By: Margaret Andersen
As an entrepreneur, you’re in for a lot learning by doing. Turning to other business owners and learning about their experiences, though, can help you on your own journey. In this final part of a 4-part series, Holly McWhorter, owner of PLANT Apothecary, reflects on the challenges she’s encountered, mistakes she’s made, and what’s in store for the future of PLANT.
What was your biggest challenge in founding PLANT?
Holly: Keeping track of all the different moving parts. Running a physical products based business, with many different kinds of products, is wildly complex—there’s finance, formulation, design, production, sourcing, marketing, sales, logistics, management, organization, and more. And while some people’s minds are wired to handle that kind of work, and maybe even enjoy the challenge, Bjarke’s and mine are more wired for sustained focus on single creative projects. So it’s been very easy to get extremely overwhelmed.
If you could go back and do anything differently in this process, what would you want to change?
Holly: We’d have started out with an overall plan for staffing and finance further down the line. It’s great to be able start small and not need help or outside financing, but the trick lies in what will happen as you start to grow—especially if that growth happens quickly. Without any background in business, we had no idea what we’d be getting into if things went well. But knowing that now, we would have been more strategic about being prepared for growth.
Did you make any big mistakes during the first few years you were in business? If yes, can you share one or two?
Holly: [see the above question] Not planning for how to delegate the many tasks of running a business as we grew. Our need for help came along before we had the funds in place to pay for the help we needed, or the space to fit those additional people.
What is your main advice to other entrepreneurs who would like to start their own company?
Holly: Try to fill a hole in the market so that your products can at least “sell themselves” a little bit, once you get the word out about them. Make sure your product is something people not only will find appealing, but will feel comfortable spending what you want to charge for it. And don’t think that if the business takes off, you’ll be able to wear all the hats forever. Start off with at least some idea of how you’ll bring on people with skill sets different from yours when it becomes necessary.
What’s in store for the future of PLANT?
Holly: In general, we’ll be bringing out new products—including some for hair!—and expanding our reach across the globe.
What do you think has contributed to the success of your business?
Holly: We like to think that people are drawn to our products because of the package design—and then when they try them, they appreciate the effectiveness and simplicity of the products themselves. And we hope they appreciate our mission to be environmentally and socially responsible, making us a business that they want to support.
Margaret is a freelance graphic designer and writer based in Los Angeles. She received her MFA in Graphic Design from the California Institute of the Arts. She writes for AIGA’s blog Eye on Design, and is currently designing futuristic things for USC’s World Building Media Lab
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You’ve probably heard this piece of not-so-little news: Amazon has acquired Whole Foods. And while the prospect of having fresh foods, specialty cheeses, and flax seeds delivered straight to our door sounds pretty amazing, we also wanted to dig a little deeper to learn what this acquisition might mean for the future of grocery shopping. We spoke with retail and branding experts Gregg Lipman and Todd Maute, Partners at CBX to gain more insight on what consumers can expect.
Considering the news, what do you think is the overall vision Amazon has in mind and is working towards for consumers?
Gregg: Amazon is continuing to expand its reach and ubiquity as a supplier in all aspects of a consumer’s life. They’ll continue to lead with their disruptive model—using and creating progressive technologies to make services and products that will further entrench themselves into a person’s life and transform not only the way people shop but how they live.
Todd: Amazon’s goal is to be the world’s foremost customer centric company. Its muscle has always been its well-oiled logistical operations powered by the most sophisticated of data mining capabilities. With the acquisition of a 430 retail-location strong behemoth that has mastered the food supply, processing and distribution chain end to end, Amazon will be able to utilize its tech capabilities to introduce a completely unique and customized grocery experience to the consumer—possibly one that includes never having to leave their house.
Additionally, the acquisition should be able to further Amazon Fresh service with Whole Food’s physical locations playing a big role. Shrink is a consistent challenge and is harder to control in an online-only warehouse driven format; it is much better suited for a retailer to manage that profit-diminishing factor. Additionally, if Amazon Fresh could incorporate Prime, Pantry and Dash into the mix, it could become a singular brand platform for Amazon’s food business. From a demographic perspective, the typical Whole Foods shoppers sits on the higher-income earning scale similarly to the Amazon Prime shopper thus continuing to add to their growing customer database.
It’s often hard for people to embrace change, and many people still relish going into a grocery store and picking out produce themselves rather than having it picked and delivered for them. What steps can Amazon and Whole Foods take to make this a more natural transition for consumers?
Gregg: Amazon’s logistical juggernaut and access to consumer data will add more dimensions to the purchasing experience. People still seek a human-driven experience and Amazon should do everything to ensure its consumers its brick and mortar presence is about accessibility and enhancement; there is no sacrifice or subtracting with its newfound physical presence and if anything, should be a deeper-data infused complement to its virtual counterpart.
Todd: Consumers today are accustomed, if not expectant of, external changes that affect their daily behaviors. From mobile banking to pharmaceuticals delivered within two days at your doorstep to the evolution of the gas station deli offering, culture and technology have accelerated the pace of change and primed the consumer’s desire for convenience, value and their willingness to accept the new.
Both brands would be smart to take steps to ensure consumers the acquisition won’t affect them in ways each brand has built their loyalty off. They need to re-affirm and emphasize that Whole Foods will continue its high standards of product quality and Amazon’s efficient and customer-centric services won’t be affected.
What are some of the biggest benefits consumers will see as a result of Amazon acquiring Whole Foods? What are some of the potential problems consumers might face resulting from Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods?
Gregg: The benefit is a more integrated consumer experience for Amazon and Whole Foods visitors where transitioning from URL to IRL (or the opposite) is more simple, seamless and backed with robust data on purchasing options, history, recommendations, etc. Additionally, the potential effects on manufacturers could also lead to a decrease of prices for the consumer. The potential problems may rest in fewer channel choices for the consumer should they decide they don’t want to go with an Amazon-affiliated option.
Todd: Both Amazon and Whole Foods have very sophisticated methods in capturing consumer data. Coupled with Whole Foods’s stringent quality standards and efficiency in product development, you have a recipe for success. Consumers could potentially have access to both better pricing (as there would be no more middle man) and wider selection of choices. Convenience, quality, variety and savings—what more can consumers ask for?
On the flip side, great vision executed poorly can be problematic. If Amazon and Whole Foods can’t integrate their unique brand assets seamlessly, it could result in turning the consumer off completely. History has proven that home delivery for food is challenging such as in the case of Webvan. While its concept was ahead of its time, it was riddled with issues on its approach to the market specifically:
- None of the executives understood the food business.
- It expanded too quickly
- It targeted the wrong consumer and wrong markets
- It built warehouses instead of leveraging existing infrastructures.
While the Amazon and Whole Foods merger may currently be blessed without these issues, both brands need to marry their assets quickly and flawlessly to convince consumers they can meet, if not exceed their expectations.
In what ways do you foresee any ways that this acquisition could backfire, actually hurting Amazon in the long run?
Gregg: If history is an indicator of the future, Amazon will see its failure as a learning experience and move on to the next (i.e. see Amazon Fire Phone). Amazon’s nature is to innovate quickly and while this acquisition is not technically an “innovation,” its brand could take a hit on the public relations front as a brand that can seemingly do anything.
Todd: Amazon has seen astronomical growth due to their bets on digitization and mobile and their continued portfolio diversification around the Internet of Things. It is a company not afraid to take risks outside its wheelhouse and invest in trends; leveraging what they do well and investing in the multi-trillion business of grocery is a wise bet. Even if they’re unable to convert the consumer, I’m doubtful it would drastically impact the overall Amazon brand in a negative way. Consumers will continue to flock to Amazon to purchase other things- perhaps one day cars or prescriptions? Amazon’s opportunities are endless.
What about retailers—what are some of the challenges they’re likely to face due to the acquisition of Whole Foods?
Todd: The market reaction to the Amazon announcement was not positive for other grocery brands. Retail across the board has been failing to keep pace with Amazon’s ability to sell goods online at the value consumers are demanding. Department store brands are rapidly disappearing because of their inability to respond to the requirement of digitization and embrace omni-channel and the only ones surviving, if not thriving, are value operators like Aldi, TJ Maxx, Home Goods etc.
If Amazon opts to focus on its own delivery service, Whole Food’s relationship with Instacart would be affected and it would ripple to brands like Publix and HEB, ultimately weeding out Amazon’s competition.
Additionally, the organics industry has seen enormous growth over the past few years. Supply has increased and traditional grocers like Kroger have entered the business in a major way specifically by creating their own billion-dollar private label brands. If Amazon and Whole Foods could bring better pricing and more access and convenience to the organics industry, it will most definitely impact traditional grocer’s attempt to capture more share of the consumer that desires more high quality and healthier food options.
How can other businesses plan to keep an edge and compete with Amazon and Whole Foods?
Todd: As much as consumers want value and convenience, they also desire a unique shopping experience. More grocers are increasingly investing in enhancing the shopping experience and growing the perimeter. If they can offer the consumer a shopping experience that can’t be had online, that is where they’ll be able to defend their market share. While this takes capital, time, and commitment, they cannot afford to not do so. Wegmans and Costco are interesting examples of brands providing unique shopping experience incorporating the love of food, the thrill of the hunt and an exploratory opportunity for the consumer shopping their goods.
With the business potential the acquisition can create, there will be a significant opportunity for markets to expand for niche brands. Smaller companies will have a less costly way to enter the market than traditional retail. Start-ups can benefit greatly by gaining access to massive distribution without the need for slotting fees and other costs burdening the growth of their business.
Last year, over 40% of online retail sales were on Amazon, and with the acquisition of Whole Foods we likely can expect this number to increase. But at what point does having one enormous retailer making such a significant portion of sales actually put society as a whole at risk?
Gregg: The effects of scale have implications. Technology has enabled both innovation and consolidation and as these tech-fueled companies continue to amass power and leverage, they sometimes tread dangerously with antitrust laws. It is the prerogative of the government to ensure these companies’ pursuit of growth and influence does not result in competitor manipulation and category monopoly.
Todd: With scale comes risk. When you put too many eggs in one basket, competition is inevitably eliminated and thus impacting quality for the consumer. However, on the flip side, size has the potential to drive down cost and also increases profits, which provides more capital for investment in continuous improvement. There is a case for both good and bad but regulation should be able to protect the consumer.
In what ways, if any, do you foresee Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods helping with food insecurity?
Gregg: If executed properly, Amazon will be able to leverage Whole Foods’s credibility in food quality. It will be interesting to witness both brands’ approach to fresh foods, food service and natural and organics at scale and observe whether expectations and tolerance of quality differ when it comes to different consumer segments.
Todd: If you look at the values both companies operate by, I would assume the impact on food insecurity would be positive and minimize growing consumer concern.
The Amazon brand is customer obsessed; they invent and simplify, hold the highest standards, think big, take action, are frugal and want to instill trust. Whole Foods is grounded in high product standards, caring for the community, satisfying and nourishing consumers and environmental stewardship. Together, they should be able to bring the best products to consumers at the lowest prices and in the fastest and most convenient ways possible.
As consumers, we need to realize that neither Amazon nor Whole Foods make everything they sell and thus do not have total control over the supply chain. But the strength and power the combined organizations could have will provide significant influence on their manufacturing partners. Therefore they should have a greater ability to enforce their values and high product standards, ultimately benefiting consumers and alleviating any concern over food safety and insecurity.
Photos courtesy of Whole Foods and Amazon.
Founded in 2003, CBX is a brand agency with expertise in design, strategy, verbal identity and retail environments. Our client roster includes General Mills, Kimberly Clark, Sam’s Club, Clorox, Cricket Wireless, Mission Foods, and The J.M. Smucker Company among many others. Our offices are in New York, Minneapolis and San Francisco.
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The DuPuis Group redesigned the branding and packaging for Johnsonville Sausages in order to give it a fresh look.
“The DuPuis Group partnered with the team at Johnsonville with one mission in mind: to develop an ownable expression of the company’s authentic story. This story would be distinct and unique, helping Johnsonville clearly differentiate itself from an increasing number of competitors.”
“In 1945, Ralph F. and Alice Stayer opened a butcher shop in their quaint hometown of Johnsonville, Wisconsin. The updated brand mark showcases the Stayer’s 1940s shop to tell an authentic story, one rooted in unrivaled product quality. The logo change gives the brand a real and ownable visual story to build around.
While the new packaging is familiar, its refreshed look delivers on simplicity and appetite appeal. This approach has revitalized the brand and lets consumers know the company remains, in essence, a small-town butcher. The updated packaging was just released Spring 2017, and results in-market are positive. Consumers are responding to the more value-driven story and the cohesive line look piques their interest, while improving shopablilty.”
Agency: DuPuis Group
Designers: Adam Gertsner, Adam McIver
Creative Directors: Aaron Funke, Ivana Nikolic
Photographer: Flashlight Studio (Justin Paris)
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We love this gorgeous conceptual goat cheese packaging from Cece Li. Staios Goat Cheese is decorated with a beautiful blue color and exquisite ornate lettering and illustration elements.
“The Staios Goat Cheese brand name comes from the Greek god Aristaios. Staios was the rustic god of shepherds and cheese-making, beekeeping, honey and honey-mead, olive growing, oil milling, medicinal herbs, hunting, and the Etesian winds which provided some respite from the scorching heat of midsummer. His name was derived from the Greek word aristaios, ‘most excellent’ or ‘most useful.’ The brand aims to deliver the finest cheese in the US.”
Designed By: Cece Li
Location: San Francisco, CA
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Get healthy with algae…seriously. TA80 designed the bright packaging for Maison de la Spiruline, a company that specializes in selling spirulina, an algae with extensive health benefits.
“We were in charge of the creation and repositioning of the Maison de la Spiruline communication as a premium brand. The Spirulina House is a company founded in 1978 following the first work of Belda Sisso. It is the fruit of many years of experience and research in order to propose the best ‘crus’ of spirulina and ensure a regular supply in Europe. Spirulina is a microscopic algae that lives on the surface of freshwater lakes. Its consumption is highly beneficial to humans because of its intakes of vitamins, minerals and trace elements.”
Client: Maison de la spiruline
Photography: © Stanislas Wolff
Location: Paris, France
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Daniel Robson designed the simple yet elegant packaging for Sip, a conceptual juice brand.
“This is an RMIT University student project. The label is printed on a premium paper with a digital clear spot finish, creating a semi-gloss tactility.
Sip is a conceptual juice brand with a premium feel, designed to compete with high-end cold pressed juices. The logo extends around the side of the bottle, leading to the ‘Shake Well’ instruction and then product description. This encourages interaction.”
“The contrasting blue logo provides a bright, fresh contrast against the pale green juice. This unique colour palette sets it apart from competitors and gives the bottle an overall ‘fresh’ feel.
The descriptive text on the rear of the label uses a subtle gradient from blue to black to emphasise the unique blending of flavours that this juice offers.
The lid playfully references the unique whiskey flask shape of the bottle. The tag-line ‘enjoy responsibly’ (often seen on alcoholic beverages) subtly hints at the possibly addictive nature of Sip juice.”
Designer: Daniel Robson
Lecturer: Renato Gallina
Printer: Classic Colour Copy
Paper: K.W Dogget
Location: Melbourne, Australia
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Phillip Fivel Nessen designed this new look for Help Remedies. The design features a clear and concise way to identify exactly the product you’re looking for while also incorporating a bright and friendly look.
“After HELP REMEDIES’ national rollout it became clear that their paper pulp and plastic clamshell case was a nightmare to merchandise on a large scale (like really bad). HELP’S product engineer Dale Trigger and I were tasked with creating a new all paper pack that kept the feel of the original pack but could be displayed neatly on pegs. As drug competitors such as TARGET’S UP&UP had been upgrading their identities to something much more clean and modern, we took the opportunity to move away from the generic and feature the friendly, graphic imagery we had been using regularly since I had become art director. HELP was sold soon after, and so these sadly never went into large-scale production.”
Designed By: Phillip Fivel Nessen
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Fiasco Gelato has come out with an adorable new line of single-serve pints of gelato just in time for the summer!
“Our team at Fiasco is thrilled to release these 6 new tiny pints with a spoon in the lid, which will appear on shelves May, 2017, across Canada. The flavors include: Dark Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt Gelato, Salted Caramel Gelato, Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Bean Gelato, Raspberry Lime Sorbetto, Strawberry Rhubarb Sorbetto, and Mango Pineapple Sorbetto.”
“These tiny little pints were created as snack size versions of our top flavours. We wanted them to jump off the shelf just like our pints, and come complete with a spoon in the lid, so our fans would be able to grab it and enjoy their gelato on the go. We also created a 12-pack caddie to hold the single serves, designed with Fiasco branding and storytelling about our company and what we do.
We had a version of our single serves available in limited retailers that sold well, but the experience wasn’t what Fiasco was known for. After 2 years, and lots of testing, we landed on these little guys to make our fans smile.”
“The single serves are meant to be tiny replicas of our original pints, so they would immediately be recognizable on the shelves to our fans. The design needed to be simple, clear, concise, and still retain the boldness of the Fiasco branding. We color-matched our single serves to our pints to carry forward the instant recognition of our pints on the shelves – our clear packaging in our original pints is an aspect of our branding we love – so we wanted that to be simulated in our single serve design.”
“We added our mission statement to the lid of the single serves to add to our storytelling and give an idea to anyone who picks up one of these little guys what we’re all about as a gelato company. These single serves are a tiny extension of what we do – and like all our Fiasco products, we wanted to create something that is easily accessible and shareable and would be a fun experience for our fans.
We love that we are able to now offer a treat to our fans that they are able to grab and go and enjoy anywhere, anytime. These single serves are a part of our #SummerofHappiness campaign, and we hope that they make our fans happy!”
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