A few years ago, Barcelona wasn’t particularly famous for chocolate. The city has a long history of chocolate making but never, like say Brussels or Zurich, the reputation of a chocolate connoisseur’s destination. Now chocolate has become one of its USPs. There are tours for chocolate lovers and an ever-popular Chocolate Museum. Not to mention fashionable ‘chocolate boutiques’ popping up all over the city. It a mini industry that appeals as much to locals as Barcelona’s endless stream of tourists and has become a part of the DNA of the ‘Barcelona Brand.’ Does the city make a superior form of chocolate compared to the more established chocolate cities? Not really. The difference is that Barcelona’s chocolate makers understand the importance of packaging design.
The trend started with Xocoa, a pastry shop in the old town. Back in 2008 Marc Escursell, a member of the fourth generation of this family- run business, instilled his love of dance music and popular culture into what was a very traditional establishment. Slabs of chocolate packaged in mini record sleeves appeared on the shelves, along with chocolate blocks – in daring flavours – baring a retro-inspired illustration by the (then) designer de jour Jordi Labada. Xocoa expanded rapidly as did other brands offering ‘designer chocolate’ such as Oriol Balaguer (for whom Jordi Giralt created a minimalist, origami-style box of kraft paper) and Chocolat Factory, which was founded by the designer and architect Michel Laline and whose clean lines and bold graphics were groundbreaking. The trend has reached a pinnacle with the recent opening of Chök, a kitchen, concept store and take away service. The owners contacted a branding agency to conceive Chök’s strong visual identity (graphics, take away food containers, merchandising elements), creating an experience that elevates the culture of chocolate to an astoundingly sophisticated level.
Whilst Barcelona’s vibrant design culture has had a part to play in the ‘designer chocolate’ phenomenon, it also bares witness to the power of an innovative packaging concept to transform a commodity to a cult item.
In the recent past beverages have introduced innovational packaging elements. Vichy Catalan, the mineral water company, who had previously only sold their products in bottles, launched a can in order to capture a market for on-the-go refreshment. The can is topped with a coloured lid made with biodegradable plastic – a concept that differentiated it from its competitors and won hearts and an industry award. Encouraged by research that shows consumers are more likely to hang onto novel packaging items, Grolsch beer has launched ‘The Jar’ – an attractive idea that packages the product in a glass mug with a screw on lid. (The concept was inspired by the trend for craft beer that is served in mason jars).
“Design is intelligence made visible,” said author and brand identity guru Alina Wheeler. Although it may seem obvious, packaging needs to relay the essence of your brand. In the absence of other merchandising/marketing tools it’s all you have. Yet when it’s executed eloquently and succinctly and (better still) with an element of surprise, it’s more than enough.