The design team at Matrix Partners won three awards for their work on pet food packaging for Caru Pet Food, Health Extension and Nature’s Logic. Don Tomala, managing partner of Chicago-based Matrix Partners, shared some of the pet food packaging insights his team used to win three 2017 Graphic Design USA American Package Design Awards.

Foremost, pet food packages have to make an impression within three seconds of being seen, he said.

“When shopping the pet food aisle, customers scan for graphic cues such as grain free icons and ‘made in USA’ flags when they encounter an unfamiliar brand,” Tomala told Petfood Industry. “If they don’t quickly see something relevant to them, they will keep on walking.”

Engaging pet imagery and upscale packaging 

Highlighting engaging images of pets on containers can connect with people’s hearts and heads as they shop, he said. Even the breeds of pets in the images can send a message.

“From research we’ve conducted, we know that public concern for the plight of rescue animals is at an all-time high,” Tomala said. “So portraying mixed breed pets instead of purebreds on packages is becoming more mainstream. It’s a subtle way to show customers that you understand what they care about.”

Upscale packaging appeals to consumers who have come to demand more graphically sophisticated containers after shopping at place like Whole Foods, he said. Especially when shopping for superpremium pet food and treats, people gravitate to packages that complement their home décor or lifestyle.

Trends in pet food promotion

Pet foods continue to follow human food trends, and even the same buzz words work for both, Tomala said. Which of those trends is emphasized for a particular pet food brand depends on how that company plans to differentiate itself from competitors. Ingredients, sourcing, formulating and processing methods are all aspects that a design team may promote to make a pet food brand stand out.

“In addition to ‘organic’ and ‘GMO-free,’ some of the on-trend statements that seem to resonate well with pet parents these days are ‘bioavailable,’ ‘sourced and made in USA’ and ‘whole food ingredients,’ he said. “In the case of Nature’s Logic pet foods, we leveraged a ‘no synthetic vitamins’ claim.”

Sustainability and pet food packaging

Beyond the images and messages printed on a package, consumers increasingly care about the environmental effects of the container itself. Luckily, using sustainable pet food packaging materials doesn’t put many constraints on design teams, according to Tomala.

“For example, the designs we developed for Caru Stews and Bone Broths, which are packaged in eco-friendly Tetra Pak cartons, are as dynamic as any we have created even though they can only be printed in four process colors,” he said. “This is only a minor inconvenience given the ecological benefit of using this type of packaging.”

For the award-winning Health Extension package, the emblem of the Pet Sustainability Coalition was prominently displayed to promote the brand’s active participation in that group. Tomala felt confident that this emblem would help drive sales.

Advice for cutting-edge pet food packaging

Ultimately, to keep consumer’s attention, Matrix’ design team focuses on mainstays of building consumer brands: clean, simple graphics and clear, relevant messaging. To keep fresh, Matrix Partners’ creative team is encouraged to keep an eye out for hot design elements while they shop, regardless of what for. Tomala also encourages designers to keep their sense of wonder and adventure, and to enjoy the process of making cutting-edge pet food containers.

Details of the pet food packaging awards

Caru Pet Food was awarded for Sustainable Packaging under the Special Features umbrella. Using Tetra Pak cartons allows Caru to keep perishable pet foods fresh without preservatives for up to two years. Moreover, this pet food container is made with one-third of the packaging of conventional cans and is post-consumer recyclable.

Health Extension received an award in the Animal and Pets category under the Package Design umbrella. Health Extension’s updated look features vibrant colors and real pets to form an emotional connection with pet owners. Bright color schemes with warm accents and engaging fonts tie the packaging together, highlighting key product info such as grain free, whole food ingredients and family owned.

Nature’s Logic was also recognized in the Animal and Pets category under the Package Design umbrella. The newly updated package designs feature artistic whole food silhouettes and earthy colors that support the message of 100-percent natural ingredients. The package also highlights the company’s recipes with whole foods and without synthetic vitamins.