Category — Packaging

The Anthora

The designer of the most iconic coffee cup of all time had "no formal training in art," reports Margalit Fox in a New York Times remembrance of the late Leslie Buck (4/29/10). Born Laszlo Buch, Leslie was a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald who came to America, changed his name, and designed "the Anthora, the cardboard cup of Grecian design that has held New Yorkers’ coffee securely for nearly half a century."

As every New Yorker knows, the Anthora is blue "with a white meander ringing the top and bottom." On each side is "a drawing of a Greek vase known as an amphora." Leslie’s accent was responsible for altering that to "anthora." The design is also emblazoned "with three steaming golden coffee cups" and, of course, the famous motto: "We Are Happy To Serve You." Leslie never earned royalties for his design, but did well on sales commissions on it.

He came up with the idea while working for the Sherri Cup Company, as part of its plan "to crack New York’s hot-cup market." Leslie figured that since many of the city’s diners were owned by Greeks, they should try "a Classical cup in the colors of the Greek Flag." At its peak in 1994, Sherri "sold 500 million of the cups" but by 2005 the company had been sold to Solo and was down to 200 million." Today, "Solo no longer carries the Anthora as a stock item, making it only on request."

January 20, 2012   Comments

Corrugated Magic

The challenge for online retailers "is to reproduce a theatrical shopping experience in a brown cardboard box," reports Elizabeth Holmes in the Wall Street Journal (11/17/11). "We’ve got to find a way, when we’re not front and center with that customer, when they open that box, to thrill that customer," says Gregory Shields of Neiman Marcus, where "a testing committee" scrutinizes ribbons for fraying and wrapping paper for durability. Anthropolgie takes the boxing challenge so seriously that it even has a "brand director of packaging," Carolyn Keer. "When you get something in the mail, it should feel like a present, whether you bought it or not," she says.

Among Carolyn’s greatest concerns are “the plastic bags in which Anthropologie ships T-shirts and other low-priced items.” She doesn’t like using bags, but she made them more presentable by imprinting them with “patterns from the season’s bedding and quilts.” For boxed items, the “merchandise is wrapped in colorful tissue paper, just as it is when purchased in stores or gift-wrapped.” Each item is sent with a hand-written message from the packer.

Such details are especially important because "affluent households are expected to make or break this holiday season for many retailers" and wealthier consumers have "the greatest propensity for online shopping." Deloitte predicts that almost "half of US consumers will shop online this holiday season, up from about a third last year." Of course, the quality of the presentation depends on the durability of the package: "It takes a lot of cushioning to ship a theatrical experience in one piece." Because of this, HSN tests its packaging by dropping "them from as many as 11 different angles" and consumer electronics are subjected to a "random vibration test." Not that drivers are tossing the boxes around or anything …

December 9, 2011   Comments

Elvis Unboxed

For some recording artists, the boxed set carries "the whiff of embalming fluid," writes Eric Felten in the Wall Street Journal (12/2/11). “When it comes to creativity, those elaborate boxes are less cases than caskets,” Eric writes. The trouble is that “the very act of compiling an oeuvre suggests that the body of work is in some way complete, that the artist is done. Boxed sets are overwhelmingly retrospective.”

Elvis Costello, whose recently released box set, "The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook," arrives just in time for the holidays, doesn’t come right out and say as much, but his comments about the project were unusual, to say the least: He told his fans to buy the latest Louis Armstrong box set, Ambassador of Jazz, instead. "Frankly, the music is vastly superior," he said, while adding the pricetag on his own box set ($339.98) appeared to be "either a misprint or satire."

He went on to describe the book that came with the set, which also included just one CD, a vinyl record and a DVD, as "all manner of whimsical scribblings, photographs and cartoons." As Eric observes: "It’s ironic that boxed rock ‘n’ roll has taken on the stifling air of a crypt, given the genre’s celebration of youth. We might credit Mr. Costello then, not for his tender concern for his fans’ pocketbooks, but for having the admirable instinct to hop out of a box being lowered into the ground."

December 9, 2011   Comments


This fall, "the first zero-waste, packaging-free grocery store in the nation" will open in East Austin, Texas, reports Pooneh Momeni in The Daily Texan (7/7/11). Called in.gredients, the original idea was a store that sold wine and beer in bulk. "We’re entrepreneurs by nature and we’re constantly looking for ways to create more sustainable habits," says Christian Lane, co-founder of in.gredients along with his brothers, Patrick and Joseph. "The more we looked into the bulk alcohol concept, we realized that we could do this, but include everything, not just alcohol."

Shoppers will be able "to buy as much or as little grocery and house products as they need" but they must "bring their own containers to carry their goods." If they don’t bring containers, they can get compostable containers at the store. Either way, empty containers are first weighed, then filled, and finally "weighed again at the cashiers before paying." The concept is, in fact, a throwback to forgotten days when shoppers figured out what they needed and bought a supply — packaging not necessarily included — from a supplier.

The plan is to open in "food deserts, where healthy, affordable food is hard to come by," which explains building the first in.gredients in East Austin. "We want to bring back the neighborhood grocer and get into areas where good food is missing," says Christian. He also hopes to create a sense of "community ownership" by crowdsourcing some of the store’s funding. And, perhaps most important, he says the package-free approach will keep prices low. "The per unit price actually ends up being more affordable because you’re not paying for the packaging or the marketing, just the ingredients," he says.

July 11, 2011   Comments

Artsy Barcodes

Big, ugly barcodes are being transformed into works of art in hopes of creating stronger connections with shoppers, reports Sarah Nassauer in the Wall Street Journal (6/22/11). Sixpoint Brewery, for instance, recently created a barcode for its cans of beer "that integrates the Statue of Liberty and skyscrapers." Nestle has been decorating barcodes of some of its smaller brands since 2008. It has bubbles rising from the barcode of its Juicy Juice sparkling beverage and its Skinny Cow packaging has "barcodes shaped like a cow’s spot. (image)"

Bear Naked Granola has a barcode with a blade of wheat grass growing out of it. Yes, there are companies that specialize in such creations, such as Vanity Barcodes LLC. Yael Miller, a co-founder of Vanity, says one of her favorite designs is a hand mixer that looks like it "is mixing up the numbers below it." (image) Another design firm, Design Barcodes Inc., has "created barcodes that look like water flowing over a waterfall or the rails of a train track." Both firms take care that the codes they create scan properly at checkout.

However, Duane Reade, the drug-store chain, says its artsy barcodes aren’t meant to be scanned. Paul Tibiero, Duane Reade’s senior vice-president of merchandising and marketing says its barcode art "iså not functional, and it’s not intended to be. It’s being used as a unique design element." The retailer has "added classic New York scenes like the Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn Bridge in a barcode design to the packages of its store-brand products since 2009 (images) … The simple rectangular barcode, which the cashier swipes at the checkout line, is still on the back of each package."

June 23, 2011   Comments

Stout Math

"A crack group of mathematicians from the University of Limerick … has modelled bubble formation in stout beers in detail," reports the Economist (3/12/11). This is serious business for Guinness, and anyone who drinks it. As it now stands, a can or bottle of Guinness stout needs a widget — a little plastic ball with a hole in it — to give Guinness its famously creamy head. That kind of foam depends on releasing extra nitrogen into the stout when the container is opened, which the widget does. But the widget is costly and not necessarily environmentally friendly.

So, Guinness engaged with Dr. William Lee and his team at the University of Limerick "to construct a mathematical model of the formation and growth of bubbles in stout." After Dr. Lee constructed the model, he "wondered why the normal mechanism of bubbling in beers and sparkling wines does not appear to work in stouts." Folks used to think that bubbles were "seeded by pockets of air trapped in scratches and imperfections on the surface of the glass … Over the past decade, however, scientific scrutiny has revealed that most bubbles actually form on fibers of cellulose that have either fallen into the glass from the air or been left behind when it was dried with a towel."

Dr. Lee and his team "found that molecules of nitrogen and carbon dioxide are able to diffuse from the liquid through the walls of the fibers in the air pockets trapped inside them, causing those pockets of air to expand. If a pocket reaches the end of a fiber, it breaks off as a bubble." The problem for stout "is that the low concentration of dissolved nitrogen in stout means the process works at only a 15th of the rate seen in ales and lagers." The answer is to spike the stout with extra cellulose in the form of extra fibers (finally, a stout that tastes great and keeps you regular!). This might be accomplished simply by "lining the rims of cans and bottles with a material similar to an ordinary coffee filter." Hm. Starbucks Stout.

March 17, 2011   Comments

Small Planet Packages

Navigating the sustainability maze of product packages. By Brad Scott. Acting “sustainably” means maintaining a balance and not depleting your available resources. In business, this often translates into balancing costs against a product’s impact on the community in which you operate. Some companies refer to this as “the triple bottom line,” which takes into account profit, people, and planet.

Another term we often hear is “cradle-to-cradle” or “closed-loop” product management, meaning that products have more than a single life or can be reborn in a new form. Nike Grind is a dazzling illustration of this concept: To date, some 25 million pairs of used athletic shoes have been collected, ground up, and turned into surfaces for playing fields …
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February 24, 2011   Comments

Angel’s Envy

A new brand of bourbon called Angel’s Envy has captured Frank Bruni’s attention (The New York Times, 1/21/11). Actually, it was the promotional mailing that made Frank take notice. Instead of sending him a sample in a bottle, he explains, its marketers packaged it "in a vial of sorts, corked in the manner of wine." The impression was that this bourbon should not "be splashed around wantonly, in large quantities."

The vial also hinted that the drink was some kind of magic potion, which made Frank wonder: "With an infusion of Angel’s Envy, what would become of me?" The bourbon itself, he reports, is "sweeter and smoother than most, and appealing to a point. But its taste left less of an impression than its promotion, reflective of how fanciful, even silly, the marketing of boutique booze has become." This libation doesn’t come packaged in a vial normally, anyway — it comes in a "curvy, voluptuous bottle" with a winged pattern on the back (image).

Frank says the design plays "Scarlett Johansson to Old Grand-Dad’s Abe Vigoda." Then there’s the matter of the name itself, which Frank thinks invites mockery and disappointment "because you’ve basically promised nothing less than liquid rapture: heaven on the rocks." The name is actually a play on the phrase, "angel’s share," which refers to the whisky that evaporates as it ages. What remains is, well, angel’s envy. It sells for $45 a bottle, and is expected to come to market in selected states in March.

January 26, 2011   Comments


Since vacant lots can be magnets for broken glass, David Belt figured it made sense to turn one into a recycling center, reports Melena Ryzik in the New York Times (5/12/10). You may remember David as the guy who came up with Dumpster pools last summer. He got the idea for his latest project, Glassphemy!, while participating in a panel on urban renewal and the discussion turned to a problematic vacant lot that was littered with shattered glass.

An audience member stood up and said, "Well, I like breaking glass; let’s just make it a place where you break glass." So, David went about turning vacant-lot glass-breaking into a happening. He built "a 20-foot-by-30-foot clear box, with high walls made of steel and bulletproof glass" (image). There’s a high platform on one end from which people can hurl bottles at people on a lower platform on the other side, who are protected by the bullet-proof glass. As the "bottles smash fantastically, artfully designed lights flash, and no one is harmed" (video).

The installation cost David about $5,000. "Recycling’s so boring," he explains. "We tried to make it a little bit more exciting … People just want to smash things." He’s also running a contest in ReadyMade magazine, where readers submit recycling ideas for the glass. He’s already looking into pulverizing the glass into sand for a beer garden at the site — which is in Brooklyn, but the exact location is a secret. But if you send a good recycling idea to David’s website, Macro-Sea dot-com, you might "earn an invitation with the address."

May 13, 2010   Comments

Packages as People

Barbara Fabing, Arc Worldwide
Creating a full embrace with shoppers starts with packaging. By Barbara Fabing. (more)


April 5, 2010   Comments