Lured By A Prettier Box

What's different about the two packages in the photo below?

Hardly anything. Well, except that the definition of "al dente perfection" sort of changed.

Basically, this is a case of a food company deciding, for whatever reason, to change the look and feel of their packaging.

We'll ask why they did this in a moment. But for now, consider how odd it is that Barilla draws absolutely no attention to the change. There's no "New Label!" or "Now with a new look!"-type message on the box. It's likely, therefore, that most customers will never notice the difference. (Heck, if it weren't for the fact that I was making a double batch of Citrus Orzo Salad and needed extra orzo, I'd have never noticed either.)

Okay. We have a stealth package redesign, a new box that quite frankly doesn't look any better than the old box, and an obviously unchanged product inside. All of which leads us to an existential question that I shout at the top of my lungs every time I see pointless changes like this:

Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?

Seriously, why bother? Why change the box? What was wrong with the old packaging (the box on the left) and what's so great about the packaging of the new box? What's the point?

I can think of a few reasons. Perhaps Barilla is running split-testing for their next product redesign. Perhaps they want to test a few versions out on the market before choosing. And who knows, maybe one of their designs will result in a spike in sales.

That's great for Barilla if it works. But all this takes us to our last question: Who bears the cost of this packaging change?

Yup. It's the same people who ultimately bear the costs of advertising, marketing, and all the other expenses companies incur to try to get us to buy their stuff. We do. We consumers ultimately pay for all marketing techniques, ads, redesigns, product reformulations, and any other attempts by companies to convince us their product is new, different and better. These costs are passed right on through to us.

Here's where long-time CK readers start to nod their heads--and where newer readers here should start to rethink the value of many of the standard marketing techniques and traditions of the consumer products industry.

Which brings us to yet another reason why we can't be passive consumers in the grocery store. Remember, it's the zombies who get separated from their money. Intelligent consumers must use other cues, including quality, price and our own personal preferences to make the best buying decisions.

And that's why I want my readers to look at packaging redesigns just as they look at advertising. They are both sources of incremental costs, and they should be seen as destroyers of value for consumers.

Which is why when you see a new package or a new look in a product you typically buy, check the price right away.

If a food company can regularly change up their packaging and still keep their price below competitors' prices, by all means keep supporting that product. Or, if you're totally ecstatic with the quality of that product regardless of the price, again, by all means keep buying.

However, if you ever see an item that:

1) Tries to dress itself up as up-market or aspirational,
2) Raises prices without a commensurate increase in quality, or
3) Sneaks a
stealth price hike past customers in the form of a smaller product volume or weight...

...drop that brand immediately. Don't waste time with ineffective and effete actions like grumbling or complaining. Instead, take action and quit buying. Find a substitute made by a company that doesn't presume that you're a passive, mindless consumer.

Force companies to compete for your business by offering value, not by offering a prettier box.

Readers, how do you think about this issue?

Related Posts:
How to Defeat the Retail Industry's Ninja Mind Tricks
Can You Resist $107 Worth of Advertising?
Where Going Generic Works... And Where It Doesn't
On Spice Fade, And the Utter Insanity of Throwing Spices Out After Six Months
How to Own the Consumer Products Industry--And I Mean Literally Own It
Companies vs. Consumers: A Manifesto

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Anonymous said...

Oh Dan! Because the new box is prettier! That's why! It depends on what matters to you. I love design and I'll be the first to admit that I'm a complete sucker for packaging. I, on a regular basis, buy a product because of the packaging. Now I'm sure you're once again shouting, "Why?" Because I like to support companies that support good design. That's important to me. I literally am happier when I use something that I love looking at.

By the way...I'm writing this on my very cute Mac laptop!

Your cousin, Allison

Anonymous said...

I don't really care. I try not to buy based on packaging. (I'd probably skip this all together because it isn't whole wheat...)
I agree, it is prettier!

Meanwhile, once upon a time ago, I had toffee chips (not to be confused with Heath chips) in a golden bag. The had THE BEST oatmeal toffee chip cookies recipe on the back - I haven't been able to find those toffee chips in soooo long. (& I really just want the recipe.)

Anonymous said...

Looks to me like they wanted to include a green vegetable to give the buyer the feeling that the product is "fresh." I actually think the new design makes the package looks smaller and therefore a worse value.

chacha1 said...

Nice toes, Dan!

I like the old package better; it's simpler. If I were the marketing maven, I'd have just quietly changed the al dente cooking time recommendation and left the rest of it alone.

What I'm really curious about is ... was the new package's price actually higher?

Katie Mack said...

Great post, I read this at work yesterday and didn't get the chance to comment.

You are correct, the consumer will ultimately pay for this new "marketing strategy". And I fully admit to be susceptible to fun packaging! I would guess in this case that they are going for the whole "orzo is healthy for you, look we're putting vegetables on the box!" vibe. I agree with chacha, I like the old box better.

One thing that raises a red flag with me...the weight is now obscured with a pretty picture of food. No longer does it shout out 16 OZ against a dark blue background! Was the weight still the same on the new box? This new packaging allows them to change the weight and go virtually unnoticed.

Walter said...

I agree with Katie Mack in that it could be part of a stealth price increase. You would have been all over that, so I assume the package size stayed the same.

The other reason I thought of for the package change was to increase its visibility on the store shelves--either in comparison to its old package, to other brands or just to make it appear "new" and noticible.

I typically don't get too upset with the occasional repackaging, as long as it's not tied to a stealth price increase. The incremental cost to one package is minimal and it might draw my attention to something I've been overlooking.

Daniel said...

Some really interesting feedback so far.

Regarding Allison's point, there is nothing wrong with supporting companies in this way. To me, that's just being mindful in your purchasing decisions. So I hear that. But, still, the consumer ends up paying for any incremental cost, either now, or in the form of possible future price increases. And for me at least, design and packaging is much less important with commodity food staples. That's really the issue as far as I see it. However, I hear you and I take your point.

Chacha: Just checking to see which readers actually scroll to the very end of my posts. :) And PS: The price and the package size stayed the same... so far.

Katie Mack: Great point: the new package design would make a stealth price hike harder to detect. That's a good insight--thanks for sharing it.


Daniel said...

Walter, you're right: the cost of a package design should be minimal on a per-unit basis. But it is a factor, especially when you consider it in combination with many of the other branding, advertising and marketing costs companies incur to get us to notice their products.

But you're getting at the central point of this post: how much is packaging really important to us as consumers, how much are we manipulated by it, and to what extent is it worth any extra cost? Is a product really more valuable to consumers if it becomes more noticeable? I don't know.


Tt in nyc said...

Um, at the risk of sounding like a complete a-hole, why dont you buy orzo from the bulk bins where its significantly cheaper, and no packaging to fret over? Im not sure my palate is delicate enough to tell the difference between store brand and barilla....

Daniel said...

Heh. Tt, no worries at all, in fact, you're absolutely right. Heck, my palate isn't delicate enough to tell the difference either.

Yet another great reason to ditch yet another branded product that's not worth the price premium. Thanks for the thoughts.