Tropicana and the importance of consistent package design

Let me start with a photograph so you can see what I’m talking about:

tropicana package design

It’s Tropicana orange juice and you’ve probably seen it (well, the old packaging, on the left) in the local supermarket. Tropicana, it turns out, is a division of Pepsi Corporation (NYSE:PEP) (just as Minute Maid is a division of Coca-Cola Corporation (NYSE:KO), but you knew this, right?) and a few months ago it had a remarkable misstep with its packaging design…
If you do have a chance to get the packaging on the right, buy it and save it. It’s a collector’s item.
Turns out that in January of 2009 Tropicana introduced the new package design as part of a $35mil advertising and branding campaign, with the theme “Squeeze it’s a natural”, created by Peter Arnell. Within weeks loyal customers were complaining about the new package, saying that they missed the orange-and-straw graphic of the original. By the end of February The New York Times was reporting that Tropicana had changed its mind and was going back to the earlier packaging.
And über-designer Arnell’s explanation? “emotionally, it’s still very, very difficult to, and it still remains difficult, for everyone to grasp the importance of the [packaging] change because it’s so dramatic.” Uh, um, yeah, okay Peter.
That’s old news, really. I mean, four months in Internet time is like five years in academia, right? ๐Ÿ™‚
What’s interesting is to go back and really think about what transpired, why, and what it implies in terms of the ceaseless vox populi drumbeat of the Internet.
Let’s be candid. A tiny but vocal minority of customers didn’t like the new packaging. But so what? Does that really matter in this modern age? Would people really stop buying a product simply because the packaging changed?
Surprise! Yes they would: AdAge reported that “After its package redesign, sales of the Tropicana Pure Premium line plummeted 20% between Jan. 1 and Feb. 22, costing the brand tens of millions of dollars.”
That’s where it becomes important and where it’s a story worth thinking about carefully. By changing the packaging of a commodity beverage product, Pepsi lost tens of millions of dollars. This isn’t a brand new package with a poor design either (consumers will often forgive poor package design if the product’s good and if the design improves over time), but a strong existing brand (Tropicana sees over $300mil in annual OJ sales).
Unlike the earlier debacle with New Coke, there was no reformulation or change in the product itself. Just the picture on the carton.
I love this quote from a FastCompany article on the subject:
“Sometimes you land in a great place, and sometimes you don’t. And when you don’t, you need to find a better place. Fast,” Pepsi’s CMO, David Burwick conceded. At the end of the table, one of his lieutenants could barely conceal a snicker. “Words like ‘tweak’ are in order,” he said. “Or beyond ‘tweak.'”
If you’re involved in the visual design and layout of your company’s Web site, marketing collateral or packaging, this should all make you take a deep breath and feel, perhaps, just a tiny bit anxious. Customers really are that fickle, really are paying attention, really are that brand disloyal.
Next time you think about a redesign, it’d be smart to keep that in mind.

9 comments on “Tropicana and the importance of consistent package design

  1. The Tropicana article is interesting… and I personally think the old design was more of an eye catcher. However, I don’t think the 20% drop in sales can all be blamed on the new packaging. The old package is becoming somewhat “dated” and it is probably time to make a change.
    Maybe you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the wash. Times are tougher, orange juice is expensive, there is competition, kids are fatter, the average age has increased, diabeties is on the rise… all of these things factor into a drop in sales. So a good question my be; did sales rebound 20% after the new design was abandoned? I’ll bet not.
    Have a good day.
    Francis Heck

  2. This is interesting. I didn’t like the new packaging, and did start buying another brand. I didn’t consciously make a decision to do that, and hadn’t thought about it until I read this article. I remember two things about the new brand – when I first saw it, I was annoyed because I had to search for Tropicana – it did not stand out as usual so I could not just grab and go. Secondly, I remember thinking that it looked like a generic brand of juice. I don’t usually like generic orange juice, the quality is not predictable.

  3. The “new” packaging looked like a generic or store brand. There is nothing wrong with the “old” packaging, and I can only imagine why anyone thought it needed to be redesigned. It’s orange juice, not sneakers, for cryin’ out loud!
    Typically, it’s a “new” product manager or brand manager who wants to “leave his mark,” without fully understanding the brand and its users.
    Hell, I’ve even seen a new ceo come in and completely redo branding because they didn’t like a particular color! About a year later, the company was liquidated in an asset sale, for a fraction of its value.
    I’m not sure whether it’s the Peter Principle in action, or just our current obsession with short-term results, but either way, it’s just plain dumb. IMO.

  4. My guess is this wasn’t a case of fickle customers. I’ll bet people didn’t “SEE” Tropicana on the shelf because the new package was so different. They looked for “the usual” and when their brain couldn’t do a quick find, they (perhaps subconsciously) assumed it wasn’t there. Then they either didn’t buy, or looked at alternatives (perhaps stumbling on the “new” Tropicana, perhaps not…)
    Anyways, neat article. Also, hi Dave! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. This sort of packaging issue was the downfall of the business I started and worked so hard to build. It took me a while to figure it out – but I think I did.
    I started a toy business and found out that what mattered was the box, not the toys in the box.
    When showing my product at a toy convention, the most common comment in my booth was, “you have the coolest stuff here, but I can’t sell it in that package.”
    One toy store owner told me that she recently got many returns from her internet site because the packaging on a toy changed and no longer matched the picture of the box on her internet site. Even though the toy (box contents) was unchanged, people returned it because they felt that the box was less attractive as the one pictured on her web site.
    I started my business to make great toys – and we did. I’m proud to say that we won a dozen national toy awards in our first year. We worked really hard to design great toys. To be successful in the business, though, itโ€™s all about (expensive) packaging.
    I didn’t appreciate the value customers get from the buying experience. They look to the buying experience as part of the value in the product. There is a bit of a thrill to buy something that has a really fun, attractive wrapper. Even orange juice!
    Gift-giving also has interesting packaging issues. One customer confided in me, “when I buy a gift, it needs to look like I TRIED to get something good. What matters is the box, not the contents.” A gift-giver rarely sees a child play with the toy. What the gift-giver gets out of the giving experience is a big “wow!” when the child tears off the wrapping paper and sees the box. (Did you see if your nephew enjoyed playing with the toy you gave him for his last birthday?)
    I learned to be competitive in the toy industry, you had to spend nearly as much on the package as the toy. My attempts to play by different rules (spend much more on the toy than the box) resulted great toys but also in a failed business. At a certain point, I understood the rules, but could not bring myself to play that game. I wasn’t interested in putting my heart, soul, and bank account into making attractive boxes that contained cheap toys.
    Itโ€™s a “sad but true” issue for me. Packaging is critical – very often more critical than the contents. I learned that the hard way.

  6. I think a lot of people have fixations. Once they get hooked or attached to something, change becomes this real big problem. I dont know if this trend will ever change.

  7. I find the new package more playful than the old one but there is something missing. So I’ll still choose the old design though it really don’t matter much for me. I am more like the content-oriented consumer. Though, packaging matters for most of us so it must always be considered properly.

  8. Comparing the two packaging, Tropicana is hardly recognizable in the new one. When it comes to designing a new package for an existing product, it is always important to consider the market. While it is true that only a few didn’t like the new package, they are still part of the market. Most of the market are visual customers, the orange-and-straw image is already part of the company giving the impression that the juice is freshly squeezed from oranges. This is one that the company should consider. Great article by the way.

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