Kraft Shreds its Cheese Packaging

At the supermarket this weekend I did a double-take passing the shredded cheese display. New packaging! How exciting. I made a beeline for the display which looked a lot like what you’d expect a generic or store brand to look like. Then came the big shock — it was Kraft!

kraft_old_full_line

Considering how controversial the rebranded Tropicana packaging was, I was very surprised to see that Kraft had followed suit. In the old packaging, although each package varies from cheese to cheese, the basic look remained the same: a blue wave at top and bottom, a “banner” top and center with the Kraft logo and type of cheese, and a clear view into the package. It’s recognizable, eye-catching, and invokes a sense of quality.

Please excuse the photo from my phone's "utility" camera.

Kraft's new shredded cheese packaging — white space and lower case letters.

The new, cleaned up packaging is almost austere in its simplicity. I am a big fan of white space, but this new design may be oversimplified for a big consumer brand. It heralds the old store brand packaging we all used to recognize, before “no-frills” brands began to compete on visual presentation, and not just on price and value. The packaging is not just a simple white and blue stripe with a block of color to indicate the type of cheese, it’s also not glossy! It’s a more matte-looking plastic package material, which, I’m sure, is intended to stand out from the other brands’ glossy cheese packaging. You might also think, that given all the clear-space around the Kraft logo, that the logo would stand out more from the package. However, it manages to get lost on this über-clean design, your focus, instead, is drawn to the colored block of copy on the bottom, which tells you the type of cheese in all lower case letters.

Having been immersed in corporate design for half of my career, I can understand what they were thinking with this rebrand. It’s not unlike what PepsiCo must have been thinking when they redesigned the Tropicana carton — simplify their package while others crowd, be muted while others shine, use bold type by doing something unexpected. But I’ve also been involved in consumer brands and package design. And while trends are important to consider, and bucking them is sometimes a worth-while risk, in this case, it seems they have succeeded only in lowering their perceived value. When designing consumer brand packaging like this one, it is essential to also consider the products that will be seen next to it.

I disagree with this blogger, who feels that by showing the product in it’s more natural form, you get a better sense of the product inside. (I’m paraphrasing.) In this case, by seeing a photo of a block of cheese, a better connection is made to the shredded cheese inside. I think very few people have difficulty identifying shredded cheese. (Okay, maybe on a salad it could be seen as shredded carrots, but given the display, it’s unlikely here.) Do we need to see a picture of a cow on a package of ground beef? Probably not.

By oversimplifying their packaging, they have given themselves a less “big brand” feel, but still have the big brand price. They’re less visually noticable than the store brands, but cost more. They’re not organic, or hormone-free, or any of the other reasons that today’s specialty dairy products can command higher price points. By looking like the generic brands we used to see more of, this package fades a bit compared to the others around it. Like PepsiCo with the Tropicana rebrand, I think they’ll find this design gets them less visual attention, rather than more.

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10 Responses to “Kraft Shreds its Cheese Packaging”

  1. everydream23 Says:

    I think it had more to do that some cheese looks the same in the package (Cheddar and Monterey Jack). Lets face it though… that cheese in the package never looked like the cheese in the photo… its massed produced. So atleast they are trying to give you the impression that is what you are buying. So by adding a secondary image you are reaffirming what you are buying.

    Time will tell if Kraft will go the way of Tropicana… but I don’t think they will. There has been a positive acceptance by both designers and the public. I have no problem finding the product.

    Great points and post.

    • authorjen Says:

      You’re probably right, everydream23. I am surprised by how well this package redesign has been received, at least out here in blog-land. And I can also see the thinking behind showing the block of cheese to clear up confusion. But is it any easier to distinguish a chunk of cheddar from a chunk of montery jack? It’s still pretty vague. And the apparent lack of deliberate branding seems ill-timed and without direction. I think you’re probably right, we won’t see Kraft backtracking to the old package design, but I’d bet we’ll be seeing another redesign within a year.

  2. Chuck Killorin Says:

    Good point, I hadn’t thought about the different types of cheese looking similar inside the package. But you’re right, that cheese never did look anything like the pic on the package!

  3. TL Says:

    I disagree – I think the new package looks generic. It’s bland, I don’t want to buy it – in this economy the new packaging sends a (possible) message that they’ve downsized / or more cheaply sourced their ingredients. I don’t buy generics alot, and this to me, says “generic”. On the shelf beside the other big brands, this wouldn’t be my choice. I cringe at the design, and wouldn’t toss it into my cart.

    • authorjen Says:

      Hey TL, that’s kinda what I’m sayin! Glad you agree. 🙂

      That said, I’ll buy whichever cheese is on sale. Once you open the bag, it’s all the same inside.

  4. Kenm Says:

    Companies are continually outhinking themselves, and this is another example. I literally spent a few minutes trying to figure out where my cheese went at the grocery store. I finally realized that this weird, bland, generic brand was actually the Kraft cheese I had been looking for. Though I still wasn’t completely sure if this was some kind of “natural” offshoot brand Kraft dreamed up until I asked the guy in the dairy section. This will go down as another Tropicana, Gatorade G debacle.

  5. everydream23 Says:

    I am not sure how many of you are designers but if you are, your knee jerk reaction to the packaging is detrimental to our own field. Remember next time you are designing and your client asks you for a complete upgrade of packaging and you can try not to take it next level because a consumer might be confused for a split second.

    Look above at the “before” photo… no consistency of brand or color application yet there most of you are so excited about bad typesetting and color choices. I also love the huge illustration of the ziplock device. Why don’t you like it? it sounds like to me its you were comfortable and that moment of insecurity.

    This is nowhere near the change of Tropicana or Gatorade. Kraft is known for its Blue. It says Kraft. Is cheese. Would you rather it have the hokey and somewhat offensive Mexican typeface?

    Shoot first discussion like above hurts us all. If you are going to critique a design make sure to say how to fix it. I want to know what YOU would of done to make it better. Go through it in your mind as a designer AND a casual consumer and what both of their expectations of what packaging should look like. Your generic is someone else high-end.

    Casual consumers now associate minimalist design to higher end products due to the ubiquity of the iPod and Apple devices. Because you and I know and study packaging it gives us further insight into actual high end branding. People buying Kraft cheese most likely aren’t shopping at Whole Foods, or looking for small batch cheese… but if they believe what they are getting is of better quality based on their design perception then so be it.

    • authorjen Says:

      That’s a great idea! I would love for my firm to be hired to redesign the Kraft shredded cheese packaging. At that point I would begin the design process with assessments and research before I began to design. So until that’s a reality, what I would do isn’t really the issue here.

      However, as a consumer, I did have a knee jerk reaction to the new package design. (That’s what consumers do, and consumers are the target audience here.) And it wasn’t an entirely positive reaction, as outlined above. And even after some time has passed and my knee jerk reaction has become an overall impression, my feelings haven’t changed.

      I was never wild about the old packaging, mostly because it seemed to have “evolved” as brands tend to do as they grow, and the initial design probably wasn’t flexible enough to adequately address the growing number of variations. A redesign was unquestionably in order, but I still feel this particular redesign fell short of the mark. Not only because of the design itself, but because of its appropriateness (or inappropriateness) to the product and the brand (again, as outlined above).

      And while I agree that minimalist design has had the perception of higher end products, not all minimalist designs are created equal, and not all are successful. Tropicana is a great example.

      Thanks for your feedback! The subjective nature of design is a wonderful thing, don’t you agree?

  6. J.B. Says:

    So I did have a huge comment posted on here about a week ago… but I take it my last post was too offensive telling designers (as I am one) that they need to put themselves in the shoes of the designer who created this.

    That the knee jerk design critique reactions we have only are a detriment to our field and that instead of ripping this apart I want to hear what they would do.

    too offensive?

    I thought we were supposed to encourage discussion not squash it…

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