It’s not very often new packaging design makes the news, but Waitrose’s brown sauce hit the headlines last week.

The story told of how a seven-year-old schoolboy was able to improve on packaging created by an experienced design team, by sending in a letter with an accompanying hand-drawn illustration.

Retailers’ own brand packaging design

The current ‘essential Waitrose’ packaging design, including their brown sauce, was created by Waitrose’s own in-house design team, and won the DBA Design Effectiveness Award Grand Prix back in 2011.

The design reinforced Waitrose’s market leadership credentials, with flat white backgrounds accommodating both illustration and photography. ‘Essential Waitrose’, avoided the words ‘value’ or ‘basic’ to reassure customers of the ongoing commitment to quality.

The launch of ‘essential Waitrose’ delivered the most impressive results in the company’s history. In the first 12 weeks like-for-like sales grew by 16%. After 12 months ‘essential Waitrose’ had become a £1/2 billion brand accounting for around 17% of sales.

However, it would appear that the design team might have been having an off day when it came to the brown sauce product. I can only assume that – alongside the obvious tomato the illustration – the front of the pack is supposed to show dates and molasses (the main ingredients), but it’s hard to tell, and some commenters have compared the brown lumpy shapes to other less savory items.

The new brown sauce pack illustration, created by the schoolboy, shows his favourite application for the sauce; a cooked breakfast including sausages beans and eggs.

By most people’s standards this is considered a far more appetising image than the original, and so we may begin to weigh-up whether children can realistically compete with some of the best design professionals in the business?

A template for packaging design

To the credit of the Waitrose design team, this is only one element of a huge and expertly executed packaging range spanning multiple categories, with hundreds of products and thousands of individuals SKUs. It appears on everything from frozen veg to handwash, with a diverse range of formats, sizes and materials, and flexes well to adapt for each requirement.

The award-winning template has a proven track record and the ‘new’ brown sauce design does not really deviate from it – it simply has an updated illustration. The new illustration is not even that different in style, albeit more crudely drawn.

So, from my viewpoint, the packaging has certainly been refreshed and, to a degree, enhanced, but the overall design and packaging strategy – hierarchy, management of category/variant/product – hasn’t changed at all.

What we really have here is a well-executed PR campaign that generates a lovely story for the brand and no doubt will see an increase in interest and sales for the product itself.

A consistent approach for packaging design

Without a doubt the Waitrose packaging design team should continue to be commended for their overall solution. It is challenging to manage a huge packaging range across so many SKUs and their overall design is robust and effective at driving shoppers to the brand.

However, the story highlights how the devil is in the detail when it comes to strong packaging design. And that it is vital that every execution remains as strong and impactful as the initial design idea – even when delivered across a myriad of packs.

Here at The Behaviours Agency, we make sure we pay attention to this level of minutia on the nth pack with the same tenacity as the very initial design. Great examples of this are the packs that we created for Jamie Oliver or Medised.

If you would like to speak to us about how we may be able to help improve your packaging then get in touch.


Adam Tregaskis

Head of Retail