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Starbucks Elevates Coffee Art with New Packaging Design

In the first new packaging design for its core whole bean coffee roasts in a decade, Starbucks takes its storytelling strategy to new heights.

Packaging Design 1
Starbucks redesigned the packaging for its five core whole-bean varieties with graphics that translate the people, moments, and experiences associated with each blend into art.

For the last several decades, the graphics decorating Starbucks’ packaging have been driven by the stories behind its coffee, focusing on where the blends come from and what they stand for. In the first redesign of the bag graphics for its core whole-bean coffee line in 10 years, the multinational coffeehouse chain and roastery has taken storytelling to a new level, with designs that “thoughtfully translate the people, moments, and experiences associated with each blend into art.” The full-body graphics are so gorgeously rendered, in fact, Starbucks has made the art available for download for use as computer wallpaper.

The progression of Starbucks’ packaging design from 1971 to today mirrors the company’s evolution. Its packaging design has evolved from a waxed paper bag with a black rubber stamp to a luxuriously printed, arresting piece of artwork. When Starbucks first opened more than 50 years ago as a whole-bean coffee company, it had the simple goal of introducing tasty, dark-roasted coffee to Seattle. Hence, its packaging was equally simple, with the beans scooped by hand into the minimally decorated bags.

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As the brand transformed into an Italian-style coffeehouse, it began thinking about its packaging design in a different way, with the bags becoming "vessels for visual storytelling.” In 1987, Starbucks started putting colorful stamps on its paper bags to show what was inside each one. It used a tiger stamp for Sumatra blend, a fishing boat for Yukon Blend, and a rose for Caffé Verona, among others.

In 1995, Starbucks introduced its first coffee sold in packaging printed with colorful graphics, Blue Note Blend. Says the company, “These new ‘rollstock’ packages weren’t just eye-catching—they offered us a larger canvas for sharing each coffee’s unique story through images and words.” The packaging that followed often incorporated the stamp designs, echoing the old-school stickers, until 2011, when the Starbucks updated its logo and brand identity.

While Starbucks gradually stopped using the stamps as its packaging designs became more intricate, consumers can still see traces of that original art in the latest bag graphics. These packaging designs pay tribute to the brand's history in a fresh and more refined way.

Design strategy starts with the coffee

Starbucks employs a talented in-house team of eight designers and illustrators who are responsible for its branding and packaging design. Even for these talented professionals, however, “designing a new core coffee bag can be a daunting task,” says Starbucks. “Unlike seasonal coffees, such as Starbucks Christmas blend, or even holiday cups, core coffee packaging does not change every year. In fact, the design is intended to last at least 10 years.”

To understand how the updated packaging graphics could convey the stories the beans inside, Starbucks Creative Studio asked Starbucks Coffee Team Coffee/Tea Development Lead Sergio Alvarez to share details on the roasts. This started with tasting notes and descriptive words to highlight each coffee blend's flavors.

Read article   Read related story on unique new package designs for several coffee brands.

“We have a very unique and thoughtful way we develop coffee blends at Starbucks, and we wanted to make sure that came through in how we describe them,” Alvarez says. “Depending on the blend, depending on the roast, and depending on the regions, there are different flavors that we associate with each of these special coffees.”

Alvarez and the Coffee Team also shared the history of many of Starbucks’ most beloved blends to inspire the designers. For example, Starbucks created its Organic Yukon Blend in 1971 after a customer requested a coffee that would help keep his fishermen going during the fishing season in the Bering Sea. In the newest packaging design for Organic Yukon Bland, artists portray the same independent spirit of Alaska with a mountainous scene set in the Yukon valley.

Thoughtfully constructed and consistent architecture

The challenge for the Creative Studio team was to translate these stories and coffee characteristics into art, weaving together the past, present, and future while tapping into Starbucks’ new creative brand expression. The most prominent elements of the new packaging designs are the hand-drawn illustrations, the colors, the terminology describing the flavors, and the consistent architecture.

When it comes to graphics for Starbucks' packaging, Creative Studio Associate Creative Director Derek Shimizu says the company has traditionally used hand-done illustrations to bring warmth and brand connection. “We wanted to continue to tie a thread to our new packaging,” he says. “We also wanted to make sure we were staying modern while looking forward into our brand.”

In reimagining the graphics, illustrators started with iconography and motifs that recalled past designs. For example, incorporated into the artwork for Starbucks Veranda Blend is the graceful hummingbird image used in previous packaging iterations; in the Sumatra blend, artwork depicts tigers stalking through rainforest foliage. The illustrators also worked to incorporate coffee cherries and botanicals into the designs to highlight the origins of the coffee.

Packaging Design Starbucks 7The new designs all follow a consistent architecture, with the hand-drawn illustrations for each blend used as a background, and a badge or color block, on the front and back panels of the bag providing details for each variety.

The new designs all follow a consistent architecture, with the hand-drawn illustrations for each blend used as a background, and a badge or color block, in Starbucks green, on the front and back panels of the bag providing details for each variety—a strategy employed to make the blends more easily shoppable on-shelf. Says Shimizu, “Our current packaging was artful and expressive, but every bag had a different typography and different icon placement, which made it a little bit hard to navigate or find where you were within the roast. We wanted make all of those elements straightforward and easy for the customer to navigate with this refresh.”

On the front panel, the badge system provides details that clearly identify the roast and tasting notes. To emphasize the unique characteristics of each blend, the Creative Team used more descriptive words and culinary terms than used for the previous packaging. For example, they updated the Veranda Blend from “mellow and soft” to “toasted malt and milk chocolate,” and Italian Roast went from “roasty and sweet” to “dark cocoa and toasted marshmallow.”

Identifying the roast intensity is a color bar at the bottom of the badge that uses a palette of gold, copper, and purple. The color codes were established when Starbucks refreshed its packaging in 2011. The new designs use this visual cue to identify Blonde (gold), Medium (copper), and Dark (purple) roasts.

The new architecture also brings the ethical sourcing stamp to the front panel to underscore Starbucks’ commitment to positively impacting the lives and livelihoods of coffee farmers and their communities. On the back of the bag is a QR code linking to the Starbucks Digital Traceability tool. Customers in the U.S. and Canada can use the QR code to learn where their coffee is grown. Also on the back panel are brewing instructions.

What follows are descriptions of each of the five whole-bean blends and the strategy behind the refreshed packaging artwork for each, provided by Starbucks.

Veranda Blend

Packaging Design Starbucks 6

Starbucks has spent decades working with coffee farmers throughout Latin America. This blend was inspired by the lightly roasted coffee sipped together over the years, often enjoyed on a breezy veranda with a view of lush coffee trees. Subtle but flavorful with notes of toasted sweet malt and milk chocolate, it’s an inviting, approachable coffee that mixes beautifully with milk.

“This art is intended to transport customers to a lively veranda in Latin America, giving a tangible sense of the coffee’s origin,” says Yumi Reid, Starbucks designer and illustrator. “We wanted the design to reflect Starbucks Blonde Roast story through use of color: roast color is primary, supported by house green on the hummingbirds. Bright accent colors on foliage further highlight this amazing coffee’s story.”

Pike Place Roast

Packaging Design Starbucks 4

Named after Starbucks’ first store, in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, Starbucks Pike Place Roast is served fresh every day in Starbucks stores around the world. A smooth, well-rounded Medium Roasted blend of Latin American beans with subtly rich flavors of cocoa and praline makes it the perfect brewed coffee.

“In undertaking this design, we sought to leverage recognizable design elements and our brand’s history at Pike Place. To accomplish this, I utilized motifs from our heritage in a style reminiscent of travel luggage stickers and badges,” says Bridget Shilling, Starbucks designer and illustrator. “While the bag celebrates our history, I wanted to ensure the design is still grounded in coffee, so coffee plants are interspersed throughout. We use printing processes to ensure the copper hues will come to life for a warm, metallic effect.”

Single-Origin Sumatra

Packaging Design Starbucks 5Packaging Design Starbucks 5Sumatra coffee has been on the Starbucks menu since 1971, and the Sumatran tiger which lives on the Indonesian island, has been its symbol ever since its first coffee stamp. To convey its bold and full-bodied flavor, designer and illustrator Abby McCartin used deep-purple colors to emphasize the dark roast of Starbucks Sumatra with pops of greens and blues along with foil on the tiger stripes and plants.

“I created an interesting effect by adjusting the scale of the tiger in relation to the palm trees and jungle landscape, noting the similarities between shapes of the tiger and palm leaves,” McCartin says. “Layering them adds an element of fun and mystery; you definitely see the tiger stripes at first glance, but once you look closer you find more.”

Single-Origin Guatemala Antigua

Packaging Design Starbucks 2In Antigua Valley, coffee is a family tradition and a point of pride. Generations of farmers have worked the rich volcanic soil, perfecting their craft and producing some of the finest coffees. A favorite since Starbucks’ beginnings in 1971, this coffee is rich and refined, with elegant notes of dusted cocoa and soft spice.

For Starbucks' Antigua, artists used the quetzal bird and plant life from the Antigua region to represent the coffee’s heritage. The colors include coppery tones that speak to the coffee’s roast and lend a beautiful shimmer.

Caffé Verona

Packaging Design Starbucks 3Named after a city known for romance because it’s easy to fall in love at first sip, this multi-region blend has been winning hearts for decades. Originally created as a dessert coffee for a Seattle restaurant, it quickly became a hit in Starbucks stores. Well-balanced and rich with flavors of dark cocoa and caramelized sugar, it pairs perfectly with anything chocolate.

“Named after the city where Romeo and Juliet takes place, we wanted this dark roast to feel romantic and reference the ornate architecture,” says designer and illustrator McCartin. “Layered with our iconic Verona roses, you find a bubbling fountain, ivy draping off balconies, and Italian castle-like detailing. This art is meant to transport.” 

The new packaging designs for Starbucks’ core whole-bean coffee line debuted on shelves in Starbucks stores and grocery retailers in August 2022. PW

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