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Packaging Design for Food Products: Best Practices

Food packaging design is an intricate practice to navigate. As a highly sensitive industry and one on which consumer health and safety depend, food packaging must meet certain markers to ensure it’s safe to put on the shelf.
9 min read
02 April 2024
Packaging design for food products

Allergens, shelf life, and regulatory standards are the essential starting point, but the power of packaging design goes much further—to psychological principles and brand messaging that mean one product gets picked out over others.

Read on to find out the fundamental practices of food packaging design from an award-winning packaging design agency.

The Fundamentals of Food Packaging

Zingara 6

Before creating that first packaging prototype, we need to consider the factors that lay the foundations of good food packaging design. In fact, these are applicable to virtually any packaging design, ensuring it is well-adjusted to the target consumer.

Understanding the target audience and developing a brand identity

🧠 Identify and deeply analyse the target market. Understand what attracts this demographic and what they respond positively and negatively to.

🧠 Understand where consumer preferences and brand values intersect your target audience and your brand strategy or product.

🧠 Explore the psychology of colours, imagery, language, texture, and shape in relation to your audience and brand to resonate with the right consumers.

Clear communication and safety

👂 Ensure you know exactly what should go on the packaging for health and safety compliance and all important details for consumers and traceability.

👂 Ensure warnings and instructions are clearly visible and unmistakable.

👂 Understand how to design packaging so that the food and drink are completely protected and preserved against all environments it may encounter.

Functionality and user-friendly design

🔧 The design should fundamentally be easy to open, use, and store and easy to stock on the shelf. Factor packaging cost into this, too.

🔧 Could the design be made better by features like resealability, portability, and novelty?

🔧 Consider the lifestyle of the target audience and ensure the functionality of the design meets these needs. For example, an older audience may need packaging that is easier to open.


🌎 Find out where you can substitute non-eco materials for sustainable materials.

🌎 Design for packaging to be easy to recycle, including instructions or making breakdown intuitive. Include sustainable certifications on packaging where possible.

🌎 Design packaging with a sustainable lifecycle—considering a minimal impact on the environment from materials sourcing to manufacture and disposal.

Considering Shelf Life

Fine Fettle Hero

When food gets packaged, it also receives a ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date. Packaging is really important here. It’s the protective barrier between food and the outside environment that ensures it reaches it’s ‘use by’ whilst fresh and safe to consume.

Packaging should be designed to preserve the freshness, structure, and quality of the food or drink. In the table below, we’ve detailed the design factors you need to take into consideration.




Packaging materials should preserve freshness, protecting against light, air, and moisture. They should also not interfere with the quality of the food.

Plastic, glass, paper, and metal are some of the most common materials used for food packaging, but there are also some new biodegradable innovations, too.

Barrier Properties

One of the considerations in material choice is barrier properties. Barrier properties define the permeability of the material to certain gas compounds, water vapour, light, and aroma compounds.

Seal Integrity

In order to preserve freshness and hygiene, food packaging must often feature airtight seals.

Temperature Stability

Depending on storage and use instructions. The packaging must withstand various temperatures without being compromised.

Freezing, chilling, or microwaving are some examples of drastic temperature changes packaging must undergo whist protecting the food inside.

Chemical Stability

Materials used for packaging should not contaminate or interact with food. There is an abundance of research to show that plastic packaging is known to release harmful substances like phthalates, flame retardants, and Bisphenol A into food which causes negative effects on human health.

This has led brands to explore safer, more natural, and sustainable packaging options.

Internal Atmosphere

The internal atmosphere should hold the food in a preserved state until its use-by date. In some cases, food should be vacuum-packed if it is sensitive to oxygen.

Conversely, delicate food items may need to be packed with compressed air to prevent squashing and spoiling.

Minimising Food Waste

In a bid to reduce overall waste, all food packaging should be designed to encourage complete usage and responsible disposal. This could mean designing to ensure the contents stay fresh after opening, such as with zip-lock bags or easily broken down components for recycling.

Appealing to Taste Through Design

Harveys Honey Packaging 5

With all the important stuff out of the way, let’s think about the finer details. This is where your product can really stand out from its neighbours on the shelf. By applying intelligent scientific approaches, establishing a granular and detailed understanding of your audience, and harnessing refined skills in creative design, your packaging will be the first the customer notices and the last they remember.

The Psychology of Food Package

Let’s take a look at some psychological approaches you can leverage with design.

🎨 Colours: different colours invoke different emotions, it’s been scientifically proven. The best colours for food packaging include green to denote healthy, natural foods and red to inspire appetite.

🎵 Familiarity: brand recognition gives way to feelings of trust and reliability. Leverage a familiar brand by making it clear on the packaging with the logo, colours, fonts, and shapes.

📷 Imagery: stimulate cravings with images that suggest freshness and quality or show food pairing and presenting inspiration.

✒️ Typography: harness the role of typography in packaging by displaying text that is clearly legible to convey honesty and transparency.

🔶 Shape and ergonomics: think about the practicality of the finished object. Will it be a pleasure to use or create tedious steps?

Tips for Influencing Consumer Choice with Packaging

From the art of unboxing to designing packaging for the digital age, there’s a lot of nuance that goes into packaging design to sway consumer choice. The key to standing out above the noise in such a saturated market is to think outside the box (no pun intended). Okay, maybe pun intended.

  • Create a sensory illusion with textures that build a relationship with the product inside.

  • Tap into nostalgia to invoke happy childhood memories and an emotional bond.

  • Incorporate interactive elements such as temperature-sensitive colours to create a memorable experience.

  • Use shape as an indicator to alter the perception of a product. Choose soft circular shapes for warmth or angular ones for professionalism, for example.

  • Employ scent marketing as a subtle cue to stimulate cravings and build a bond with the product.

  • Think about how the shelf may look as a whole together with competitors, and consider how your product will stand out.

Meeting Regulatory Standards

Perishable items, allergen-containing items, and products for vulnerable consumers, such as instant formula, demand higher levels of security. These products are often more susceptible to spoiling or contamination, which poses serious risks to health. Therefore, labelling on food packaging must be reliable, secure, protective, and informative.

The Food Standards Agency is the UK governing authority on food safety and hygiene and sets out the legal aspects of packaging for food. Here’s a list of everything that should be included on the packaging.

The packaging of any food product in the UK must:

  • Display the name of the food clearly

  • Include a ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date

  • Display the LOT number assigned to the unique batch of goods

  • Clearly display all necessary warnings, including allergens

Show the net quantity of food

  • List all ingredients, starting with the main first ingredient and listing allergens in bold

Show the place of origin of certain foods, such as meat

  • List any important storage or cooking instructions

We’re Noramble, an independent brand design and packaging design agency in Manchester. If you have a tasty snack that needs to be packed, get in touch.

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