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Let's be clear: why transparent packaging works

Manufacturers are using clear packaging to let shopper see more of the food inside.

Food manufacturers are opening up, offering glimpses of their products through clear packaging, be it the entire container or just a window.

One of the latest to go see-through is Campbell Canada, which, this past fall, relaunched its Chunky soup line in clear containers—an upgrade from foam.

A clear strip at the bottom of the new bowls (pictured) gives a glimpse of the soup’s contents because, as Campbell’s director of marketing, Jennifer Blackburn, notes, “people want to see what’s in their food.”

“Packaging doesn’t need to be all transparent–just in the most important part,” says Stuart Leslie, president of 4sight, a New York–based design firm that specializes in product and package innovation. “Soup naturally has the chunks fall to the bottom, so it can be a very interesting strategy.”

But transparent packaging doesn’t suit every category. Leslie mentions frozen foods, many of which don’t exactly look so appetizing uncooked.

“You have to remember, what you put in transparent packaging is the hero and it has to live up to what you’re saying about it,” says Vu Nguyen, associate creative director at Hornall Anderson, a brand design agency in Seattle.

The rule, Leslie says, is to use transparent packaging only if it enhances your message or shows what’s so great or unique about your product.

If you go clear, you also have to consider where to put the window. U.K.-based Dorset Cereals has cleverly placed a see-through leaf toward the middle of its granola and muesli products, since breakage tends to accumulate at the bottom of the box and the top is usually just air.

Of course there are downsides to transparent packaging, Nguyen says. For one, real estate that could be used for communication or alluring graphics is lost. And clear packaging can add costs and reduce shelf life, he says.

Shifting to clear does have advantages, though.

It suggests freshness, which is why it’s often found in perimeter products such as yogurt, salad mixes and vegetable-heavy stir-fries from companies such as Quebec-based Veg Pro International.

Products that aren’t in the perimeter don’t have that just- made value, Leslie says, so instead, companies often show only some of the inside. “It’s the idea it’s more natural, fresher, more organic,” says Nguyen. “It’s about showing and not telling.”

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