Food entrepreneur Jason Cohen, a driving force behind Skinny Pop, Veggie Straws and other fast-growth brands, divulges advice for effective packaging design for small companies with big plans.

What do brands like Skinny Pops, Veggie Straws and CORE Hydration have in common? One of the principals behind the amazing success of these brands is “better-for-you” food entrepreneur Jason Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Halen Brands, Fairfield, NJ, which is focused on helping small food and beverage businesses get distribution and grow market share. Cohen has an exceptional track record, having helped bring to market seven food brands over the past 15 years including Chef’s Cut jerky, which has reached $65 million in sales and Skinny Pop popcorn, which was taken public by Goldman Sachs for $1.3 billion.

Packaging Digest  tapped Cohen’s advice on how brands can design packaging that’s irresistible.

What’s the importance of on-trend food packaging?

Cohen: Today packaging is a critical element of any food product as consumers see it as an extension of who they are. In the better-for-you category, product design is shifting away from medicinal look to a more stylized packaging and the goal should be to make consumers feel confident when they pull the package out of their bag—it’s like it’s just another accessory.

What are key market drivers in foods? 

Cohen: On the nutrition front, there are three significant shifts in consumer behavior that has caused a fundamental impact on the food and beverage industry. The focus on clean eating is because food allergies are hitting home. It is likely that a family member or acquaintance has one or more allergies even if a consumer is not directly impacted. Today, one out of every four kids has a food allergy of some form, so this is definitely a key concern of parents.

Protein is also a highly sought-after macronutrient. We’ve seen a rise in protein-packed snack options, including jerky and cheese chips that provide nutrients to keep consumers satisfied and fueled throughout the day. Consumers need on-the-go snacks that provide essential nutrients in between meals not to feel full, but to know that they are fueling their bodies properly.

Consumers’ taste buds are highly sophisticated and they are seeking more advanced flavor profiles whether that is a multi-flavored product or a global influence on flavors. We are going to see this space evolve tremendously over the next year with more complex flavor combinations.

What’s an emerging trend that brands should pay attention to?

Cohen: Snacking continues to grow and we expect that this will keep at a steady pace over the course of the next couple of years, especially in the better-for-you food category as people look for healthier options and ways to eat decadent foods. We are going to see a continued push on cleaner labels, but with consumers expecting that they won’t have to sacrifice flavor for healthier ingredients.

What are examples of effective packaging—and why?

Cohen: Skinny Pop packaging is a great example. Our packaging conveys that the consumer can feel comfortable eating the whole bag, because it’s “skinny.”

Additionally, we’re transparent with our labeling, highlighting notable product qualities such as non-GMO, no artificial ingredients and more. With CORE water, the bottle’s uniqueness provides a sense of empowerment for consumers when they are carrying it. (see CORE Hydration goes big and small with bottled water, published February 2017)

For Veggie Straws packaging, the word veggie conveys the functional benefit of eating something that is better for you than a traditional snack.


How do you know a design is ready for market?

Cohen: Part of this intuitiveness is having a firm understanding of what is motivating consumers to purchase products. Our team is constantly looking at what packaging designs are on-trend through color palettes that deliver the right messages to consumers and engage with retailers.  When designing the product packaging, we like to get feedback from retailers before finalizing the design because they can provide valuable insights and perspectives that help move the product from the shelf to the cart.

How much attention do you give Millennials? 

Cohen: Millennials are currently spending more money on snacks than any other generation, so Halen Brands definitely takes their viewpoint into consideration when developing packaging designs. Especially important for this demographic is ensuring that products are designed in a way that millennials can easily make the product a part of their lives which they are actively sharing on social media.

What’s a lesson learned you can share? 

Cohen: Over the past few years, a key learning has been that packaging, the quality of the product and overall taste are all significant purchasing factors for Millennials. These three points must have an equal mission. Packaging is an extension of brand identity and ultimately, a reflection of the consumer’s personal identity, but at the end of the day, the balance of taste, packaging and overall quality of the product is the true recipe for success.

Original article on Packaging Digest.