Farms Finest: Choose food for more than a fancy package |

Farms Finest: Choose food for more than a fancy package

Joni Keefe
Special to The Aspen Times

Children are often told to stop playing with their food, so maybe it is time for industrial food factories to be included in this reprimand. The latest and greatest for crazy edible combinations and marketing gimmicks are diverting attention from the product inside. Consumers are unwittingly driving this hyped-up parade of products with their hunger for more new choices.

A top-shelf example for experimentation in mixology and sales is “Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout.” A friend came home with a pair of two-packs from the Wynkoop Brewing Co. in Denver. A hearty 12-ounce local brew with, yes, bull testicles. The company describes its product as a “luscious, uniquely ballsy stout with notes of roasted barley coffee and nuts.” Note, they are naturally packaged in two-pack units and not the usual six-packs.

Maybe the flavor is a beer drinker’s dream offering a unique recipe with a unusual earthiness? Whatever flavor nuances may be in the brew, it is a potent “stand-out-in-the-crowd” example of marketing. Whether they are fast-food containers to fit in a car’s console, packages that offer an added value or beer with balls, the bottom line is about making sales.

Packaging, shelve positioning, commercials and clever campaigns are powerful decision makers in sales. More often than not we attribute value based on an attractive outer layer and pay little attention to what is actually inside.

Consumer reactions and buying habits are researched extensively to discover how sales can be triggered, while coveted data also is being collected on package shapes, colors and patterns.

Wynkoop’s beer is only one example of busting consumers’ chops, or other things, to market food products. Artisan products stay unique with their homespun style of packages that hope to inspire a cottage-industry flavor experience, often decorating their packages with an old-fashioned style using earthy designs or even historic wallpaper patterns. Leaning toward the opposite spectrum is minimalist packaging that is often used for gourmet products, to suggest a modern route to clean eating. The “My Olive Trees” packaging covers both bases with an infusion of traditional family values combined with a sleek bottle design.

In 2013, a new packaging trend emerged, suggesting luxury that even tried to transform fast food to Tiffany levels. Testing the marketing waters in Japan, McDonald’s put Big Macs in a white bag with a simple gold foil “M” and ribbon. In another attempt for testing marketing waters, this “jewelry version” of a burger came with a truffle sauce and fancy bag, all for a mere $10.

Others employ interesting and vibrantly colored shapes like the accordion tubes made for the “Eat and Go” hoagies or the M&Ms bullet-shaped containers with crayon-colored tops. It is well known that color is one of the greatest branding and sales tools.

Even the simplest of ideas can spin vegetables and fruits into higher sales numbers, such as tangerines lined up in a tube of netting with a green cardboard carrot top used for the label. Simple or elaborate, it is all to attract attention and make you reach for the package.

Convenience with added value in the package itself is yet another pitch in marketing, such as vinyl, dual-compartment rice bags that measure out both the rice and water. According to Market Watch, the genius idea of offering coffee in single-cup packs made sales triple since 2011. Even those simple six- and eight-pack beverage rings have worked their way into our buying patterns.

Innovative sales methods are hardly new; toys in cereal boxes, trading cards and coupons all have influenced our grocery choices. We will often look for the best “value” overall, which can sacrifice the products’ food value.

Since industrial food has become such a health issue, consumers are examining ingredient labels more. If we focus on the goodness inside, the corporate gurus will have to accept a new challenge and get real.

Did I drink that brew from Wynkoop? No, I am guilty, I’ll keep it only for the novelty.

Joni Keefe currently works for a commercial airline while continuing to write about agriculture and food. Follow Farms Finest on Twitter, on Facebook and in The Aspen Times on Sundays.