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13 March 2019

Equator takes a closer look at UK supermarkets’ festive packaging in 2018

It was a busy start to the year for Equator Design with client work taking centre stage, however we were keen to take undertake some research to garner a retrospective look at the biggest buying period of the year for food and drink: Christmas. As a business with our roots firmly in FMCG it is essential we understand more about how brands, retailers and the sector as a whole performed, since it informs our thinking and strategic work moving forward. 

What were the biggest trends in packaging among UK supermarkets last Christmas? And which companies saw their sales rise the most?

Here at Equator, we use every tool possible to gain insight into packaging trends, and this includes examining the elements seen in festive food packaging each year. Not only does this help us to gauge what’s achieving the greatest shelf standout (and best sales figures) but it also helps to inform our designs when Christmas approaches once more.

Despite the impact online shopping has had on sales figures, the festive trading quarter is still one of the most important periods on retail’s yearly calendar. It’s a prime opportunity for brands to assert their short-term visual identities and, by using packaging that’s more colourful and more exciting, achieve greater on-shelf standout and inspire customer loyalty.

The season provides all the backdrop needed for drama: light and hope against the darkness and mystery of winter… It’s no wonder creative minds go for broke this time of year.

We examine international trends to discover the very latest in style, photography, packaging and point of sale. We then use our research to instruct our design, texture and patterns as these trends permeate down to the high street.

Taking as our sample eight major UK supermarket brands, the following trends emerged…

Colours and Motifs

Our festive colour wheel revealed that red is still the colour consumers most identify with Christmas. However, when we compared the trends among standard tier Private Brand products versus those in the premium tier, the palettes differed significantly; the standard tier products demonstrated a tendency toward red and used traditional snowflake patterns, while premium products tended towards darker colours – grey, navy and dark purple – with subtle dot patterns to suggest snow or stars, lending a more sophisticated look.

This two-tiered approach continued when it came to photography. The core Private Brand product photography was generally shot at ¾ angle, with warm tones and softly focused backgrounds. However, photographs were often shot from above for the premium products, giving off a much moodier feel, with shadows and darker tones. Not “cheap and cheerful”, but a lot more seductive.

Themes varied, but among those most popular were:

·         Holly – along with spruce and mistletoe, giving a sense of nature

·         Pure Luxe – bold and dramatic, yet simple and minimal; fonts are direct and unadorned while finishes can be metallic and tactile

·         Celestial – with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing upon us, many are looking to the heavens for inspiration. Expect moons, stars and planet patterns with an abundance of metallics and high-contrast patterning

  • Scandinavian folklore – a fun and friendly approach, great for children; creative patterning lends a traditional feel
  • Party vibrant – Fashion-inspired, this trend is largely targeted at millennials, and features eye-popping colours and lots of glitter. Think excitement, glamorous presents and parties


Supermarket scorecard

The three brands which achieved the highest YOY sales were Aldi (10%), Co-op (5.4%) and Asda (5.3%)1.

What didn’t work well? We won’t name any names here, but what did not seem to work was a disjointed approach that saw a lack of continuity from the package to the category branding on the shelf, as well as standalone POS photography that did not include information or brand messaging.

However, our audit yielded a positive generality about private brand packaging: Own Brand Holiday packaging is well established in the UK, promoted by strong marketing in-store and on various media channels. There’s a strong diversity of holiday products here in the UK, across many ranges and product types, from wine and party food to fresh items.

And thanks to healthy competition from many supermarkets on the Private Brand front, the bar is being raised, demanding better packaging design year on year. With a wide array of high quality packaging design represented in 2018, the challenge is already set for 2019.

So what are the trends we predict for Christmas 2019?

Contact Business Development Manager Ed Holden on to arrange a presentation of our full analysis.