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Sophisticated handcraftsmanship

Salsa is a passion for Larry Blanton. After winning First Place in a prestigious salsa-tasting competition, he uses creative packaging to help sell it.
FILED IN:  Applications  > Food  > Sauce/condiments
Much like barbecue sauce salsa is a product that seems ideal for customizing by home cooks. That’s certainly true for Larry Blanton an engineer by day and a salsa cook at night.

Three years ago Larry’s salsa recipe took First Place in the venerable Austin TX salsa-tasting competition. His prize was to have a local food processor Austin Kitchen work with his recipe to produce 10 full cases of his salsa. Of course even 10 cases doesn’t satisfy very many appetites so Larry has gone one giant step farther. With help from Gail Calder of Austin Kitchen Larry’s recipe has now been translated into 16-oz jars of what he calls Chili Chaser in three varieties from mild to hot.

A catalyst in turning this home recipe into a new gourmet retail product has been PrimoAngeli: Fitch a design consultancy. Financed personally by Blanton the designers came up with a combination of packaging design features so sophisticated they make the product look almost hand-packaged.

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It’s this hand-packed appearance that has made Chili Chaser a gourmet favorite at stores and at salsa events in Texas and the West Coast. And Larry Blanton is still in the early stages of rolling out the product.

From the name to the glass jar and its decorating PrimoAngeli:Fitch put together a packaging program that has already won nearly as many awards as the product has won over taste buds.

The primary container is a 16-oz flint glass jar from Ryco Packaging that’s screen printed by Custom Decorative Systems and finished with labels from Custom Label. The product is still hot-packed and hand-labeled by Austin Kitchen.

What now completes the Chili Chaser “package” is a custom wood box that holds one jar each of the three varieties. The box decorated by screen printing and laser engraving is produced by Crate Ideas. Although the wood box is currently being used as a promotional package for store buyers the ultimate aim is to use it in gift stores where the three-jar pack will be sold.

Already the packaging has won a 2002 Mobius First Place award a 2002 Award of Distinction from Creativity Inc. and it won a 2003 FAB Award in Britain.

Design on a budget

It’s important to note that packaging awards aside Larry Blanton still has his day job. Chili Chaser’s transition from a great recipe to successful retail product remains a work in progress. If it does succeed it will be because Blanton recognized from the outset that it would take special packaging for his product to have any impact in a marketplace already crowded with numerous salsa brands and packaging strategies from generic to highly sophisticated.

“Our objective was to conceive a name and a packaging design that would establish a definitive identity for this award-winning salsa” says Aaron Stapley creative director for the consultancy. “The solution had to feel down-to-earth and ‘hand-packed authentic’ while showcasing the recipe. We chose an earthy palette to broadcast the flavor profile with screen-printed peppers to indicate the level of spice.”

The tall jar is left mostly uncovered so the consumer can see the mouth-watering salsa especially what Calder says is its mix of chili peppers. The wraparound paper label reinforces the small-batch personality Stapley says “letting the consumer wonder if the jar was delivered straight out of Larry Blanton’s own kitchen.”

Why did such a prestigious design firm take on a small-budget assignment? The design company viewed the project as a special project that was enhanced by the full creative license offered by Blanton.

Looking ample and interesting

The name was chosen to represent Blanton’s quest for the ultimate salsa and the fact that it’s an authentic homemade recipe with an abundance of chili varieties. Typography used for the product name was designed to reflect Blanton’s Texan heritage.

The primary container Stapley says was chosen because it was felt that a taller thinner jar carried the perception of a more ample product not something small and precious. However because the recipe is more sophisticated than most the height was accentuated by using a smaller label applied closer to the jar’s base.

In addition the label needed to carry the handcrafted design. The intentionally torn edge of the Estate Label No. 8 coated-one-side paper p-s label from Fasson and misregistered type helped to create the handmade feeling of the label. The paper is a rough-finished stock says Bill de Haan of Custom Label that works especially well with the random-looking graphics. It’s flexo-printed in eight colors with a matte ultraviolet-cured varnish. A special die was made for die-cutting.

The rough paper label also contrasts with the screen-printed beautiful hanging chili illustration that communicates a higher price point and the reusability of the jar. Each jar is printed by Custom Decorative in two colors. This was just about the only sacrifice Blanton made in packaging. Originally he wanted the graphic produced via applied ceramic labeling but the budget didn’t permit it. “Because our volumes are small screen printing was the way to go” Blanton says.

Wood crate touch

Although it’s not yet part of the selling package the wood crate for the three-variety pack was an important element in the total design. The crate was custom-built from birch plywood and pine says Bruce Gibbs owner of Crate Ideas. The only part decorated is the sliding lid.

The lid uses a combination of screen printing and laser scoring from a programmable laser that burns or vaporizes away part of the surface of the wood. The screen printing in red is used for the word “fire” in fire-roasted and it’s also used to give what looks like a hand-stamped batch number in the upper left corner. This corresponds to a batch number that similarly looks stamped onto each product label.

Thus far Blanton tells Packaging World the crate has been mostly used as a promotional sampler for store buyers. However he says once retail distribution is more established Blanton’s company Lava Foods hopes to use the three-pack in the crate as a package for specialty gift stores.

For now Chili Chaser is available in select gourmet stores especially in northern California. Blanton is working with a food broker to get the products onto store shelves in Texas. In the gourmet stores the jars retail for $6.99 but Blanton feels grocery store margins will probably bring that price down a bit.

“But we’re still just getting started” Blanton says. “Our budget was certainly limited and PrimoAngeli:Fitch has done an amazing job for our packaging. They helped keep costs low without any sacrifice in the appearance of our packaging. Everyone who sees the packaging seems to want to try the product so it’s working hard for us.”

“Larry Blanton took all of our suggestions and despite the tight budget he figured out a way to make it happen” says the designer’s Stapley. “He paid us the ultimate compliment by offering to put our name on the back of the label. We accepted gladly of course.”

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