What to consider when updating your coffee packaging design

Sam Shipiti
May 28, 2024
coffee packaging design, updating coffee packaging design, custom coffee packaging, custom coffee bags, custom printed coffee bags, custom printed coffee packaging, coffee bags, Equator Coffee,

One thing every legendary coffee brand has to face is the prospect of consumers and cultures moving on, rendering you less relevant in the market. A refreshed coffee packaging design, such as a change in colour or font, can positively impact sales. On the other hand, redesigning your coffee packaging could also see you lose your legendary status and the consumer loyalty that has taken years to build. 

A prime example would be Tropicana’s packaging redesign failure. Consumers struggled to connect with the modernised look, and after suffering a significant revenue drop, the brand reverted to its original packaging design. Navigating this path is like walking on thin ice, especially when you consider all the packaging redesigns that have backfired and impacted brands’ reputations. 

I spoke to Shelby Colley, the Head of Marketing at Equator Coffees, about what to consider when updating your custom coffee packaging design. 

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When should you update designs on coffee packaging?

Research suggests that businesses and organisations revisit their brand identity on average every seven to ten years. This is often driven by one or various reasons. For Equator Coffee, there were a few factors at play. 

Shelby has over a decade of marketing experience in the food and beverage industry. After sourcing, roasting, and serving coffee for almost 30 years, she says the brand was ripe for change.

“We knew that Equator had evolved as a brand since we last touched our packaging design,” Shelby explains. Even though the brand wanted to refresh the design elements, she reveals it was also keen to maintain its legacy. 

“We wanted to create a cohesive family of bags across all four sizes [of our packaging], both in aesthetic and form factor,” she explains. “We knew there was an opportunity to improve the structure and information on our labels, and we wanted a labelling system that functioned across product formats, such as bagged coffee and instant coffee, so that consumers could easily navigate all of our products.”

Such reasons for a brand refresh are not unique to Equator Coffee. For instance, RXBAR, a protein bar manufacturer, was unsuccessful in part because its packaging designs weren’t as appealing and transparent as those of its competitors. A complete overhaul of the display panels and packaging materials for each of the brand’s seven bars in 2017 led to a significant turnaround.

Brands have had plenty of reasons for updating the design of custom coffee packaging. A new CEO or management team could bring fresh energy and ideas into a business by rebranding different elements of its identity. A prime example is Steve Jobs,  who changed Apple’s logo when he returned to the company in 1997. 

“The catalyst for a packaging redesign can come from production, wholesale, retail cafes, or a marketing team – who all experience different sides of packaging and provide critical feedback and direction,” Shelby explains. She adds that each factor should be involved in the project from start to finish, which is exactly what they did at Equator Coffee.

In the summer of 2023, Equator Coffee conducted a customer survey, inviting its audience to share their thoughts, perceptions, and behaviours regarding its coffee. “The insights we gathered played a crucial role in shaping the direction of our new labelling system,” Shelby reveals.  

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Factors to consider when updating custom coffee bags

When it comes to a packaging redesign, Shelby emphasises the importance of balancing the new with the brand legacy. 

“It’s a tricky thing to change the look and feel of your custom coffee bags and avoid alienating your loyal customers while achieving a fresh direction,” she says. 

In her opinion, brands shouldn’t be afraid to reach farther than they’re comfortable in the initial discussions–with design, form factor, and material. “The ideas that come up in the early stages can lead to really exciting development,” she adds, admitting that Equator Coffee was highly fortunate to work alongside its packaging partner throughout the design process. 

A thoughtful approach at Equator Coffee led to a custom coffee packaging design that seamlessly incorporated modern elements while preserving the brand’s legacy. 

“There are many elements in our new bags that echo who Equator Coffee has always been,” Shelby points out. “We kept our bold brand red, iconic tiger silhouette.” Beyond that, the brand has pulled forward a new element–sun rays. Shelby explains that these “serve to communicate a sense of optimism and draw the eye towards the Equator logo at the center of those rays.”

Shelby explains that the brand partnered with Swasti Mittal for the look of the new bags. “She saw all facets of Equator with complete clarity, and had experience creating elegant solutions where lots of complex information needed to be communicated on a small form factor,” Shelby explains.

She adds that Swasti visited the roastery, met with the brand founders and team, and took great care and time getting this project right with them. “Her approach helped Equator’s packaging evolve with an eye towards the future as we approach our 30th year.”

On the side of the bags, the brand introduced a QR code that customers can scan to open brew guides. The bottom of the bag has a link that takes the customer to the brand’s current and past impact reports.

Reacting to the fact that modern consumers want to buy products that align with their values,  Shelby’s team added a roast profile section and built out a broader structure to communicate more information about single-origin coffees. 

“We heard from consumers that this was an important way that they made decisions at the grocery shelf,” Shelby points out. 

Knowing that the same consumers are also more willing to support sustainable brands, Equator Coffee chose Biotrē™ material produced by TricorBraun Flex for all its coffee bags. This also reinforced its commitment to sustainability as a B Corp

Last, to differentiate between blends, single origins, espressos, decaf coffees, and the brand’s chefs collection, Equator Coffee introduced a label colour system featuring its extended secondary brand colour palette. 

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Communicating coffee packaging changes to customers

Even when a packaging rebrand is driven by compelling reasons, consumers are more likely to resist the change. And it’s not entirely their fault; experts have tied this reaction to unavoidable psychological processes that force us to see such a phenomenon as annoying. 

A tried and tested strategy to help you counter this is to prime your audience with information that sets the path for the change. Shelby and her team at Equator Coffee chose this as a start. 

“We communicate with our customers as each size transitions on our website,” she explains. In the brand’s cafes and through its wholesale channels, it has transitioned the bags and kept open ears for feedback from customers.

To avoid the drama that often comes with a hard transition, Shelby says they also worked through the inventory of old packaging, where new and old packaging lived side-by-side for a brief time. 

To continue developing the love for its new custom coffee packaging design, Equator Coffee has continued to communicate these changes to its customers, particularly around the new label system. Devorah Freudiger, the director of coffee culture at the company, has appeared many times on camera teaching their audience about all things coffee. 

“She’s been fantastic at describing the differences and similarities between coffees, using the new labelling system as a guide on our Instagram,” Shelby says. 

Shelby notes that so far, customers seem to appreciate the fresh, new look with Equator’s iconic visual legacy and the additional information provided on the label. “We’ve heard that the new custom coffee bags do a great job of celebrating Equator and specialty coffee.”

Updating your coffee packaging doesn’t have to be daunting. If you’ve yet to find a packaging partner who can help, contact our team today

Images courtesy of Equator Coffees.

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Sam Shipiti
Sam Shipiti

Born and raised in Kenya, a country famous for growing top grade coffee, Sam’s unique perspective is deeply rooted in his heritage. His writing journey has seen him contribute to magazines and coffee blogs, and work for global marketing agencies, honing his craft and establishing a strong voice in the industry. He now focuses on uncovering the unique stories and innovations fuelling the specialty coffee revolution.

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