Michael Tymbios food packaging
Archive > Issues > Issue #5: Ugly > On The Shelf

On The Shelf

A trip to the shops, as a graphic designer, can be so much more than merely stocking a kitchen with your foodstuffs. There is a whole world of meaning out there and I hope to share some of that with you as I unpack the make-up of some of my all time favourite food packaging.

Chips_Cartwrights_001

Cartwrights (sic) Original Blend Curry Powder, Medium. 100g
Medium / Light Grammage cardboard. Sealed foil insert.
3 spot colours + black – coated stock + machine varnished

The facade of the pack is organised classically, with the primary design elements (icon, type and image) stacked and arranged down a vertical axis. Taking centre stage we find a young person of an indeterminate gender, kneeling in traditional garb, delicately holding out a dish of yellow powder between their thumb and forefinger. It is a confusing gesture that has an undeniable allure to it. Off to their right, the silhouette of a large chilli-fruit lies flat, knocked out of the background colour. The variable data of the best-before and manufacturing dates is printed above it, suggesting the spiciness of the product inside in a very astute, intelligent manner.

Typography: 4/5
Imagery: 4/5
Palette: 4/5
Materiality: 3/5
Print and Finish: 3/5
Sustainability: 3/5

Gilda Concentrated Tomato Paste with Salt. 140g
Tin with sublimated wrap
2 spot colours + black

This little tin of tomato paste could have rolled right out of the cupboard of a Milanese cinematographer’s kitchenette in the seventies. It is a prime specimen of the sort of thing I would and do buy purely and only for the packaging. I have not even the slightest interest in what is promised inside; the contents and their possibilities mean nothing to me.

The wordmark is rendered in a ripe, puffy handstyle with a solid shadow dropping hard to the left. Below, the centre of the tin holds a shield, the acronym N.F.G. is set in a green script and beneath that, a rendering of a monotone barque in negative, sails to the right. The shield is flanked on either side by an illustration of 3 plump tomatoes in red and three wispy tomato leaves in green held together with black outlines and fine stipling. The base and back of the tin feature a bureaucratic sans, set in a tightly spaced, modernist treatment providing all the non-negotiables, non-negotiably.

The almost unbearable spatial tension between the individual elements is placated by a proportioning of great sensitivity and flair, holding the centre elegantly.

Typography: 3/5
Imagery: 3/5
Palette: 4/5
Materiality: 4/5
Print and Finish: 4/5
Sustainability: 4/5

Chips_Gildas_001
Chips_FAMRosewater_001

Rose Water by FAM Products. 375 ml
Clear Grade 1 PET plastic bottle with white, opaque cap.
Label, possibly risographed in 4 colours on white, light grammar adhesive stock.

“Do you know what a Turkish delight is, Michaela?” This is the question, delivered in a wiry Cypriot accent, that my papou (grandfather) puts to a 7 year old me. Seemingly mindful of the fact that my mouth is full of the stuff, he offers the answer, dryly;  “A dead Greek”. Call and response, bitter and sweet, the packaging of FAM products’ Rose Water is an essay in duality; a case study in the relationship between form and content.

It’s difficult to look past the noxious sunlight-liquid green colour of the ‘water’. The label offers assurances that the stuff, good for ‘religious ceremonies, auspicious occasions and body fragrance’, is also fit for human consumption and is great in puddings, confectionary and cake flavouring. The headline is set in a squat Fraktur (blackletter) and overprinted in red and green, whilst the small print is set in what looks like a green gill-style sans. The illustrations of flowering roses hit a hopeful yet funereal note. There is a sombre sincerity in the crude halftones, mis-registrations and bleeds. The integration of the barcode, as some sort of a tombstone of globalisation, is noteworthy in its own right.

There is a gothic, romantic duality that FAM product’s Rose Water bears; asking us to consider the polarities of flavour and fragrance, sans and serif and of course, life and death.

Typography: 3/5
Imagery: 4/5
Palette: 4/5
Materiality: 3/5
Print and Finish: 4/5
Sustainability: 2/5

Panchratna Coconut Oil. 500 ml.
Monobloc plastic bottle, with perforated safety-cap.
3 colour screenprint

The success of Panchratna’s brand of Coconut Oil packaging is not found in the making of single-minded promises; but rather in its presentation of possibilities and divergent paradigms. Panchratna is there to remind us of the power of free will, interpretation and multiplicity.

The colours, materials, typography and iconography work together in harmony, seeking to baffle us into pondering the bigger questions of life. The gentle upward curve of the wordmark makes for a subtle, positive beginning of our journey. It’s going to be okay. Contemplating the sun – is it rising or is it setting – speaks to transition, change and the possibilities of a future that holds multiple outcomes. What lies under the heat of today’s sun? What relief does the cool night hold?

Is this a body lotion? Is this something you put into your moped? Do you wash your hair with this? Does it have an SPF? Who knows and frankly, who cares, because it’s coconut oil, you know it’s good for you because your friend told you so.

Typography: 4/5
Imagery: 4/5
Palette: 4/5
Materiality: 3/5
Print and Finish: 4/5
Sustainability: 2/5

Chips_Panchratna_001
Chips_Gabriel_001

Gabriel Brand Portuguese Sardines with Olive Oil. 120 net / 90g drained
Medium / Light Grammage cardboard. Aluminium Tin.
3 spot colours + black – coated stock + machine varnished

There is a lot going on here and I like it. One look and you know it’s been going on since 1890, the tin is easy to open and, in case you were worried, the look is original.

The design responds to the format in two manners: the primary information runs vertically down the facade while the secondary information is assigned to the corners. The logo is rendered in a blackletter with a relatively shallow, solid drop shadow to the left. The ‘i’ is especially well-handled and resolved. The illustration, framed in a triangular device, depicts two sailing boats of the Portuguese style (I went to the museum in Mossel Bay once. These ring a bell.) navigating some pretty rough seas. The meaning is ambiguous, yet it evokes a seriousness, a drama of sacrifice in the experience of trying to get to these sardines. Below the descriptor – in an unmemorable uppercase Arial –  is a photographic image of two fish arranged back to back, with their heads and tails skillfully removed, following the line of the triangular device above. In the corners we are treated to a playful school of graphic devices, styles and treatments alive with banners, olives, a pull-ring, a mouldy looking badge and a frank, yet pleasingly honest statement of the net and drained weight. In the age of shrinkification, a gesture of honesty like this is welcome.

Looking at this fantastic pack, it’s difficult not to feel your heart swelling with gratitude; for the brave sacrifices of the fisherman in sailing boats, for the layout artist’s generosity with his talents in scaling those two Portuguese sardines, for the gestures of honesty and reassurances offered in the corners. This feels good.

Typography: 4/5
Imagery: 4/5
Palette: 4/5
Materiality: 4/5
Print and Finish: 4/5
Sustainability: 5/5

Telma Stock Cubes: Beef and Beef Flavour stock-cubes. 15g
Foil wraps.
2 spot colour prints on an uncoated stock

Seemingly straight out of a workshop in Dessau, these near perfect squares of paper and foil are a wonderful example of classic modernist design principles in action.

The typography is tightly set in an anonymous lowercase sans, run flush left / rag right and printed in a solid black with process red. An outlined illustration of a kitchen prep-scene fills in the negative space with an austere invitation to complete the dish. This pack is a rare example of a more didactic approach to the design of consumer-goods packaging, standing in stark contrast to the contents of today’s shelves – packed with the products of alluring, lustful and hard-to-believe imaging strategies. These deceptions, I believe, breed a malicious form of societal cynicism. Money exchanged, promises broken and bitterness swallowed. There is an optimism, perhaps in the belief that sense prevails, evidenced in the form of these little wrappers of rationality.

Typography: 4/5
Imagery: 4/5
Palette: 4/5
Materiality: 4/5
Print and Finish: 4/5
Sustainability: 5/5

Chips_Telma_001
Chips_TunaMarine_001

Tuna Marine Calamata Style Olives in Olive Oil and Vinegar 800g
Tin with sublimated wrap.
CMYK print + 1 spot colour

This tin has been a favourite of mine for years now. In fact, well over 5 years, which is when I bought these for my flat-warming, as evidenced by the rust along its edges.

The toothpick flag blows in a cool breeze above a floating olive branch. A promise of respite, of a cool peace. The arch of Tuna Marine elegantly echoes that of the collonade below, which offers us a glimpse of the city, distant. The freshness of the product is suggested in the depiction of the unpacking of saddlebags from a plump, satisfied-looking pair of donkeys. A man, perhaps a merchant, emerges from the shade, dignified on a carpet, flanked by two clay jars, waiting to be stocked.

We are not treated as strangers in a strange land, as we are addressed in dual-medium about the type of olives, their dressing, and their originality. The diversity in tongues is reflected in the diversity of typography, with no fewer than 4 typefaces present on the facade alone. In this time of widening gulfs, rising nationalisms and deepening divides, this tin offers so much more than bitter little fruits with rocks in the middle; it offers hope.

Typography: 5/5
Imagery: 5/5
Palette: 5/5
Materiality: 5/5
Print and Finish: 5/5
Sustainability: 5/5

Spillers Peri-Peri Oil – Capsicum Flavoured 250 ml
Glass Bottle with Opaque Plastic Lid
Die-cut paper label, 3 colour print

A manufacturer of condiments calls itself Spiller. A creeping slick of ink threatens to engulf the typography on its label. The label itself seems to be trying to slip off the glass bottle and the illustrations themselves rest on their own oily splats. Like the price of a barrel of brent-crude, everything here is in constant flux, and nothing is stable as it slips and slides on its own excesses.

These associations are too convenient. The relationships between text and image, colour and content, print and application are too powerful. Somewhere, along the line, palms must have been greased, perhaps in the backroom of a small copy-shop in Port Shepstone, because this…it’s too perfect. If all of this is coincidence, I may even consider using this stuff.

Typography: 5/5
Imagery: 5/5
Palette: 5/5
Materiality: 5/5
Print and Finish: 5/5
Sustainability: 5/5

Chips_Spillers_001

Various Manufacturers /Spices.   5 – 10g
Uncoated Paper Sleeves.
1, 2 and 3 colour prints, various processes

As vessels of product, these little bits of gummed and folded paper fall short as their contents fall out (in the store, the car, the shelf, the bag, you get it.) But where others may find nothing, I find pleasure in their crafty, ingenious combinations of type and image, symbol and sign and ink and paper.

Each sleeve and each brand holds its own through the strength of its unique blend of graphic flavours; consider the Byzantine ligatures of Hulley & Rice, the resourceful stamp-work of Eastern Gem, the dark tones of Sultan’s patriarchal promises, the up-your-nostrils, no-nonsense graphic directness of Hot Spice cardamom all the way through to the sheer strength of Hind’s Mixed Masala.

Something in the naive honesty and resourcefulness embodied by these beautifully singular, stapled sachets of spice sees them continue to waft confidently in this age of the cross-category, poly-division, power-brand food corporation.

Typography: 4/5
Imagery: 5/5
Palette: 4/5
Materiality: 2/5
Print and Finish: 3/5
Sustainability: 5/5

Michael Tymbios is a graphic designer based in Cape Town. The tastiest thing he has ever eaten is falafel from a restaurant called Bekef in Warsaw. 

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