Private Label Buyer

Leaders of the Pack

November 30, 2009
More than 200 submissions comprising more than 750 products were entered into PL Buyer's 2009 Private Label Packaging Awards. And to pick the best of the best, PL Buyer called on the editors of its sister packaging publications.

The days of generic white labels are long gone. These days, a private label product must come in a well-designed package if it is to stand out on the shelf. Bold graphics, strong functionality and a good product description can turn a boring bag or box into a work of art that gets consumers' attention and wins the sale.

“Boring” certainly does not describe any of the entries in PL Buyer’s 7th Annual Private Label Packaging Awards. More than 200 submissions comprising more than 750 products were received - a record number for the competition - and so many of them were award-worthy. But knowing that not all of the entries could receive awards, PL Buyer called on the editors of its sister packaging publications to pick out the best of the best.

Although the judges are packaging experts, it still took them a good deal of time and concentration to make their decisions. The judges poked and prodded, read each entry's mission statement, and even had a few friendly debates about which submissions truly were award-worthy. After plenty of discussion and two rounds of cuts, 21 winning entries were left standing.

PL Buyer's editors didn't let the judges hog all the fun, though. This year, Editor in Chief Kathie Canning and Managing Editor Randy Hofbauer decided to get in on the action, saving an award for one particular entry they both loved.

Congratulations to all the winners, and a big thanks to those who submitted! You all made this the biggest and best Private Label Packaging Awards competition yet.


It takes some of the best minds in the packaging business to pick the best packages from the bunch. As we have done in years past, PL Buyer asked the editors of its sister packaging publications - BrandPackaging, Food & Beverage Packaging and Flexible Packaging - to pick out which packages were the cream of the crop. After the judges made their decisions, each had a chance to select his or her favorite entry and share thoughts on what made that product stand out from the rest.

Here's your chance to meet each of the judges and find out his or her favorite pick.


Pan Demetrakakes, editor in chief, Food & Beverage Packaging.

Pan’s favorite packaging: A&P’s 150th Annivesary products.

Pan says: “I like the idea of a reusable package that serves to reinforce the store’s identity in the consumer’s mind.”

Pauline Hammerbeck, editor in chief, BrandPackaging.

Pauline’s favorite packaging: A&P’s Via Roma pasta and pasta sauce.

Pauline says: “The brand throws category cues (tomatoes, vines) on their head with black and white labels, authentic photography, etc. Every panel on the paperboard packaging is well designed, which reaches out to the shopper regardless of how the package is merchandised.”


Sayre Kos, editor in chief, Flexible Packaging.

Sayre’s favorite packaging: A&P’s 150th anniversary line.

Sayre says: “The print and design on these products are all technically sound, aesthetically pleasing and use a strong, appealing combination of colors and images. But what makes these products stand out is their potential staying power. You know that long after the popcorn or peppermints have been consumed, A&P shoppers will keep these around the house, either as simple decorations or small storage containers. This delivers A&P’s message for months and years to come while giving some benefits beyond food storage/protection to the consumer.”


Stephanie Hildebrandt, associate editor, BrandPackaging.

Stephanie’s favorite packaging: Fresh Market’s organic jams/jellies.

Stephanie says: “Everything about it looks homemade, which allows consumers to make the assumption that the product is natural or organic. The fact that an employee's handwriting was scanned in for the label was also a creative idea to reinforce that homemade feel.”


Product: Sundae Shoppe

ice cream/iced water treats

Packaging Type: Paperboard cartons with paperboard squeezable tubes and foil-top plastic cups.

Mission: To create a unified product range that further establishes the Sundae Shoppe brand for ALDI, to attract new consumers to the Sundae Shoppe-branded products, and to clearly highlight the product type while communicating flavors and the necessary information to the consumer.

Comments: “I really, really like the use of colors on the box,” says Kathie Canning, editor in chief of PL Buyer. “They really stand out, and they’re bright. Also, this is something a little bit more upscale than what I would expect from ALDI, which is known for being a value price proposition store.”

“The striped logo with cursive script adds the feel of a product from a classic soda shop,” adds Randy Hofbauer, managing editor of PL Buyer. “It makes me remember my childhood days, when my mom and dad would take me out to the local ice cream parlor on Friday nights. Very nostalgic. And to me, nostalgia sells.”

RETAILER: Costco Wholesale Corp.

Product: Children’s Aller-Tec

Packaging Type: Foil Carton

Mission: To build on the Kirkland Signature brand image - specifically the Aller-Tec line of products for allergy relief; to relay the message that private label can be equivalent to the national brands in terms of ingredients and quality, yet more affordable; and to be noticed in the larger box-store environment.

Comments: “There’s an element of playfulness to this that you just don’t see with most over-the-counter medicine,” says Pan Demetrakakes, editor in chief of Food & Beverage Packaging. “Most over-the-counter medicine is very serious.”

“Their use of foil … [helps] the package stand out in a low-light retail environment, which I think obviously is a smart thing to do,” notes Pauline Hammerbeck, editor in chief of BrandPackaging. “The way they accomplished that is nicely done. It’s not 'bonk over the head - look at me,' but it’s attractive, and it is eye-catching.”

“Even if the child isn’t the one picking out the medicine … it immediately tells you what it’s for: a child,” adds Stephanie Hildebrandt, associate editor of BrandPackaging. “I also think it communicates what the parent needs to know - you have check marks showing the [product's] benefits.”

RETAILER: Foodstuffs Own Brands Ltd.

Product: Pams Choca chocolate drink mix

Packaging Type: Plastic pouch

Mission: To stand out on the shelf and in the category.

Comments: “I think the texture and the logo [do] convey [the message] they’re trying to accomplish, which is warmth and coziness,” Hildebrandt says. “Those are the situations where you do partake of hot cocoa. It kind of transports you to the experience of the product while you’re shopping.”

“In terms of the photography and the print here, it’s technically very good,” emphasizes Sayre Kos, editor in chief of Flexible Packaging. “A lot of resolution, a lot of good detail in there.”

RETAILER: The Fresh Market
Product: Fresh Market canned vegetables

Packaging Type: Label on a can

Mission: To portray a wholesome and “your grandmother could have canned this” feel, to give a stronger “fresh” feel to the product than typical canned vegetable labels suggest, to make people feel good about eating canned vegetables, and to hearken back to a simpler time, eliciting feelings of wholesomeness.

Comments: “This is an actual example of retro graphics, which are not as easy to do as a lot of people think,” Demetrakakes remarks. “The biggest mistake I think a lot of designers make is that they throw elements from different eras in. … Here, you’ve got everything … the fonts, the actual illustration, the background of the illustration, and even things like the flourishes on the shield are all completely consistent [and] retro. It just comes together for very good graphics overall.”

“It looks like label art to me,” Hammerbeck notes. “Heck, I’d frame those and put them up in my kitchen if they were bigger!”

RETAILER: The Fresh Market

Product: Fresh Market organic jams and jellies

Packaging Type: Pressure-sensitive label on glass jar

Mission: To convey an organic, hand-made feel by offering unique glassware with hand-painted watercolor illustrations and a font developed from a Fresh Market employee’s actual handwriting.

Comments: “When you look at this, it automatically looks homemade because of the typography,” Hildebrandt remarks, “and the jar itself looks like something you could have in your kitchen.”

 “Whoever has [hand]writing like that … wow,” Hammerbeck adds.

“If you were to [shop at] a small mom-and-pop place, this would be the kind of boutique gift that you would bring home,” Kos notes.

RETAILER: The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P)

Product: Via Roma pasta and pasta sauce

Packaging Type: Carton and jar

Mission: To capture the shopper’s attention and make him or her smile.

Comments: “I think this packaging is really authentic!” Hildebrandt exclaims. “And it’s not that it just looks authentic, but it is authentic because a photographer ... actually photographed these Tuscan natives. So you’re seeing Italian people in their own environment.”

“You see these two old people … enjoying each other’s company,” Demetrakakes adds. “It’s going to make consumers flash back to memories of when grandma cooked up a big bowl of pasta. The topography is simple, yet varied.”

“The logo [is] kind of an emblem that also conveys the heritage,” Hammerbeck notes. “It’s obvious they made an investment - everything is really well done, from the photography to the typography.”

RETAILER: The Fresh Market

Product: Fresh Market frozen thin crust pizza

Packaging Type: Box

Mission: To get noticed, stand out and convey a rustic, “fresh from the pizza oven” look and feel.

Comments: “What they’ve got here is a very contemporary feel with the all-caps lettering along different axes that forms almost a solid block,” Demetrakakes observes. “You see that a lot these days - it’s very trendy. You fit that in with the stylized graphic of the wooden panel and the pizza, and it makes for a unique and attractive package.”

“I agree,” Hammerbeck adds. “I like the fact that they’re going outside the category norms. To me, they did it well.”


Product: LeTechniq hand soaps

Packaging Type: Pump bottle and label

Mission: To design an attractive package that consumers are happy displaying in their home.

Comments: “It has your basic, elegantly simple design,” Demetrakakes says. “I also like the unusual shape of the closure.”

“They were looking to make a product that was counter-worthy,” Hammerbeck points out. “Graphically, they kept it really simple [and] had icons differentiating varieties, making it something people would want to keep on their counter tops.

“Exactly,” Kos adds. “You can probably display it on the counter in your bathroom or your kitchen, if you go that route. When you look at the clearer bottles like that Morning Mist soap, it has the appearance of the graphics [being] printed directly on the bottle, even though on very close inspection, you know it's not the case. It's technically very well done.”

RETAILER: Sam’s Club

Product: Member’s Mark sea salt kettle chips

Packaging Type: Bag

Mission: To convey a simple, yet classic gourmet feel. The design reflects a natural product made using only the finest ingredients, to provide a healthier alternative to similar products in the category.

Comments: “I like the mix of photography - which to me, feels very modern - with the stripes on the bag - which to me, feel very vintage,” Hammerbeck observes. “The combination of the whole retro/modern thing works very nicely together.”

“A lot of packagers of snacks and chips are doing matte finishes, but I think this stands out because the black-and-white photography seems to go well with that finish,” Demetrakakes adds. “The reason for matte finish is that it somehow - subliminally, I guess - reminds you of the potato chips your grandfather bought and [how] they’d put them in a paper bag for him.”

RETAILER: The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P)

Product: A&P 150th Anniversary products

Packaging Type: Tin containers

Mission:To celebrate the company’s historic anniversary while bringing back memories to its customers.

Comments: “The use of the tins really is conveying the purpose of these particular products, which is to celebrate the heritage of A&P,” Hammerbeck says. “So the format and the material choice in this case is very closely aligned with the kind of message that they’re trying to convey.”

“When you think about the entire lifecycle of the packaging, you’re not going to be throwing these away,” Kos notes. “You can see yourself using these for some other purpose. So really, not only do they advertise the product inside, but they’re also advertising A&P stores for years ahead in the future. A&P is going to be in the minds of whoever’s using these tins far into the future. God knows what they’re going to put in them, but A&P will be there.”

“It’s very eye-catching,” Demetrakakes adds. “Especially the peppermint puffs - the shape and material of the tin match perfectly with the old-style graphics.”


Product: Grand Gourmet Pro knife set

Packaging Type: Folding carton

Mission: To communicate the option of a quality product equal to the national brand at an affordable price.

Comments: “It has a dramatic photo,” Kos points out. “That's what captures my eye. There's a good contrast in the lighting; the black of the knife handles in the wood grain highlighted against the wood grain of the block … really catch your eye and kind of sell you on what's inside.”

“I was looking at the side of the package,” Hammerbeck adds, “and I thought that the use of the silhouettes for each knife type was very useful just to help, once you get it home, for everyone to figure out what product is used for what purpose. The silhouettes of the products, I think, are helpful and a very graphic way of conveying that information.”

RETAILER: Henry's Farmers Market (Smart & Final)

Product: Frozen pizza products

Packaging Type: Box

Mission: To communicate that the product is all-natural, high-quality and free of artificial ingredients. The package design also offers a strong shelf presence that communicates a farm-fresh product at a value price.

Comments: “It's been awhile since I've been in the frozen pizza aisle,” Hammerbeck says, “but I think the use of white is pretty unique in the category, which is a smart move that makes it stand out to the consumer. It also, in this instance, conveys … the premium feel of the product.”

“It includes the standard product photo, which is well done,” Kos emphasizes. “It's technically very good - it really lets the product do the talking, and it's reinforced by good typography.”

RETAILER: The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P)

Product: Hartford Reserve apple pie

Packaging Type: Windowed box

Mission: To give a premium look and feel with a primarily black package that has elegant photography and copy.

Comments: “It has really nice typography,” Demetrakakes remarks. “Simple, but it also conveys that premium aspect that I think they're trying to accomplish here.”

“When you go into the store, I don't feel like you see a lot of pies in black packaging,” Hildebrandt says. “Also, the window helps a lot so you can see the texture of the pie [and] get a feel for what it looks like and what you're getting.”

RETAILER: Winn-Dixie

Product: Olive oils

Packaging Type: Glass bottle with paper label

Mission: To communicate national-brand-equivalent quality and educate the consumer about different varieties of olive oil.

Comments: “[The products have] a simple composition in photos on each of them, and just good design and aesthetics on the labels,” Kos says. “Also, the gold overwrap there, that really elevates the packaging. It’s not what you would expect of a private label package - the stigma has always been lesser packaging, less appealing. In this case, it’s not so - there’s definitely some elegance about it.”

“It’s a really clean and clear design,” Hildebrandt notes.

“It looks like they’re using a smaller label, which really lets the product shine through,” Hammerbeck adds. “It conveys the information it needs to convey. It has the appeal of photography, but then really lets the product be the star of the show.”


Product: Infuse presentation boards

Packaging Type: Paperboard box with acetate film

Mission: To clearly communicate the feature and benefits, and help our customers identify quality presentation products.

Comments: “The labeling very simply and clearly indicates the capabilities of the product, what it can do,” Demetrakakes says. “Not only can you draw on it, you can stick stuff on it with magnets. That might sound trivial, but that's exactly the kind of detail that can actually push someone in the direction of making the purchase.”

“The icons … really communicate that it can be used anywhere in the house - [there are] no limits to where in the house you can put it,” Kos points out. “I think typically people will look at this product and say it's for an office situation or an office space. Not necessarily so. The graphics really communicate that.”

Product: Smoking Barrel beef jerky

Packaging Type: Plastic bag

Mission: To appeal to consumers of dried beef products and serve as an economically friendly alternative to name brand beef jerky; to draw in consumers using its colorful and creative design; to encourage consumers to try each flavor of jerky; and to highlight the nutritional value of the product.

Comments: “It has a contemporary look for the category,” Hammerbeck notes. “I think when you think of beef jerky, it’s a little more old-fashioned. And this is kind of a more modern take [with] bold graphics.”

“Private label is now to the point to where they’re using the same processes and materials and procedures as the national brand counterparts,” Kos adds. “This is really apparent here - they’re using good, solid film, and there’s confidence in the product and packaging.”

RETAILER: Topco Associates LLC

Product: World Classics Trading Company Swiss chocolate bars

Packaging Type: Paperboard carton

Mission: To present the indulgent imported chocolate line using premium graphic elements and fanciful flavor names in an effort to invite the consumer to try all flavors within the line.

Comments: “They did a great job of uniting the brand through common elements and tying them together with the product shot,” Demetrakakes says. “And I think the product shot is ingenious - it shows squares of the product stacked, one on top of the other. It’s not only very appetizing, but it also shows the consumer exactly what the top and the inside of the chocolate is going to be like.”

“An interesting aspect to the brand itself is the fact that they have this fictitious character,” Hammerbeck remarks, “and on the back of the packaging, you have journal notes that kind of correlate to each product type, which is kind of interesting - you kind of follow his story.”

Product: Monkey Loco candy

Packaging Type: Plastic bag

Mission: To look exciting and colorful, and to be marketed like a national brand. The package front is designed to direct consumers’ attention to the candy inside the package.

Comments: “The concept is fun,” Hammerbeck says. “Obviously, the product is for kids, and the graphic of the monkey with the mouthful of candy is fun. Seeing that the brand name is Monkey Loco … it makes sense to have a crazy monkey on the package.”

“It’s a creative way to showcase candy through a window on the packaging,” Hildebrandt adds.

RETAILER: The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P)

Product: Hartford Reserve artisan cheese

Packaging Type: Label

Mission: To communicate the quality and the type, origin and flavor of each cheese.

Comments: “I picked them [for their] use of colors, design and typography,” Kos notes. “The combination really gets the product to elevate its status. And also, these labels here - the Wisconsin Cheese and the ACS (American Cheese Society) Winner [labels] - really give the products some credibility.”

“[The labels] also help in the selection process maybe for someone who's not as familiar with different cheeses,” Hammerbeck adds. “The fact that there's the little graphic of the animal from which the cheese came - you know, the cow for cow's milk, the goat for goat's milk - that helps with the selection process. I think that's pretty unique.”

RETAILER: Topco Associates LLC

Product: Full Circle Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon, whole fillet

Packaging Type: Rotogravure vacuum-sealable bag

Mission: To capture the attention of consumers looking for healthy and delicious meal options.

Comments: “The shape and especially the ice background gets across that this is a close cousin of something you might see on the counter of a fishmonger,” Demetrakakes says. “It communicates at a glance instantly what it’s all about and what you’re going to get in your package.”

“I like the good use of colors - primary, eye-catching colors,” Kos adds. “When you see fresh salmon behind the counter at the grocery store, you do notice that orange and pink color. And that’s communicated here on the packaging - you don’t see that the actual product, but you see the image on the packaging.”

“It kind of makes me think of when you go to the butcher - you know, the butcher paper,” Hammerbeck notes. “It feels like they wrapped up the salmon, and it’s like, ‘Here it is, ready to go.’ The simple structure, for me, conveys that.”


Product: TŪL Tape Dispenser

Packaging Type: Box with plastic sleeve

Mission: To protect the product while at the same time allowing the consumer to see the actual product, drawing him or her in with the metallic finish.

Comments: “It's a very modern product, and so the packaging is very sleek and modern, too,” Demetrakakes notes. “It fits very well in the whole modern, Scanadanavian-style design motif.”

“I agree with the whole modern art sensibility,” Hammerbeck adds. “It looks almost like they're putting it up on a pedestal like a piece of art, [making us] believe that it's encased inside the package. So that plays up the modern aspect of the product design.”

“It's as transparent as can possibly be,” Hildebrandt points out. “You know exactly what you're getting.”

RETAILER: Winn-Dixie

Product: Frozen ice cream bars and popsicles

Packaging Type: Cartons

Mission: To communicate national-brand-equivalent quality to the consumer.

Comments: “The use of this product to create an illustration I think is really smart,” Hammerbeck says, “and it’s fun - I’m assuming these are all kid-oriented products. So making the product itself more appealing and fun to a kid is just a unique, smart approach. [The illustrations] tie the line together, too.”

“It really is adorable,” Hildebrandt adds. “It’s probably not very hard to get kids to [consume] these things in the first place. …But it’s just a cute way and creative way to get their attention to go [to that product] first.” PLB