‘There is so much sameness in the depiction of foods’: The power of brand differentiation

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

A culinary identity will help brands build a standout position in the marketplace. Pic: GettyImages
A culinary identity will help brands build a standout position in the marketplace. Pic: GettyImages

Related tags London Packaging Week brand differentiation culinary identity Chuck Studios Packaging premiumisation Sustainability

Acknowledging the challenges faced by brands in this overcrowded market - especially true of the snacking space - Olaf van Gerwen, founder and global creative director of global creative agency Chuck Studios stresses the significance of every touchpoint conveying the brand’s essence.

“Every touchpoint should speak the brand,”​ said Van Gerwen, noting that goes for the packaging, too.

“It’s not just about the product itself, but the brand story behind it.”

Ahead of London Packaging Week, organisers Easyfairs spoke to Van Gerwen to gain insights into his world: the realm where art intersects with packaging design.

Building a culinary identity

Chips spilling out of bag Getty
Pic: GettyImages

A film director and director of photography, Van Gerwen’s expertise entwines both the technical and creative mechanics of building brand value, a process the Amsterdam-headquartered agency coins as its ‘culinary identity creator’.

It’s every brand owner’s dream to have their brand instantly recognised and remembered without much effort, but despite some very strong trends and dominant category traditions directing the landscape, Van Gerwen contends “there is so much sameness in the depiction of foods”​ today.

“A culinary identity is a strategy that dictates choices in food depiction,” ​he says.

These are the visual signals - either tangible or intangible - that represent the food, something that every consumer falls back on when making a purchasing decision.

“We all make choices in food depiction that steer us first of all in the direction of consistency, but second of all to be distinctive,”​ adds van Gerwen.

“Your brand has to be recognisable and it has to be meaningful. It's not just about the product itself, but the brand story behind it."

Olaf van Gerwen
Olaf van Gerwen

Taking this concept further, in another interview Van Gerwen explained, ‘while wearing a neon beanie in Soho House may signal that you belong to a certain group, it fails to highlight a unique personality.

‘By developing a culinary identity, we dictate how food is depicted, just as design agencies do for packaging and brand design [everything from the logo, colour palette and typography to the layout].

‘We immerse ourselves in the brand’s history, positioning and DNA, and study category codes and the competitive landscape. The culinary identity doesn’t change a brand’s positioning or DNA; rather, it translates these attributes into the world of food.’

One brand to have achieved the ‘sweet spot’ of culinary identity is Lurpak.

“Lurpak is, in fact, a generic name for a variant of the butter-making process, but Arla has [built] a brand from it. It’s the best example of adding value through marketing. They do great promotions. They use bold typography that’s very recognisable and the consistent blue and silver brand colours are also key.”

Packaging, too, assumes a pivotal role in establishing a standout brand, such as the iconic glass Coca-Cola bottle.

“The bottle [itself] has become so iconic that it is a brand asset,” ​says Van Gerwen.

“The shape and the way it feels is very distinctive. Clearly, if your pack design is distinctive, you’ll definitely [want] to use it in advertising to achieve differentiation.”

Unpacking the important bits

Eating chips GettyImages
Pic: GettyImages

Delving into the realm of luxury branding, van Gerwen explains the importance lies in the meticulous attention to detail, from the outer packaging - ‘the first touch point with the brand’​ - to the product itself.

“The unpacking is important … it’s for that reason why unpacking videos are a thing.”

In fact, unboxing videos is one of the most popular genres on YouTube - consumers love to watch their favourite YouTubers gasp in excitement at the sight a delivery box on their doorstep and the moment the treat inside is revealed.

Regarding sustainability claims, Van Gerwen is reserved about their true impact on consumer purchasing behaviour.

“If it’s a really strong driver for consumers, naturally they will buy it … but it still remains a luxury position.”

And sadly, it’s not all good news for the small guys, especially in this fiercely competitive market.

Share of Voice (SOV) is a measure of the market a brand owns compared to its competitors; a gauge of brand visibility and how much it dominates conversation within that sector. The more market share you have, the greater popularity and authority you likely have among users and prospective customers.

“Big brands have an easier life … [they] have so much more to work with than the smaller brand … if you’re big, your chances of becoming bigger are much greater than that of small brands.”

However, big or small, to gain standout status, “a brand has to get a proper Share of Voice before it can become famous.”

As such, Van Gerwen emphasises the need for marketing support to exhibit the brand’s value and engage potential buyers, noting consumers actually demand a campaign.

“That’s where we add value.”

London Packaging Week is set to unpack innovative packaging trends at the London Excel Centre from 22-23 September. 

“All things point to this being one of our busiest, but also enlightening, packaging exhibitions to date,” ​said Parisa Maleki, community and content manager for the Easyfair Group.

“Whether you’re a seasoned packaging professional, an aspiring designer or simply someone passionate about sustainable solutions, we want to ensure that anyone can come along and contribute towards the drive to meet consumer needs and solve long-standing challenges in the industry.”

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