Packaging for Love Tea.
A conversation between Damien Amos (DA) from Love Tea, Rhys Gorgol (RG) and Luke Brown (LB) from The Company You Keep, and Matt Leach (ML) from Australian Design Radio.
Damien, Love Tea was founded in Melbourne in 2006. Can you tell us a little bit about how it came about?
It started with my wife Emma’s idea of starting an organic chai brand. We started while we were both studying at university, and we just developed one chai product and it went from there.
When did you realise that you might need a rebrand?
We had the original packaging that was first designed when it was started. As lovely as it was, it became apparent that it was quite limiting in the audience that it was going to appeal to and how much it represented what we were trying to achieve. So it was possibly four or so years into sticking with that original packaging that we realised it was limited with the scope of where it could go.
As a business owner I imagine that’s a hard pill to swallow. In the sense that the obvious thing is just to keep going and to keep pushing through. What was the thing that made you decide you needed to reach out?
There were a couple of things. As beautiful as it was — it was great for the time — but when we started, we were uni students with a side hustle hobby. Our view for where it could sit was limited because that’s all the vision we had for it. It was quite small and as it developed and as we expanded our aspirations of where it could go, we realised that it needed to evolve. It couldn’t just stay in its original hobby concept that it was started with. That was really how it came about. There were some challenges on which direction to go initially, but we’re really glad that we came to the place we came to with The Company You Keep.
Rhys, I’m interested — when you get a brief like this, how is it received and what were your initial thoughts about it?
Briefs like this with clients like Love Tea are really enjoyable. When you have an owner operator business where the founder of that business is still involved, there’s a real purity in the connection to purpose. Why the business exists, what energy they’re trying to put out into the world — which is really great from a design or a branding perspective, because it allows you unfettered access to unpack and then articulate that to an audience. When Love Tea came to us, it was obvious that there was so much passion behind the product, even down to decisions like the name. Love Tea. It’s such a sensory thing that comes through with that and these decisions can be made organically. You don’t necessarily know why you’re choosing this name or this style or this kind of packaging at the time, but they’re all giving you clues as to the intention or the purpose of that brand. Quite often with businesses like Love Tea, and this brief when it came to us, is that it’s inherently clear that not only is this passion making the business successful, but the product is really, really high quality; great market leading within that sector. When the design capacity, or the interface — the way in which that is communicated visually — hasn’t really had the level of detail that we give it, which is an incredibly high level of detail, it means that you can see a huge opportunity to make a really big impact for that business owner. When briefs like this come across they’re really exciting because it’s essentially untapped potential, with a really fun ride ahead of you.
Luke, when you get a brief like this, I’m interested in your first steps to work out the key principles; the elements of the brand. It’s an existing brand already, so what do you get rid of or dial back? Or what do you expand upon?
Obviously you have to look at what’s come before, but more importantly what we thought was really important was to look at the space and the current market and then at their audience and what’s going to resonate with them. We found throughout that research that the tea space is very cluttered. It’s got a lot of visual noise, it’s got a lot of brands, it’s got a lot of companies that put a lot of love into it that are all trying to vie for the audience’s attention. The one thing we noticed that really drove home a lot of our design decisions was everyone’s visually noisy, loud, lots of colour everywhere. Talking to Damien and Emma, they’re calm people, they’re intelligent, and their quality of product is linked with this sensory experience of taking a time out to have a cup of tea. Taking that moment out in the day for yourself. So we thought, how do we represent that visually? And we can represent that visually by cutting out all the noise, all the unnecessary colour, reducing things right back to their base elements. So box boards and whites, neutral colours, these calming colours. When you see the packs on the shelf you see this beautiful cut of calmness through this chaotic noise. What we wanted to do was visually represent that sense of taking time out for oneself.
This juxtaposition between being brand lead — so what is the organisation really seeking out to do? — versus being “market informed” — so what else is happening in the marketplace? When everyone is zigging, you better zag. Because otherwise you’re going to blend in with all the zigs, and that was obvious with a lot of that deep dive research that Luke had done in terms of that marketplace. Quite interestingly, tea as an experience is inherently calm. You’re taking calm or respite out of your busy day, to have this injection of peace for yourself. Yet the packaging was the inverse of that. It was, who can shout the loudest? What orange is the most neon? How can we use as many bowerbird tricks as possible to grab your attention within the shelf space? And it just seemed incongruous with what the experience was like. That ability to zag just really lent into this huge opportunity. Because not only is that different to the market and therefore going to stand out or be distinct amongst its competitors, but also, it’s going to be a far more accurate representation of the pace, the intent and the energy in which Love Tea was founded and was trying to put out into the market.
There’s these moments where you’re looking at competitors and you’re looking and what people do and it’s a lot of illustration and a lot of colour. The thing that we were speaking about with Damien and Emma, is their product is such a high quality and what they really do is try to hero the ingredient. So we wanted to, through our design, hero the ingredient because it’s of this eminent quality. In the design you can see the ingredient is the first thing on the pack, it’s in the centre of the pack. The story is a second layer, so the naturopathic qualities of that drink is the second layer. With all that typography, what we wanted to do is create a really simplistic hierarchical system of type. So everything’s the same point size, it’s really recessive, you can get a sense of the naturopathic qualities, you can get a sense of their story all on pack. But the hero in the ingredient is the first thing you notice as you investigate the packaging.
Damien, for you, you can see what all the competitors are doing, and then you’re being told to zig when they zag. How did that feel for you? Did that feel like a risk?
Maybe initially before we saw any concepts. We were more curious to see how it was going to play out. But one thing I remember specifically was the moment when that first concept which we really engaged with came through. The thing that really stood out was just a few small comments that we had made in a number of meetings beforehand had been picked up, and then had been all put together for that design. It was comments Luke just mentioned — we think the hero of the product is the ingredients and the herbs and the therapeutic qualities. We’re not seeing ourselves as a brand as the hero here, really it’s the products that we think are the heroes, and then the ingredients. So obviously, on front of pack was really cool to see. The other thing with the brand taking a step back, is that often you see the brands as the big, huge logo with the “look at me, I’m the brand”, and then you go into the product. We were really pleased to see that those comments we’d made were taken on board, and used with that initial concept. There was a little bit of nervousness at the start, but it was really obvious from that first design that we were happy and it was going to be a really great result.
With a lot of brands in any form, there’s people that put the big logo on the front, and they’re thinking, “How is anyone going to know it’s our brand if there’s not a big logo on the front?” And they forget that a brand is far more than a logo, it’s everything. It’s every touch point. So when we were talking with Love Tea, the ingredient is the hero, we’ve decided that, and then there’s these other stories we want to tell. The logo is really recessive, the logo is blind embossed in the bottom corner and it’s not shouting at all, because the whole packaging is their brand. So when someone is browsing the shelves, and they see all this noise, and then they see this calm moment of Love Tea, that’s the brand experience. They don’t need to shout any louder than that. That’s this sense of confidence and restraint that we were trying to inject in the brand, but it really just comes from them as people.
Luke, dealing with a client like this where there’s a lot of complexity and a lot of messages that need to be communicated to the consumer — how do you balance that? And how do you work out what the most important message is?
There is a lot of information. There are a lot of things you want to communicate with a product like tea. There’s the ingredient and the quality of that ingredient, there’s the naturopathic qualities of the tea itself and maybe there’s a story or an origin story, as well as where that ingredient comes from. Then there’s the story of the brand itself or the founders of the brand, and then there’s things like “organic”. What we had to do was just layer it into an order of priorities. So as we mentioned before, the ingredient is the hero. Then the naturopathic qualities are the second tier, tertiary we’ve got the founders story, and then below that is all the other catch-all for organic and those kinds of qualities. One of the things that we were talking about with them and after looking at other products in the space, is that you don’t have to shout too much with those organic or health benefit products. Nowadays people are health conscious, and they’re concerned with these things so that they’re almost a given. Of course it’s vegan, of course it’s organic, of course it’s ethically sourced for something that is a premium product like this. You still want to say that it’s there and communicate it, but you just don’t have to yell about it.
It’s one of things that is really important with packaging and brand. Quite often there is a more is more attitude, whereby there’s so many things we need to communicate, and they’re all of equal importance. But as soon as you try and lean into that as a truth, it falls over. Because there’s white noise where everything competes with each other and cancels each other out. So by actually being intentional around that decision-making process around what is the primary hierarchy, secondary hierarchy, and tertiary hierarchy, you then lead someone through understanding information and what’s important. You can then actually communicate clearly and freely. That’s something that’s really important in terms of the structure or the system for Love Tea. Especially within its packaging interface.
Damien, the brand has been in the market for over three years now. What has the response been like to the new brand and packaging?
It’s been really good. Initially there was a little bit of hesitation from some of the current customers, but that was just adapting to the change and it was pretty limited. Then it was quite obvious early on that it was serving the purpose we hoped it would, in a couple of different ways. The first way was an obvious measure with opening new channels and having the product represented in an area it probably wouldn’t have been previously. That was one that we had hoped for and it didn’t take long for that to eventuate, and that was looking at export as well. So, into New Zealand and Japan and so forth. Then the one that I was really surprised by, and what the whole team was surprised by, was that whole process of going through that deep dive into the brand, and like Rhys mentioned before, unpacking it. What it did is it gave us a lot more confidence in why we were doing what we were doing, how we went about it and then how to communicate that to different customers. Whether that’s an end user customer or a wholesale customer or just someone in the street that we’re talking with. So that was the real surprise — that confidence that it gave us in our brand by that process of developing it.
Rhys, when you’ve got a brand that’s been in the market for some time, I imagine three years is a pretty long time for FMCG terms. Do you think about adjusting or refreshing or evolving the brand? So it always remains relevant?
Yes and no. Where change is warranted change is definitely welcome, but not change for change’s sake. That’s the thing around being market-led or market informed; brands that have a clear vision and purpose. You would hope that a successful design outcome represents that clearly and truthfully and therefore there should be some longevity to them. There should be something that endures with that translation or that articulation or that purpose and it should be relevant to the market. Obviously markets change and markets move quite quickly, but you would hope that the brand message or the brand intent was able to navigate or traverse the evolution of markets, for at least a midterm period of time before change. Because what can quite often happen is whilst an owner or an organisation is constantly looking at their brand or their packaging, there’s a fatigue that can sometimes wear in. It’s, “Oh, I’m sick of looking at the same thing”. Day in day out, the allure or intoxication of the new — “What if we had this or what if we tried blue now? Green?” The consumer doesn’t have that same level of fixation with the product or the same level of volume, in terms of how often they’re seeing it. So that change then erodes that equity that’s built up in their mind. What we try to do is do something right the first time that’s going to last a very long time and then be open to how markets and consumers adapt and change, and be informed by that wherever necessary. Quite often that is more around lateral skew development, so moving laterally in terms of what is offered or how it is offered. More so than shifting the core brand or packaging assets.
Luke, Love Tea products have expanded massively during the years. Everything from traditional loose-leaf, pregnancy teas, even tea accessories. How do you build a brand that can deal with that business growth?
If you go back to what Rhys was just saying, where you’re thinking about the fundamentals of this brand and what they stand for and this story, you’re going to think, “These guys stand for a quality experience of quality ingredients”, and where does that live? It lives in this sensory place. When we’re working on a brand, we think about the ways they could grow. With Love Tea, we’ve been having similar conversations over the past few months or past year or so. To add to what Rhys was saying about building laterally, it’s the question of what other kinds of spaces we can build in. And it’s around that sensory space. That’s the bigger brand work that we find really interesting. OK, it starts with this product and starts with this core sentiment and how do you replicate that sentiment across to other areas? Whether it’s the apothecary space or something like that. So we see the opportunity in that, but the way that you keep it true to its roots is by keeping it true to the core story. Here are the ingredients, the qualities or the product, the story of the founders and them being a part of that process. It’s not just us running off into the wind with it. It’s staying true to that origin story and then that feels authentic through every other touch point.
That is quite often the interesting thing when you’re really deep diving into the purpose of a brand. It allows you to move around from the limitation of what they do, back to why they do it. So on face value someone could look at a company or a brand like Love Tea and think, “Well it’s a tea company, they make tea”, but in terms of how that is presented in market and in terms of how they start thinking about everything they do as an organisation, it’s not about tea, it’s about calmness. It’s about introspection, it’s about providing the space and the time for reflection and for connection; tea just happens to be the vehicle to allow that to happen. But you can imagine the same sentiment or the brand moving, as Luke alluded to, into sensory services or things like audio or scent. None of these things feel like they would be incongruous with the brand. In market the consumer would relate to them and think, OK this makes sense, because it’s giving me the same narrative, or it’s giving me the same quality or it’s giving me the same experience.
And that’s the thing — before people, companies, brands, organisations — before they embark on a process like this, there’s the measurables that are going to be really easy to point out. OK, we want to reach these new channels, appeal to this market or so forth. The immeasurable things that are initially often under-considered are bigger impacts, even just internally for an organisation. The confidence it gives you to have that energy and enthusiasm.
Decisiveness, as well.
How has the brand, Damien, filtered down to the rest of the stuff?
Having the brand develop in such a detailed and considerate way, that it really communicates the initial vision that we had and the initial purpose behind what it is that we were trying to do — the fact that it communicates that so clearly gives us that confidence in achieving all those aspirations. It’s really helpful for the whole team to have a road map and a guiding light to keep in mind whenever they’re doing whatever activities throughout the day.
Director: Rhys Gorgol
Designer: Luke Brown
Client Service: Monica Laskowska
Photography: Daniel Herrmann-Zoll
Typefaces: Sofia Pro