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For those who find themselves on their weekly, or even daily, grocery store excursion, the sight of familiar labels and packages is welcome indeed. Consumers tend to search for the same products they always buy, which is great for those companies whose brands fill the evoked sets that people buy on autopilot. It isn’t so good for those whose products do not even earn notice.

The shrinking economy has changed some shopping habits though. Consumers are more careful, paying more attention to possibly cheaper, more attractive alternatives. In turn, manufacturers are looking for ways to shake things up and get people’s attention. For example, well-known consumer brands are tweaking their familiar designs, adding new elements to labels, and rolling out dynamic new containers.

A gherkin pickle has been on H.J. Heinz labels since the 1890s, but now the company will use a vine-ripened tomato to emphasize that it grows tomatoes from seeds. PepsiCo has redesigned its famous red-and-blue logo. Coca-Cola announced it will phase out the word “Classic” from cans of its flagship cola. And the Dr Pepper Snapple Co. has said it will refresh its Snapple iced teas by using packaging that touts the blend of healthy green and tasty black tea leaves inside the bottles.

Companies have always retooled their packaging, slogans, and color schemes, but in recessionary times, when every sale counts and prices keep climbing, it becomes particularly critical for products to stand out on shelves and catch shoppers’ attention. Changes also tend to make consumers feel like they are receiving something tangible for the higher prices, even when the product itself remains untouched. Therefore, firms can better manage the added costs associated with noticeable packaging changes.

Whether true or not, consumers see new packaging and tend to think that the “new” product may be worth trying. These days, firms need to any such thoughts they can find to get their products into the hands of consumers.

Discussion questions: 

  1. What are some other examples of products that have changed their packaging or logos? 
  2. Have you changed your buying habits based on the changing of a package or logo?

Brian Steinberg, “Recognition Factor,” Boston Globe, March 25, 2009;