Packaging is a notoriously difficult area to do anything innovative in, particularly when it is for mainstream foodstuffs. To take a walk down the tea and coffee aisle in the supermarket, for example, is to engage on a tour of clichéd exotic landscapes and insipid piles of beans and leaves.
When it came to creating new packs for Cafédirect’s range of Fair Trade teas and coffees, design studio Carter Wong attempted to leave that world behind, concentrating instead on the fact that the brand can trace its produce back to the individual grower of each crop. “A lot of Fair Trade is a market where growers combine crops. We wanted to build on Cafédirect’s provenance,” explains Carter Wong’s Phil Wong.
The biggest issue, says Wong, was in deciding whether to focus the designs on the good that the company does (it pays guaranteed prices above the Fair Trade premium, for example) or on the quality of its products. “They have a very loyal customer base,” partner Phil Carter says. “They could almost put the product in a brown paper bag and those people would still buy it. We wanted something distinctive to attract others.” Carter Wong researched a number of routes and, though women apparently found the concept somewhat threatening, the studio managed to persuade Cafédirect to go with a redesign centred on the tools used by its growers. “This one polarised opinion,” Carter says. “A lot of people didn’t understand why the tools were on the pack, but if it can get people talking then it’s done its job.”
Phil Carter plus another designer from the studio headed off to Uganda with photogapher John Millar for the shoot but, though hospitable, the local growers didn’t quite grasp the idea initially. “They kept wanting to show us the view,” Carter says. “And they didn’t seem to have any of the tools that we were hoping for. We were getting a bit worried so we started rummaging in the offices and the storerooms. Thankfully we found some and realised that it was actually going to work.” Among the treasures uncovered were a machete with a handle made from a cow’s tail (rejected for looking too gruesome) plus, discovered on a second shoot in Mexico, a curious bird-shaped instrument used to pull down tall branches.
All were shot inside a tent that Millar had brought along in order to control the lighting. (“He’s very resourceful in awkward locations,” says Wong of Millar. “He always seems to like lying on the floor.”) Each of the implement’s owners was also photographed – they appear on the back of the relevant pack. In addition, the Carter Wong team interviewed them to provide quotes which feature on the front of the packs with each grower’s signature underneath (scanned from samples which had to be gathered, literally, in the field).
With the first of the packs about to hit the shops, Wong admits to being nervous. Cafédirect’s sales have, he says, dipped during the past 18 months. If the new packs succeed, those featured may be able to afford shiny new tools to replace the battered, if rather photogenic, stars of the designs.