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Branding in retail: the future. Superfood, futurism and other trends

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In 2013, Google co-founder Sergey Brin became a sponsor of the world’s first artificial hamburger. He claimed that meat made in a lab would not only solve the environmental issues but will answer the most pressing ethical questions. Doesn’t matter whether this burger is worth those thousands of dollars it cost. Just the fact that it could one day be on the restaurant menu launches a new era where technology can completely change our diet.

Nowadays, lots of venture startups develop liquid or powdered meals, also known as the Complete Food System, which promises the consumer a sufficient diet to eliminate the need for “real” food. Thus eating will become more entertainment than a necessity. Meal replacements have long existed on the market, but today these are not just dietary supplements. And one of the key differences between them is precisely branding.

If yesterday Slimfasts products were regarded as weight loss instruments only, today they have become a solution to those who are tired of wasting time and money on cooking.

The brands who stood at the origins of the cosmic era, now enter our collective consciousness as the options for cleaner and smarter future. And it seems as accessible, as a glass of their beautifully designed breakfast.

As a matter of fact, the companies involved in the production of the “food of the future” share the same utopian optimistic ideas about technology that have been mentioned in the works of many post-war modernists, including Fuller. The belief that we can make the world a better place, thanks to a pragmatic and functional design, is very precisely stated in their mission and shown by simplifying the packaging of many brands that produce “perfect food”.

Food technology companies are simultaneously developing liquid meals, so we will probably be noticing some overlaps in branding soon. It seems curious how equally aesthetically the producers relate to this particular market segment. Each product line consists of minimalistic plastic bags accompanied by labels or just numbers, wrapped around transparent or white bottles without any decorations or logos.

Using the design principles of the past century to label the food of the future is an interesting solution. On the one hand, a radical breakthrough is coming. But on the other hand, it all revolves around the old ideas.

The founder of Huel (Human + Fuel) Julian Hearn claims that the manufacturer needs a modern, life-simplifying identification, which should be an ideal brand. Too often, food packaging is bright and flashy, so instead of screaming louder, the company takes a completely opposite approach — “the less, the better”.

To develop its packaging, Huel collaborated with designer Salih Kukukagoy. References were ranging from Epcot logos to elements of religious iconography in Pisa and images of the Latvian harvest god Jumis. All options have been reduced to strict Swiss style and a few specific brands, such as Rapha and Blue Bottle Coffee.

Why so? According to the founder of the company, we, as a population, have developed and prepared tasty products that we are addicted to and are happy to consume. But we need to go back to the basics. Perfect food goes against today’s point of view. Its main purpose is nutrition, not taste.

Therefore, the common task of manufacturers is to get rid of unnecessary additives, tastes, packaging, and cooking. The result is the minimalist aesthetics that you see in many brands in this segment.

Ideas for the Soylent packaging, design team, led by Ryder Ripps from OkFocus, drew from the work of Helmut Schmid, IV Bags and the labels of space equipment NASA.

John Zelek, a senior creative at Soylent, says: “We took a look at basic foods, such as milk and bread, and imagined what they would look like in the future. Ryder and his team at OkFocus are really great at staying ahead of the curve with design — specifically internet and technology-inspired one. That was a perfect option for Soylent. For instance, each iteration of the Powder has a version number and changelog, just like software”.

John Zeleck says about the design of the brand: “I think this pure minimalistic style can be pretty exciting. It accentuates that this is 100% engineered food. We are not trying to deceive anyone and pretend it’s been grown in your grandma’s garden”.

When asked about the visual similarity in many “perfect meal” brands, Ripps explains: “Imitation is a farce of the truth. As if you were taking screenshots of an image over and over again until it can’t be recognized. Trendsetters do this in lots of industries, laying something new and significant into their project, pressing the “on” button, and with each pass, the thing gets more and more distorted. As long as nothing comes out of thin air, greatness comes only from a passionate clear intent where there is a need”.

Ripps also emphasizes that Soylent’s packaging is far from Modernist. “I think of it more as functionalism. Modernism has become so trivial, Design Within Reach basically destroyed it”.