According to the Food Marketing Institute, the average supermarket in the United States holds around 40,000 different items. You need a package that will provide not only informative material, but also one that will attract the consumer to purchase.

This objective has been the driving force for my company, Wencel Design of Oak Brook, Ill. We have resolved many functional and esthetic issues in the dairy industry. Over the last 40 years, we have been awarded many accolades for our award-winning designs.

History of dairy food branding & FDA regulation

A historical milk carton design proves to be an ineffective approach to branding dairy products. A close look at historical efforts to innovate the milk carton shows very little change in design. Pour spout caps have been a carton’s biggest step forward, yet some dairies still use gable-top cartons without spout caps.

A typical dairy design includes a large brand mark and its product name, indications of fat percentages and an FDA qualifier. There is no usage of the side panels, and it lacks valuable information for consumers.

In most cases, it is hard to find a reference to the product’s founding heritage, or any depictions of health benefits other than calcium claims (which are not highlighted to their fullest extent). There are usually two principle display panels; the front and back of the containers – the right panel from the front display panel is always the nutritional display panel with a UPC code.

All other panels identify the product name or they repeat the principle display. Recently, dairies are using a farmer-owned banner, and this does not connect to the consumer.

What dairies are doing wrong with their package design

Typically, dairy package design comes from the top of an organization – owner, CEO or president. They are the ones who control the branding initiative and make decisions for their marketing company or art department.

Many of these departments are very small, and only consist of a few employees. Dairy processors often lack proper research or consideration for consumer input. It is important for dairies to target outside their own input. They can do so with a package design that explores the market.

Dairies are consistently losing value and respect. Sales of fluid dairy-milk continue to drop; they are now at an all-time low due to aggressive competition with nondairy products. Do not wait to change your package design until the FDA makes a final decision to regulate ingredients on packaging. Start now.

Since the biggest design change for the milk gable-top carton is a plastic screw top cap, there have to be bigger innovations for changing dairy marketing packaging.

Dairy branding needs to update with changing trends of the market. A fact of the matter is that other product lines such as soy milk, almond milk, water, and juice are taking over the market.

This is what I say: “Dairy needs to fill gaps with the same products or other alternatives. You snooze, you lose.”

Packaging design for milk cartons needs to show innovation

New (or up-dating existing) packaging design needs to show innovation. When consumers see new package redesign, it sends a message to the consumers that the dairy brand is making a strong statement that the product is improving with new and healthier ingredient benefits.

My firm has tested many new re-designs for dairy companies. We have proven that sales increased 16%-20% with the new branding package designs. One way to achieve this is by looking for consumer comments and input. Go outside your dairy and talk to the users of your products: consumers!

There is a rational philosophy behind packaging graphic design execution. Reputation is everything at a dairy, and your packaging should send a message. Consumers like new, and they want to find out who or what is going on with the new kid on the block.

Packaging re-design is less expensive than national marketing and advertising, although it does not last for eight to 10 years, as some may believe. Another new or private brand label will catch on and begin to compete. A few ways to avoid this from happening include:

1. Refresh your packaging every three to four years
2. Give your consumers new images
3. Provide current information to your consumer
4. Infuse innovation and excitement into your dairy’s DNA

Dairy brands also need to educate their consumers on the benefits of their products. They should promote more health benefits on the principle or front display panel of the carton because this is the first location of consumer impact, and it has to be clear. A consumer knows that it is milk, and how does that relate or benefit their family’s health?

Consumers usually understand that the dairy products come from a small farm on a hill or near a valley. But they also need to be told how the product serves as a health benefit.

In order to grasp a consumer’s attention, we need to change the architecture of branding dairy products. Dairy needs to tap into all the information and resources from every dairy association available. This is exactly what we do for our designs. We use principle display panels for large claims such as protein, calcium and vitamins.

Dairy associations are very high-tech, which helps to provide this innovative edge for brand packaging. It is vital at the point of sale.

About the author
Michael Wencel is the owner and CEO of Wencel Design Co., Oak Brook, Ill. Wencel and his award-winning agency have worked in the dairy category and the CPG industry for over 40 years. For more information, go to or direct line 708-209-7973.