Insights into the Vintage Packaging Movement

Retro Design Trends Dominate Retail

Vintage packaging is back, and its retro aesthetic is more popular than ever. Microbrewery and bar menus feature cocktails and concoctions from 100 years ago. Popular fashion and music trends from the ‘80s are prominent in the latest Netflix shows. And one of the strongest categories for this emerging trend is food and drink products, where brand owners are connecting retro visuals directly to customers by using nostalgic packaging. No matter where you are around the globe, vintage labeling is showcased on every retail shelf.

The popularity of vintage designs has exploded over the last two decades. Vintage branding sells - no matter what kind of retail goods are being sold - because using vintage designs in packaging conveys authenticity. Vintage designs remind people of a nostalgic past, so it’s a natural fit for brands to use vintage packaging on milestone anniversaries, as an example. Some major brands even introduce classic limited editions and collectible merchandise to fulfill consumer demand.

Retro Product PackagingThis retro packaging design trend is reflected in both the look and feel of products and their packaging — it’s more than just printing a label with an old-timey font. Designers are using more manuscript lettering, more illustrations and retro color schemes, and brand owners who create packaging are using more natural production methods, vintage “weathered” looks and heritage materials.

Experts agree that brands are taking note of how vintage is becoming new again. Associate professor of marketing, Darron Billeter, at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business, researches packaging trends and the role they play in consumer behavior. His research shows that there are about 22,000 annual packaging changes in grocery stores in the United States alone, and the vintage trend is growing across multiple product categories.

“We’re seeing changes in marketing when it comes to quantitative links with creative. Brands are starting to make sure their packaging changes are relevant to the consumer,” Billeter says. “When you have an established brand, there is a benefit to the product being familiar.”

The vintage packaging look that’s most popular today in grocery stores is food and beverage. Designs hark back to the commercial advertising era of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. Like the use of artisan recipes in restaurants, reinterpretations of classic packaging designs can influence consumers, connecting them to a time when quality and workmanship were a source of pride. Brand owners know how much safer and more impressive new packaging materials can be, compared to their ’60s counterparts, but a colorful design from childhood can catch a consumer’s eye in a way that differentiates it from other packaging – even if both sets of packages include, for instance, modern multi-layered plastic packaging with an oxygen barrier.

Designing vintage packaging is more than just recreating vintage labeling, though. Luciana Coelho, account manager at Brazilian design firm eba!designs, says, “Nowadays, it is possible to use technology to create vintage designs, meeting food safety and legislative needs, especially for food packaging. Thus, a vintage look is always achieved through design. Fortunately, the printing process is very advanced in all processes, such as metal printing, mold label, no-label look and many others. That makes our work much easier and the results are incredible.”

The fusion of vintage branding and cutting-edge technology is what makes retro packaging more than just promoting the good old days to consumers. For example, when Doritos rereleased its vintage “taco” flavored chip from the ’60s, they brought back the original branding from the same era — but this time with a modern high-performance package that included barrier layers to preserve the crunch and flavor of the chips. It was a hit with consumers, and the chips are still on the shelves today. The same thing happened with Pepsi’s limited edition Pepsi and Mountain Dew throwback soft drinks released in 2009. The vintage bottles and cans are so popular that the “real sugar” throwback formulas, and the vintage packages they come in, are still available eight years after the end of the “limited” run.

While there are dozens of examples of this combination of vintage design and modern materials, the example that’s most familiar worldwide is the well-known shape of the modern Coca-Cola bottle. Although the label and material of Coke bottles have changed several times throughout the last century — nutrition information was added and the older glass bottle gave way to the lighter, more durable plastic — the classic shape of the bottle has remained the same. The continuity of the design through the changing decades, is one of the reasons why an estimated 94 percent of the world’s population recognizes the Coca-Cola logo and brand.

Positive consumer response and increased sales of food, beverage and consumer packaged goods proves that retro packaging design can help sell products. Industry thought leaders have many theories as to why vintage packaging is so popular, but the reason it’s effective is always the same — people love vintage packaging. Coupled with modern advanced materials and production methods, it gives consumers — and brand owners — the best of both worlds.