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Honest Tea wins Nielsen Design Impact Award

Honest Tea wins Nielsen Design Impact Award

by michael • May 2

We're so happy to announce that our redesign of Honest Tea's PET packaging won a 2017 Nielsen Design Impact Award. These awards honor packaging redesigns that have a significant impact on the brand's sales, using actual consumer data from Nielsen.

Check out Nielsen's interview with Ami Mathur, General Manager & Head of Marketing for Honest Tea:

In 2011, Coca-Cola acquired Honest Tea—a small, but rapidly growing brand. Like many ambitious companies who've attracted high-powered benefactors, Honest Tea began to ask itself: "So, how do we become a billion-dollar brand?"

It was around this time that Ami Mathur, currently general manager & head of marketing, joined Honest Tea. To scale the brand, she knew that it would need to win over mass-market audiences. Honest Tea had fared very well at Whole Foods Market and was growing in mainstream grocery stores, but the team knew it had the potential to grow faster. . "Initially, Honest Tea had been focused on highly engaged, health-conscious consumers—the people who read labels and prefer the cleanest ingredients. While this segment was important, we needed to expand to 'first steppers': consumers who care about what they're eating and drinking, and want to be a little bit healthier—but not to the extent of our core buyers at the time. Balance was key," said Mathur.

"From our initial research, we knew that our value proposition wasn't resonating with these audiences. Honest Tea wasn't viewed as delicious, which is a problem in a category where taste is absolutely the most important factor. The fact that it's organic, while important, wasn't the driving force for mainstream consumers. Additionally, from a shelf standpoint, the packaging didn't really pop or persuade consumers to choose Honest Tea over competitors," explained Mathur.

Despite Coca-Cola's investment, Honest Tea was still relatively small with a proportionately-sized marketing budget. "We knew that there was an opportunity to broaden the 'reach me' appeal of Honest Tea, and my CPG experience told me that, when you have very few media dollars to spend, packaging can be the main way to drive awareness and stopping power. Most of us know how much a great package can actually impact your sales, but no one usually puts a number to it," said Mathur.

The team agreed to move forward with a package redesign, and assembled a clear brief that focused on four goals: appeal to a mass consumer audience, improve visibility on shelf, better differentiate from competitors, and create a stronger linkage to the brand's core values and benefits.

"I think the briefing is probably the most important stage of the design process. If we're not clear on the communication objectives and success criteria, there's no way to judge if we've reached our goals—it just becomes too subjective," said Mathur.

As the agency that worked on the project, Beardwood&Co confirmed Mathur's sentiment. "Even the initial RFP document that we received was crystal clear on the consumer situation and what it would take to grow the brand. Our team was invited down to Atlanta for a day-long session with a large group of people who were going to be involved in dramatically growing the brand. It wasn't a half-hour meeting or just something done over the phone. There was definitely a sense that this was a big deal and that we were in it together," recalled Julia Beardwood, founding partner at Beardwood&Co.

Beardwood&Co, a strong believer in the power of a clear, informed creative brief, uses a visual tool to encourage clarity and alignment at the start of a project. "Once the client provides us with a written brief, we bring together a large set of images and do a sorting exercise with the team. For this project, we said, 'Alright, we're saying it needs to convey tasty, but what tasty is Honest Tea tasty? We're saying approachable. What kinds of approachability are we talking about for Honest?' This process helps the designers better understand what's on-brand and what's not," explained Beardwood.

Beardwood&Co came up with eight initial design directions, ranging from close-in options to more dramatic departures from the current packaging. "One of the things that I've learned is that, if you're launching a new product or if your existing product isn't working well, then you have a lot more creative leeway when designing your pack. When your product is actually performing well and you want to keep your users, there's only a certain level of change that you want to make. You need to ensure that your product is still findable and reflective of your current brand," said Mathur.

"We ended up taking four designs into consumer testing, including qualitative research and virtual shelf testing. The ones that we ended up testing represented a fairly broad range. We played around with the background color, the amount of ingredients, which fruits were shown on the label, and the overall simplicity of the label. I felt like having a pretty wide range ensured that the process would yield something good."

"I remember which design was my favorite because it didn't win! I thought, 'Yes, lesson learned. This is why we do research.' We learned through the testing—and we should have known this going in—that, if our number one communication objective is to convey 'tasty' and 'delicious,' we need to select the design that delivers the best on those attributes," added Mathur.

"In the end, we conducted quantitative consumer research on a few designs. We wanted to ensure that the design we landed on wasn't just a win based on qualitative feedback or internal consensus. We wanted the numbers to prove we'd chosen correctly—because, in reality, that's what's actually going to drive your sales. So, based off of that research, we chose the final design. There was some minor stakeholder feedback, but we refused to give in on the construct of the design—the label, the colored banding and the 'T.' Miraculously, after our testing was done, the numbers were so strong that we were able to get everyone on board," said Mathur.

The chosen design included a few significant changes: a taller, narrower bottle to bolster premium perceptions and drive shelf stand-out; a friendlier logo font with a leaf icon and additional leaf imagery in the "T" to reinforce real tea ingredients; an elongated "T" to make the packaging more iconic and recognizable at shelf; delicious ingredient imagery inside the "T" to drive taste appeal; and colored bands at the top and bottom of the label to reinforce flavor appeal. The textual communication was also simplified so that "Organic" and "Just a Tad Sweet" stood out.

In March 2015, the new design launched. "The results were phenomenal. They blew our expectations out of the water. I think the impressive thing is that we grew distribution as well as velocity. We were doing better, and I attribute much of that to the packaging because there wasn't a significantly increased media investment," explained Mathur.

"The amount of positive comments from consumers was really impressive as well—they wrote to say, 'It looks great—I can't wait to drink it,' 'It's so refreshing,' 'It makes me feel like it's clean, and I can trust it,'" added Mathur. The Nielsen Design Impact Award analysis confirmed a spike in consumer preference for the new design, with nearly two out of three consumers preferring the updated package to the old one.

The year following the redesign, Honest Tea's dollar sales grew by 64%. The brand's incremental sales following the redesign exceeded those achieved in 2008 when Coca-Cola first invested in Honest Tea. "I think that's just amazing for this brand," said Mathur.