Graduate Research Project Development

Extended Statement

My studio project has developed into an exploration of systems, brand and package design for a consumption model of controlled portion sizes and organic wholefoods. A model that can both improve consumer health and minimise environmental waste by reducing the quantity of food consumed and excess disposed of. This concept will address criticism of convenience food packaging in the fast moving consumer goods industry or FMCG, by offering a less destructive alternative. New Zealand nutrition expert Dr Helen Eyles (Science Media Centre, 2014) states, “Packaged foods, especially those which have undergone a lot of processing, tend to be high in adverse nutrients such as saturated fat, salt and sugar. Therefore, in an ideal world we would all be eating predominantly whole, fresh, unprocessed foods. However, cost, convenience and other factors mean that packaged foods are often included in our diets.” To grapple with this, my project will cater to a health conscious target market of female and male consumers aged 20 to 35, with a convenience style supermarket that caters to this concept, located in densely populated city centres. 

As the priorities of society have shifted over the last 30 years, heavily processed foods have become more readily available, to meet the demands of busy consumer lifestyles, with concerning consequences. As a result of not educating consumers about the contents and effects of these new foods, they have become over consumed replacements for what once was a healthy balanced diet. Unhealthy foods have been alarmingly linked to cause common serious health problems such as cancer, obesity and heart disease (Oliver, 2010). From my research, I have found that there seems to be a concerning imbalance between cost and quality in FMCG products. Two generalised groups differentiate products: large quantity, low-priced and bad quality products verses small quantity, costly and high quality products. The middle ground between these groups is blurred, with a mixture of characteristics from the two, an underperforming value structure that is less applicable to the healthy living attitude adopted by consumers. Another issue surrounding consumption that has arisen recently as the interest in healthy foods and the human population dramatically grows, is the increased scarcity of naturally grown commodity food items, such as rice. Without more control around consumption in this area resources will be depleted, thus increasing the use of genetically modified crops and toxic additives, both detrimental to consumer health. 

There are two resolutions to these issues. The first, outlined by nutrition experts Dr Elye and Mark Bittman, is to eat “real” food (Bittman, 2007). “Real” refers to how foods should actually be - unprocessed and organic, as true to the natural form as possible. The second solution is to reduce the quantity of food consumed, with portion sizing. Controlled portions will not only benefit the consumer’s health but the environment too, reducing the amount of food waste disposed, caused by over estimating how much is required. Controlled portion sizes and the system used to illustrate the concept to the consumer, have developed into an integral component of my practice. My project will offer two portion sizes of ‘less’ and ‘more’ quantities, designed to suit the dietary requirements of females: less, and males: more. Although the portions only act as an ideal guide, they can be mixed together to suit individual consumers appetites and requirements. By offering a variety of portion sizes and meal ingredients, the project encourages creativity and trying different flavour combinations. An important benefit of consuming better quality food, that in turn costs a bit more for its greater quality, is that the consumer will opt to eat less, therefore adhering to the specified portions where cost is appropriated to size. The scientific case for eating less is compelling as overeating promotes cell division, most severely in cancer cells; eating less has the potential to slow cell division (Pollan, 2008, p.184). Health organisation The Heart Foundation have attempted to combat our food consumption issues, using a different strategy of a marketable consumer friendly visual tool, the Healthy Food Pyramid. The diagram advises the quantitative hierarchy of what ideally should be consumed. Its basic content is its biggest drawback, just like the nutritional information provided on food packaging. The labelling of the foods within my project will examine in more depth the product’s ingredient’s, stressing the beneficial qualities that they offer the consumer nutritionally. 

The ethos of my project is similar to German supermarket Unpackaged but with a focus on practices of reducing environmental waste opposed to my interest in minimising food waste. Their concept is designed for a metro consumer, with a ‘bring your own container’ refilling system to minimise packaging (Winter, 2014). I theorise that this concept would be unfeasible for inner city consumers, who do not have access to a vehicle. Instead targeted consumers rely on public transport or walking, purchasing goods after work on their way home. This approach could also be considered as “over reliant on the goodwill of the customer”, first to bring back empty containers and then to be bothered refilling, sealing and labelling to purchase (Miller & Aldridge, 2012, p.125). The Unpackaged concept deserves merit for its ecologically considerate aspects. Although healthy eating consumers would appreciate this concept, the dedication required from such consumers in order for the concept to be successful, steered me away from incorporating this type of concept into my own project.

The development of my studio practice has involved testing the incorporation of sustainable packaging materials, just like Unpackaged, a method to combat negative responses to convenience foods. I was particularly concerned with using alternative materials to plastic, such as in my experiment Blister Package that uses only paper and non-toxic adhesive. Although successful the design was limited to containing only dry goods, making it impractical for constructing a whole meal. From this result my project developed to solely focussing on the portion-sizing component over an environmentally friendly approach, allowing the incorporation of plastics. Vacuum plastic packaging allows fresh product to be preserved while retaining the natural goodness, without the use of preservatives. The transparency of the plastic enforces the honesty of the products in which it contains as the consumer can see the foods, an important quality in the branding of organic foods. The malleability of plastic also allowed for a unique shape to be created, as seen in my Pyramid design. 

My packaging experiments stressed the need for practicality and functionality in order for the project to be successful as fast moving convenience foods. Due to the alternative shape of my current Pyramid design experiment compared to boxes or packets, issues arose surrounding handling of the products by the consumer. The Pyramid allows the consumer to gain access to the packages contents by cutting off the apex point, pouring out the contents straight into a pot, to prepare for consumption. This design allows for no mess convenience, adding to the attraction of the concept. My Carry Case concept would combat the problem of temporarily storing the products and transporting them from store to home. It also provides another application for clarifying the meal system and reinforcing brand values. Although my concept does not meet the traditional ready-to-eat perceptions of convenience foods, it meets the needs of a consumer who would prefer a little effort in cooking in order to be consuming wholesome preservative-free foods. 

Within the branding component of my practice, I am interested in addressing the use of ‘greenwashing’ to imply ecologically friendly products. Supermarket shelves are filled with packs that are or look more eco-friendly (Miller & Aldridge, 2012, p.35), following certain visual trends of brown paper bags, earthy tones and hand rendered typography. Studies by consumer research company Mobium Group (Miletic, 2008), states that consumers have grown wary of these conventional signifiers of sustainability as well as ‘health food’ promises. The Art Reserve Bank project, explored in my Essay Two, has been a useful resource in investigating methods of creating legitimacy and believability within brands and concepts. Both legitimacy and believability are intrinsic in creating trust between the project and the viewer, or product and consumer. To combat ‘greenwashing’, graphically I am concerned with developing a new, more contemporary language to convey brand values of honesty and natural goodness, as well as building trust with the consumer. Although I have found that there is a fine line when attempting a contemporary honest look, finding a balance between “space food” futuristic and earthy organic. I will also be establishing a graphic system for understanding my method of building a meal of set serving sizes that will also be incorporated into the brandmark. 

In summary, my practice deals with the high-speed lifestyles of consumers who value convenience, addressing the impact of this lifestyle, with a solution of healthy food products in portioned sizes. I have continually explored form and function within packaging design, as a method of practically presenting a concept that would improve consumer health and minimise environmental impact. My practice also challenges conventional perceptions of brand and respective food product categories, in particular organics. Most importantly, I investigate new means of building trust between the brand and the consumer, with the use of contemporary graphic signifiers.

References

Bittman, M. (2007, Dec). What’s wrong with what we eat. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/
Miller, L. & Aldridge, S. (2012). Why shrink wrap a cucumber? London: Laurence King. 
Oliver, J. (2010, Feb). Teach every child about food. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/
Pollan, M. (2008). In defence of food. New York, NY: Penguin Press. 
Winter, L. (2014, July 25). Packaging-free supermarket coming to Germany. Retrieved from http://www.iflscience.com/