Persuasive food packaging: work that space!
Updated: Apr 20
In the supermarket, shoppers mooch around mindlessly. They see irresistible special offers or instagrammable packaging, chuck products in their basket and, shortly after, shove ’em in their cupboards. But nobody reads the copy.
But, one day, while scoffing ice-cream from the tub or preparing their falafel and quinoa lunch, they might glance at packaging.
In those nanoseconds, brands have a fantastic opportunity to make a connection. But the space you have to play with is tiny. Maybe 30 words or so. You’ve got to work those square centimetres and make every single word count. With the help of our handy hit list for packaging, you can make food sound tasty (without saying tasty too often), differentiate your product and tell stories that engage the consumer.
Love your audience
Use specifics to add value
Give your reader serving inspo
Make your brand memorable
Disclaimer: the foods featured in this post do not reflect my diet (I’d never eat a pot noodle and sadly their copy doesn’t persuade me to consider it). A Thousand Monkeys cannot take responsibility if you rush to the shop to buy herbal tea, cookies or pesto after reading this post.
1. Love your audience You’re not just describing the food, you’re describing the person who will buy and eat it. So show you understand their lifestyle and how your food fits into it. Take these, Gosh! mushroom and butter bean burgers. They scream out “buy me” to health fanatics, vegans and active folk.
"Life’s amazing, and you are too! That’s why you deserve truly nourishing experiences, even on days when it’s a challenge to keep up. But needing something quick shouldn’t mean compromising on nutrition or taste. Gosh! makes plant-based food that’s bursting with healthy goodness, abundant in flavour and pop-in-the-oven-easy. Give yourself a well-earned boost with these versatile burgers, made to make your day that bit better."
2. Be vivid One of the unwritten rules of food advertising is that you can’t tell people the product is tasty or delicious. But you can appeal to the senses in a way that adds value to the food. The trick is to appeal to the other senses. With words like “flash”, “flicker” and “pop”, Pukka Tea capture attention and bring the beverage alive. They persuade the reader that every sip will be an experience.
Ben & Jerry’s have dominated the ice cream world with their mouth-watering descriptions. Their irresistible copy makes it easy to imagine the enjoyable experience of tucking into a tub of it.
“Digging” and “striking” certainly aren’t words you’d expect to describe how something tastes, but they bring the copy to life. 3. Sneak in specifics The list of ingredients tells consumers what’s in the product. So there’s no need to repeat that list in the description. But specifics about the product can be very compelling. You could mention:
Provenance – where have the ingredients come from? Where was the product made?
Expertise – show your knowledge of the ingredients, what they add to the food
Recipe – who created the recipe? Has it been passed down the generations?
Ingredients – emphasise the freshness, quality and nutrition
Process – how is the product made?
I like how Green and Black’s describe the process of harvesting their beans. They don’t talk about the end product. But they don’t need to because this will already make you realise the quality is great.
“Our organic cocoa is made up with the finest organic cocoa beans, grown in the shade of rainforest trees. The beans are harvested at the perfect point of ripeness, then carefully fermented and dried to maximise the smooth, complex flavours of this delicious cocoa. Potassium Carbonate is commonly added to cocoa powder to balance out the acidity and bring out the rich chocolatey aromas. This is often referred to as ‘Dutching’ and has been used by chocolate makers for over 180 years.”
Make it personal I also found this on the back of Propercorn’s packet. They’ve successfully combined lots of techniques and used storytelling to hook the reader while they munch.
"My father was a hopeless cook but made the best popcorn. We’d spend hours obsessing over new flavours, delicious ingredients and the magic of popping corn. Years later, inspired by the popcorn maker my dad gave me, Proper was born. We started from humble beginnings, improvising by tossing kernels in a refashioned cement mixer! Now, we’re a proudly independent company making what we think is the best popcorn in the world. For us, taste is everything. Take this pack of Sweet & Salty. We use a perfect balance of sea salt and raw cane sugar to give our hand-popped, butterfly corn its distinctive, caramelised glaze. It’s popcorn, done properly. I hope you love it. Cassandra"
4. Always include benefits
Just because you’re working with a small space, doesn’t mean you can’t pack it with benefits! Some benefits might be:
Short cooking time
1 of our 5 a day
Easy to eat on the go
I don’t even like sausage rolls, but this description from Bird’s Eye did make me stop and think about getting frozen over fresh.
“With Birds Eye Sausage Rolls you are baking for the first time, fresh from frozen. You’ll get lighter and flakier pastry compared to just warming through a chilled one. Our sausage meat is succulent and tasty too. Enjoy!”
5. Give your reader serving inspo
Sometimes it’s obvious – you probably wouldn’t have cereal for dinner or battered fish without chips. But for some products consumers need that extra push to buy the product. You can make your copy more persuasive by giving readers instant inspiration or making them imagine an occasion. Tapping into emotion Any good writer will tell you to tap into your readers’ emotion when you can. But is it possible in food writing? I think so. Even it’s subtle. Read this example from Fox’s.
"Friends over? Your nearest and dearest deserve something special and that calls for Fox’s Cookies. With their rugged chunks of chocolate our Chunkie Cookies will make you very popular, whether you’re meeting up for a gossip or having a cosy night in."
You don’t need to persuade me to buy biscuits. But I think they’ve been quite clever. If I had read the description by chance, I probably would have picked up a couple of extra packets just in case. It’s easy to imagine a friend spontaneously popping over. You dive into the cupboard, whip out these delicious treats and see their face glow with delight. It certainly appeals to the people pleasers and makes the reader think fondly of happy times with their loved ones. Mention versatility Many brands sell a product that people are only likely to have with a certain meal. For example, Patak’s pappadums. It’s obvious – they go with curry. Right?
Patak’s subtly slide in suggestions for alternative serving. You could have it as a main meal or snack. That might be enough to give a consumer the inspiration to try something different. Any occasion Often people buy foods for certain occasions. Think BBQ sauce for summer BBQs or hot cross buns at Easter.
Eat Natural use their copy as a reminder that cranberries aren’t just for Christmas and they add nutritional value to their product.
"A cranberry is not just for Christmas you know? These beautiful little bouncing balls, bursting with goodness, are perfect all year round. Slightly sweetened to make them less sharp and acidic, these normally festive friends are filled with fruitiness."
6. Make your brand memorable Or you could just ignore our tips and doing something completely different like Kallo.
"The woodland quartet, Were a fine foodie bunch. They’d play for an hour, And then stop for lunch. The bear was on cello, The cat was on drums. But their only real thought, Was what went in their tums. “We’re getting nowhere,” Said the bear to the cat. “I can only suggest, That we stop for a snack.”
Rice cakes are boring and bland. There’s not really much to them. And there probably isn’t much anyone could say to make me eat them. But this description made me intrigued about the brand. Boost your persuasive power The beauty of packaging is it might not persuade immediately. But if you’ve worked that space hard enough, it can have a lasting impact. Your words have the power to make people buy your product again, spark conversation on social media and even make it a cupboard staple. Want to learn more wordy skills? Join us June 19th in London for our Sharper Copywriting workshop.