With packages like contoured beverage bottles and reclosable stand-up pouches making headlines it's easy to overlook a pillow pack made distinctive by a graphic redesign. But to the Mariani Nut Company this package facelift is responsible for a sales gain that's at least 25% greater than the company's original optimistic projections for the redesigned pack. This past holiday season was the first in which the redesigned pillow packs were available on a widespread basis in supermarket chains in the Northeast Midwest and West Coast. The walnuts and almonds are sold year-round but an overwhelming majority of sales are made during the holiday season when stores emphasize them with special displays. The graphic redesign was executed by Profile Design (San Francisco CA). Graphics appear on five SKUs: Shelled walnuts in 10-oz 16-oz and 2-lb sizes 10-oz chopped walnuts and 2-lb shelled whole almonds. Suggested retail prices range from $2 to $7 depending on size and variety. The new bag is converted by Duralam (Appleton WI) using 84-ga oriented polypropylene that's acrylic coated on one side and coated with polyvinyl alcohol on the inside. This film from Mobil (Pittsford NY) is laminated to 1.75-mil linear low-density polyethylene that acts as the sealant. The structure combines to provide better strength and oxygen barrier properties than the cellophane used previously. That's according to John Aguiar director of technical services for Winters CA-based Mariani Nut Co. He says product shelf life with the new structure is one year or more an improvement of nearly six months compared to the cellophane pack. The new structure is clearly more colorful than its predecessor which was printed flexographically in three colors. The present film is also flexo-printed in seven colors. Finished rollstock is shipped to Mariani where it's loaded onto form/fill/seal equipment from Triangle Package Machinery (Chicago IL). Graphic results "This past quarter amazed us" says Aguiar. "We attribute the positive feedback and additional sales to the graphics. This package's appearance gets people excited and it makes our brokers more enthusiastic when they're trying to sell to different outlets." Aguiar believes "there's a vast difference" between the current and former graphics. "One look at that old package explains why we needed to change" he says bluntly. After interviewing several design firms Mariani selected Profile Design. "They had a strong background in packaged foods they had worked with large and small companies and they had a good grasp of what we were trying to achieve graphically" Aguiar notes. When it came to the actual design for the nut packages Mariani and Profile Design sought to emphasize tradition quality integrity freshness and the family name. With those characteristics in mind Profile Design developed a new brandmark with the Mariani name displayed prominently in white type in a bright red background. A green-and- gold walnut illustration lends a more upscale image than the generic nut tree that adorned previous packaging. Additionally the product variety appears in a large appealing typeface on a ribbon that sweeps diagonally across the front face of the package over a viewing window. "The window is very important" says Aguiar. "Especially because it's positioned on the front center panel of the pack. In the past our product was visible across the entire bottom horizontal half of the bag." Mariani learned the importance of the window's position. Because distribution rigors occasionally caused nuts to break the broken pieces would be visible at the bottom of the bag. That wasn't satisfactory. With the window now visually centered on the current bag's front panel broken pieces fall to the bottom of the bag where they're hidden from view by printing on the pack. Laser-engraved cylinders While the eye tends to see the window and colorful graphics it's the beige-and-white background print that's especially unusual for two key reasons. First the print extends through the two cross-seal areas. With many similar packs the print ends about 1/8" from the end of these areas leaving a clear unprinted strip that Mariani preferred not to show. This clear area is caused by the 1/8" gap where the printing plate is manually wrapped around the cylinder. To avoid this common gap Mariani instructed Duralam to use laser-engraved print cylinders to print the packs. These custom cylinders are prepared by an outside company and sent to Duralam. They typically take weeks to produce. Instead of wrapping a plate onto a sticky-back carrier sheet on the cylinder (that leaves the slight gap where the plate edges don't quite meet) the laser-engraved process involves wrapping rubber completely around the cylinder. There is no gap. The rubber is treated with heat and pressure through a vulcanization process. Next a lathe is used to shape the vulcanized cylinder down to the correct circumference. Finally a laser burns an image into the cylinder. These areas will not receive ink. Instead the areas of the cylinder not laser engraved pick up ink during the printing process transferring the ink to the substrate. For Mariani the laser engraves what Aguiar describes as a "geometric nut pattern" into the cylinder. This pattern appears as white throughout the primarily beige background of the package. Each of the five bag SKUs uses two of these cylinders. The Mariani executive admits these special cylinders "are about twice as expensive" as standard printing cylinders but their use is justified by the look of the package. "It gives us differentiation" he believes. "The use of the laser-engraved cylinders gives our pack a richness and completeness in that the beige and white colors that run throughout the background of the pack extend across the package and continue right through the seal areas" notes Aguiar. "Many packages including our previous nut packs show clear film at the seal areas where there's a plate break in printing. We no longer have that discontinuity." Sales satisfaction "The look of the new package has helped us tremendously in establishing a brand identity" says Aguiar. "In the past a lot of customers might have just ordered a 10-ounce walnut variety from one of our brokers. The enthusiasm generated by the new graphics have opened doors both in getting our product into new stores and in increasing order volumes. For example customers who ordered one variety in the past now see how the package looks and decide to stock more items." Aguiar estimates that the number of supermarket chains stocking Mariani nuts "has probably doubled" since the graphic redesign. That helps explain why product sales eclipsed Mariani's original expectations of the redesigned pack. Sales figures comparing the redesigned and former pack were not available at press time. "We sell nuts from the current crop only so freshness and turnover is critical to us. We believe these bags showcase the quality of our product" notes Aguiar. "We introduced the redesigned pack during the 1996 holiday season but on a limited basis to see what retail acceptance it would have" he says. "The feedback was so strong that we purchased a third packaging machine late last year to fill orders for the holiday season. That's where we made our first full retail run with the new graphics. And the sales increase we've seen has been very satisfying."