A new category was added to the Greek Graphic Design & Illustration Awards (EVGE) this year: Olive oil packaging. The move was telling of the current dynamics of standardized Greek olive oil production and the export-oriented direction the market is taking, given that an increasing number of olive oil producers are approaching creative local companies in search of visual identities that will secure their products a place on the shelves of foreign supermarkets and high-end gastronomy outlets. Last year alone, Greek olive oil exports were up 24 percent in Germany and 67.5 percent in China.
When it comes to design, the new-generation packaging aimed at dressing up small to medium-sized brands differs considerably from that on display in Greek supermarkets. Olive oil bottles destined for international markets tend to be more minimalist, abstract and ambitious on a creative level, essentially setting the tone in a more cosmopolitan and globalized environment.
There is plenty to draw inspiration from when it comes to finalizing bottle and packaging design. In the case of the Eleia olive oil label, for instance, the creative graphic design team at Bob Studio was inspired by a practice which calls for the lower part of the olive tree trunk to be whitewashed as a means of protecting the tree from parasites, while at the same time a number of Greek elements were reflected in the bottle’s shape and the typography.
Eleones Messinias is a regional olive oil business. “Right from the start I felt that the entire process, beginning from the people involved and all the way to the end product, was very family oriented, while at the same time reflecting respect for quality, location and consistency,” said graphic designer Katerina Xenou of the k3n studio. “I wanted the packaging to combine certain elements, techniques and aesthetics that would express all of the aforementioned characteristics: Top quality, tradition and professionalism.”
Stefania Papacosta of 2yolk and designer of the Helea olive oil bottle, believes that more traditional labels are aimed at a different kind of market.
“Designers try to solve a different problem each time. The market is one of the parameters of the problem. Just like everywhere else, you will come across good and bad packaging in every category. What is certain is that investing in the right design is something which needs to be taken into consideration when working on a business plan, given that in such a cluttered market the first contact consumers have with a product is the packaging, something which proves to be pivotal before moving onto the next phase, which is actually testing the product.”
Prominent graphic designer Dimitris Arvanitis offers his own clear point of view.
“Traditional Greek products such as olive oil, honey, yogurt and tomato sauce, for instance, managed to develop a product identity, what we would nowadays refer to as branding, during tough times and conditions in their respective markets. A number of these products did really well in global markets. They stood out thanks to their Greek identity, while it was easy for foreign consumers to spot them in their own countries as they recognized both the packaging and the value of its content. This is because quality has always been the single most important factor and graphic design the most appropriate medium to communicate this visually.
“What I find impressive is that the most basic perennial product in Greece, olive oil, appears to be packaged according to the rules of marketing, to the extent that it could be displayed alongside cosmetic products. I’m not a marketing specialist and I imagine that those in charge at the various companies are taking the right decision when they opt for morphological alterations.”
That is not to say that he doesn’t consider certain olive oil bottles and packaging to be particularly attractive. “Hopefully they are also practical and, above all, part of a dialogue between form, vision and intellect. Quite often, the so-called concepts have more to do with the relationships forged between graphic designers and their clients and to a lesser extent, if at all, with consumers. Though I’m not in a position to know exactly what the latter opt for, packaging or quality, I always follow a basic principle of design, which, on the communication level, calls for identifying form with content.”
According to Yiannis Karlopoulos, president of this year’s Greek Graphic Design & Illustration Awards committee, “Greek design lacks identity and is permeated by repetitive homogeneity. I’m not talking about the idea of ‘Greekness,’ but about an identity. Despite all this, however, at this year’s awards we saw signs of differentiation through a more conceptual approach. What is needed, in my opinion, is the right amount of folklore within an international environment. Take Kyknos and Xino Nero Florina, for instance.”
Dimitris Fakinos, head of +design, the company behind the annual EVGE awards, notes that the challenge in the case of olive oil is to present it both as a luxury product as well as one defined by its purity.
“Considering that everything cloud has a silver lining, one could say that the increasing importance of visual communication design in the collective psyche of Greek entrepreneurs is one of the positive outcomes of the ongoing crisis. There is no doubt that the need to enter foreign markets has convinced a number of local companies to invest in their image, something which is reflected in their corporate identity and packaging design, above all.”
In the end, says Fakinos, local companies turned to the experts, the ones who know how to convey the message and the different traits and values that each product aims to communicate.
“Packaging is not solely about facilitating the transport and storage of goods, but also a factor that adds value to the final product,” said Fakinos.
By Dimitris Rigopoulos