Time for a clean break

Recent research conducted by Dragon suggests that concern over genetically modified foods is “boosting trade in organic and functional foods”.

This claim appears to be supported by the decision of Italian restaurant chain Pizza Piazza to open the first organic pizzeria in the UK. The concept, called Pizza Organic, opens in Horsham, Sussex next week and has been designed by Marketplace.

The group’s retail director Andy Campbell says there has been a shift in attitude towards organic produce in recent years – this change was taken into account while developing the concept.

“Being environmentally-aware is no longer the focal point of organic,” he says. “Organic food is much more about the healthy option and the health-conscious.

“The task was to find a way of expressing ‘organic-ness’ which gets away from the beard and sandals image. We had to find a style which appeals to an intelligent and sophisticated customer looking to make informed, but personal, rather than political choices about what they eat,” says Campbell.

The target audience associates organic with terms such as “fresh, natural, clean and generally untampered with”, so Campbell says the pizzeria interiors were designed to reflect this. They use “natural materials and mellow colours like olive, terracotta, sand, and duck egg blue”.

The new logo, which will appear on printed material, uniforms, crockery and signs also incorporates this theme, redrawing the O as an olive – “a central and quintessentially natural cooking ingredient”, adds Campbell. Table and wall menus will feature photographs of fresh ingredients.

If the pilot outlet is successful the whole existing chain will convert to organic, according to Campbell, who expects other restaurants to follow suit in the future.

“It won’t be the death knell of fast food chains but I suspect they will introduce a lighter option, something not so stodgy. In the long term, though, organic concepts will become synonymous with what we eat, without needing to state it.”

Dragon director Dorothy Mackenzie, who led the consultancy’s research team, believes food has taken on greater significance in recent years.

“There is an increasing interest in nutrition and a yearning for greater information, choice and control. Food is no longer just about fuel or enjoyment. It is increasingly seen as an essential element in health,” says Mackenzie.

“Successful brands will represent an attitude – an approach to managing health and engaging with the customer, which draws from the company behind the product as well as from the product itself.

“The image of organic foods has been transformed from unattractive and worthy to modern, aspirational and even fun. They have made the leap into the mainstream and branding and presentation have played a major role in this,” she says. “It’s been a breath of fresh air for packaging as it creates more opportunity to be distinctive and create an almost human-based product.”

According to Mackenzie, a number of organic brands have already “mastered” this, by providing a coherent, relevant philosophy that can be applied to the packaging for all of their goods. She cites Alara Wholefoods as one such manufacturer to have achieved this success.

“Its range of muesli majors on quality of ingredients and where they have come from. The packaging also includes Alara’s website address, enabling customers to get information about the product and creating a connected and contemporary style. It works really well,” says Mackenzie.

She believes that Yeo Valley Farms has successfully tackled the image problems that organic food has with children. “Organics can be quite boring for kids, but Yeo Valley has developed a range that is fun and interesting, using cartoons about the countryside.”

Two of the leading supermarket chains have approached packaging design for their own organic food products from different perspectives, according to Mackenzie. “Tesco uses bold colours with a contemporary graphic style, while Sainsbury’s has adopted a traditional farming look.”

Pemberton & Whitefoord is one of four design groups on the Tesco roster and has developed more than a dozen organic products for the retailer. The consultancy has also undertaken a number of other organic projects recently and conducted a study into the development and packaging of organic brands.

Creative partner Adrian Whitefoord accuses organic packaging of “reflecting the conventional view of organic food as hokey, hairshirt and lacking appetite or motivating brand values”.

He adds: “It seems ironic that so much organic food packaging does not deliver on core values – namely healthier and better tasting produce.” With this paradox in mind, the group has taken a “deliberate step away” from conventional organic products and adopted a concept of “organic food with attitude”.

The latest brand developed by Pemberton & Whitefoord is Free Natural – a range of organic snack food which is hitting the shelves this summer. It is designed to have broad appeal to attract children, teenagers and adults.

Free Natural’s hand-cooked Organic Crucial Crisps were launched in May and will soon be followed by Organic Laidback Liquorice and organic soft drinks called Kicking Kola and Lively Lemonade.

“Most organic products are presented as ‘good-for-you-but-shame-about-the-taste’. But we spotted a market opportunity to create a brand away from conventional organic packaging. We wanted fun and food values,” says Whitefoord.

“We’ve created a series of anarchic characters that are wacky without being childish, while the packaging uses vivid colours and bespoke typography,” he adds.

As the debate continues to rage over GM foods, and leading retailers expand their range of organic products, this specialist area of food retailing is certain to provide even more work for packaging design specialists.

But Mackenzie warns that further challenges await designers in the immediate future as the organic issue snowballs. “Over the next year the challenge will be to create a balance of communications of distinctive brands with strong communication of the organic origin of products.”

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