Consumer brands should be iconic. Think about the curvy lines of Coca-Cola or the stylized fruit outline of Apple. Ideally, every consumer product design should call for a subconscious response. It’s true for advertising, of course. But it’s really important on the store shelf, where iconic packaging means greater sales.
Seattle Chocolates is an innovative and successful purveyor of gourmet sweets. In addition to making high-quality chocolate, the company is also active on issues like the environment. It also resonates with the needs and preferences of Seattle natives—and tourists.
To stand out from competitors, Seattle Chocolates takes packaging design very seriously. Even its individual chocolate bars have unique decorative and occasion-oriented themes, according to CEO Jean Thompson. “We are the chocolate brand known for its packaging,” she said. “We believe people judge a book by its cover. The product will jump off the shelf if the packaging is appealing or eye-catching. It’s our best little billboard, if you will.”
Quality Outside—and Inside
Seattle Chocolates prides itself on packaging that lends itself to gift-giving. “We have a trademarked design for our special gift boxes that hold a surprising number of chocolates,” Thompson said. The die-cut telescoping lid and ribbon have many seasonal and holiday variations, which are not only appealing to consumers looking for gift ideas, but also to retailers looking for designs with fresh ideas and high shelf appeal.
Although this type of packaging tends to be costlier, Thompson argues that it is well worth the investment. “The quality of the chocolate is communicated by the quality of the packaging,” she said. “We don’t skimp on the ink and paper and foil that we use in our packaging, which has a net positive impression on the consumer as to the quality of the brand.”
There are other ways the company applies this principle. Besides bars and gift boxes, the company also features clear plastic bags, tied with ribbons, that are intentionally designed for gift-giving. These are especially popular in specialty stores throughout the Seattle area.
Many packages feature tie-ins and specific references to the website, where more chocolates can be ordered. In that way, the company uses the attractiveness of its packaging to “hook” the consumer, while also providing an easy way to increase sales—even the customer has left the Seattle area.
Iconic Packaging: The Tourist Angle
As a promotion, Seattle Chocolates has also developed custom boxes, such as one representing the Space Needle and another a model of the Seattle Ferry. Each contains an assortment of truffles, of course, with clear instructions on how to order more candy on the website.
Thompson described the ferry box as somewhat of a “retro” phenomenon, originally created before her tenure as CEO. However, it has been successful over the years, featured in gift shops and outlets throughout the city, as well as at the airport. “We are the chocolates from Seattle, so we chose something iconic that people would be drawn to,” she said. “People what to bring back something that reminds them of their trip to Seattle. They eat the chocolate, but tend to keep the box for a while. And the box provides a way—on the website—to order more chocolate.”
The company is considering an updated version of the ferry box, but for the most part remains focused on unique and compelling packaging for its full line of products.
As a relatively small company, Seattle Chocolates has developed a remarkable network of partners in the retail and packaging service sectors. The latter includes Seattle-based retail packaging printer Emerald City Graphics, a part of RR Donnelley. (Emerald City frequently uses the ferry box container in its own marketing promotions.)
Many of the company’s more iconic packaging innovations over the years have been a result of collaboration between their designers and Emerald City’s experts. Practical knowledge of materials and techniques is essential, since the design must not only attract customers and leverage future sales, it must also do the practical things, like contain the product!
Seattle Chocolates has itself become an icon of sorts, not only by emulating its namesake city, but by creating a memorable experience—from the store shelf and the website to the ultimate end user.