The ‘how to wow’ in China packaging today. Get noticed!


Written by Joel Bacall, Senior Client Manager @ The Silk Initiative

The Silk Initiative (TSI) was recently engaged to overhaul one of our client’s packaging strategies to better stand out during the ever-evolving gifting occasions in China. This week we cover TSI’s recent journey in to store to see what we could learn on how to really stand out on crowded Chinese shelves – particularly with regard to what ‘premium’ may mean in China.

“Premium-ize” the everyday

Avid readers may remember our post this time last year on positioning premium products in China. One year on, we still find our article relevant, and find the same evolved semiotic cues, with many brands using red and gold, and decorative elements like sparkles, embossed materials and ribbons, high end string/rope and the likes to ‘upgrade’ consumer perception of their products. Starbucks, for example, level up their daily offer by selling desserts, such as mooncakes, in an Asian-style chest of drawers for the holiday season – a nod to a fancy cosmetics case.

Starbucks China standout packaging

Tell a historical tale

Something else we see in market ties into our post last year on increasing nationalism in the Chinese branding space. We see more brands embracing nostalgia, with historical Chinese packs, whilst also borrowing contemporary cues in the style as seen below.


historical tale premium standout packaging

That’s not to say that historical brands, or a more national, local style, is something new in market, but what we’re seeing is a sophistication of conveying heritage for Chinese brands. In addition to Chinese players in the market going for that ‘authentic’ feel, there’s also a large presence of products from Hong Kong on the shelves, particularly when it comes to moon cake gifting this year.

Provide an experience

Probably the biggest step change we see this year in packaging is the evolution of brand story-telling through effective pack design. There are many brands overtly using their pack graphics and form (and spending serious $ to do so!) to tell the brand’s heritage story.


For example, this Hershey’s pack (above), depicting a historical street, not only conveys authenticity and company heritage, but adds a touch of novelty  – executed with class and not tackiness. For foreign brands in particular, building and telling strong heritage stories may become even more crucial than innovation or fancy activation alone. If you have a great brand legacy, tell it in a compelling way!

Naming is paramount 

Every good movie has a great title. Likewise, the brands that are standing out in the premium space have invested heavily in a relevant, resonating and compelling Chinese name. Though category dependent, we hear even in chocolate biscuits, that classical logo fonts, with Chinese characters that are ‘extremely difficult to read or write’, add more value to a brand, conveying the detail and thought that has gone behind it. Luxury brand, Coach, for example, uses a complicated 14-stroke character 蔻 (kòu) which is in the Chinese words for nutmeg and cardamom, and we also see typical drinking yogurts, such as Suntory’s Bikkle, translated for the Chinese market as 碧蔻 (bì kòu), able to position itself at a higher price point than other yogurts on the shelf in part because of its premium-izing name.


Key take-aways for brand owners on the premiumization movement in China

Understand and act on use of color and premium semiotic (shape, symbol, materials, tactile experiences) cues that are ‘occasion’ specific and that will help you win at shelf WITHIN that occasion. Consumption occasions and categories are hugely dynamic. Don’t assume that what worked last year for you will work again this year.

Innovate on packaging graphics and form to tell a credible and compelling brand story that aims to set you apart at shelf in addition to educating first time users on your brand and separating you from ‘the rest’.

Invest in proper linguistic understanding and create powerful Chinese brand names (and logo lock-ups) that truly reflect your brand personality, value and fit your intended proposition. Don’t take naming lightly. Once you’re printed, you’re printed and out there. Don’t be THAT brand that renames themselves a year after launch.

Free 20 minute consultation:

Need help with your China food and beverage packaging strategy, development and design? For a free 20 minute consultation on how we can make things easier for you, email us your biggest unanswered question about how to get your product to live in the hearts and homes of the Chinese consumer.