovation continues apace in the drinks industry, with many UK consultancies working off-shore. Sundsvall is positioned as a super- premium vodka for the US market, says Eva Kempe-Forsberg, director of product development for brand owner Vin & Spirit. Sundsvall is a hand-crafted vodka based on a 19th century Swedish recipe. As well as looking like a quality vodka, ‘we wanted to communicate the Swedish heritage’, she adds. Pearlfisher was brought in to develop the brand concept, name, identity and pack design.

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