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The Book's Cover is its Most Viable Marketing Tool


Recipes, thoughts and rants from Mallow & Hop.

The Book's Cover is its Most Viable Marketing Tool

Karen Marshall

One of the requirements for applying for a cottage food permit in California is providing your county with a mock-up of the labels that you'll be using. They want to ensure your ingredients are allowed under the law, that any allergens are clearly noted, that "Made in a Home Kitchen" is displayed in a large enough font size. I get it. But it's also incredibly daunting to have to create and finalize your labels before you get the go-ahead to even start a business.

I'd like to start by complaining a little bit about the inaccuracy allowed in product packaging in general. A long time calorie counter, I was devastated to know that calorie counts can legally be inaccurate up to 20% in either direction - and you know the manufacturers of Cheetos aren't fudging that number so that it looks higher than it is. Beyond that, check this out- this is a package of rice crackers I picked up on Zion Market on 6th St in Koreatown.


Now note the inaccuracies:

  • Serving size is 50g, servings per packet: 1. Net weight: 70g.
  • Serving size is 50g, servings per packet: 1. And yet, there are 95g of carbs in this serving.
  • 1g of carbohydrates is 4 calories. 4x95 = 380 calories. Total cal per serving = 150 calories.
  • Per google: 1 cup of brown rice is 216 calories, 45g of carbs, and 0.7g of sugar. White rice is 206 calories, 46g of carbs, and 0.1g of sugar. So it begs the question, when the ingredients are "brown rice, rice, glasswort salt" - where the heck is that 42g of sugar coming from?

Of course, this could all be a typo. Or multiple typos. But fact is, this product is being sold in the United States, with these nutrition facts. A funky korean packet of mixed nuts and dried shrimp I picked up tried to tell me it was 70 calories for 3oz, when just 1oz of peanuts is 161 (and the bag wasn't light on peanuts) . It's frustrating, considering that I'm pretty sure I'll get a response from the county telling me that my Net Weight needs to be listed on the "Primary Panel," not just along with the ingredients. I'll change it, LA! The instructions were confusing, but I know better now!

Now, cottage food businesses have a revenue cap of $50,000/year, which means they fall well within the FDA's Small Business Exemption, and are not required to provide the nutritional information. Grateful for small mercies - sending a food item off to the lab to get tested costs around $750 per. But I still have a lot of criteria to meet when choosing my packaging, both in terms of government regulations, and in successful product design.

I've been reading up a lot on Product Packaging theory over the past few weeks. My budget prevents hiring professionals, so I'm trying my best to teach myself the tools I need to be able to come up with an eye-catching but practical design.

The packaging for Fred's Marshmallows was a start, but we've discussed already that the logo and design was all wrong for the type of product I was trying to market. And look - what do you see in that image? I see Fred's. All I see is Fred's. "Marshmallows" is written in my own cursive with a thin white line beneath that orange block text. Easy to miss. No wonder people asked me if it was soap. The marshmallows they know are cylindrical and white, while these are square and come in a variety of pastels. On top of that each marshmallow had to be cut neatly and precisely in order to appear aesthetically pleasing through the clear packaging, and that was a luxury of time that I could not afford in my cramped commercial kitchen. As a result, some packages bulged, and some looked half empty. It was far from optimal, but I liked being able to see the product, and it kept them fairly fresh.

And so, here was my first prototype for packaging for Mallow & Hop.

I loved it so. But in flood the issues:

  • Oh, it's a S'more! I have figured out that this is a marshmallow! But wait, cherry beer? That's not optimal S'more flavor, at least not with the traditional cinnamon graham / chocolate combo (full disclaimer: I have not tried this, and it may very well taste amazing). As the customer, I am confused again.
  • I also am back in the mindset that marshmallows are only ingredients for other desserts, rather than candy in their own right.
  • The one packaging fits all prototype is appealing, but relies on my calligraphy to relay flavor information. As you can see, my skills with a sharpie leave much to be desired.
  • We're back to "fun". This is a product marketed towards kids, and kids don't want cherry beer marshmallows. I've lost the target audience again.

I still love this design, and despite all of the above issues, I plan to get some version of it printed up to use for an unspecified purpose in the future. But it was back to the drawing board. Very inspired by Mast Brothers Chocolate's masterful and iconic package design, I looked into the possibility of having a different pattern for each flavor. I have little experience in pattern design, so I started trolling Spoonflower for other peoples' creations. But now more issues - a) everything I'm drawn to is too fun and colorful, b) how does one deal with this legally? Do I pay them $50 now and renegotiate if I graduate from cottage food? Too much to think about. I browsed back to my Spoonflower page - made after Fred's initial failure when I was grasping around for creative straws to cling to and thought "hmm, fabric design?" - and the argyle caught my eye. Argyle seemed right, and is infinitely customizable.

Here we are currently:

Marshmallows is front and center, as is the flavor, which is additionally evoked by the color scheme. The label wraps around the top, back and bottom of the box, still allowing for a peek of the product, while providing all of the relevant information. This is not the final draft that will be sent to the printers by any means - my best friend is a talented artist and helping me to brainstorm the steps ahead. But we're in the right direction. It's a process.

A process that's a little bit on hold until I hear back from the county. Then inspections. Then trying to get the product sold - the biggest challenge. Hang tight!