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Graphics not sacrificed in new sustainable pet-food pack

Packaging for Kaytee’s new natural line of pet food uses a high-quality printing process to create rich, animal imagery for pet lovers, while employing FSC-certified, recyclable material.

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Last June, Kaytee Products, Inc., Chilton, WI, launched Nature’s Benefits, a new line of natural foods for pet birds (parakeets, cockatiels, and parrots) and small animals (hamsters/gerbils, guinea pigs, and rabbits). The granola-style food line offers a complete daily diet that includes a limited number of fruits and nuts for each species, combined with clusters of seeds and grains, and contains no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. The product line is available at PetSmart, Petco, and independent pet retailers nationally.

In developing packaging for the new line, Kaytee’s design agency, Directions, Inc., attempted to leverage the emotional connection consumers have with their pets to further the brand/consumer relationship.

“The tone and manner of the design needed to convey a very strong sense of wholesomeness on several levels,” says Directions art director Aria Grant. “We wanted to create a crunchy-granola feel that was also very eco-friendly. But we also wanted it to acknowledge the bond between consumers and their pets.

“Stores typically merchandise these products by type of animal rather than by brand or manufacturer. So our goal for shelf impact was to combine a range of visual cues that worked in concert to create a strong position of all-natural and environmental awareness with the idea of doing something good for their pet.”

Carton artwork includes natural colors and elements combined with muted tones on a Kraft paperboard material that gives the Nature’s Benefits line an earthy, organic look.

“The design foundation is built on the visual cue of the natural-looking Kraft substrate, which underscores the key positioning of the product,” says Grant. “Rich animal photography is juxtaposed against a backdrop of environmental foliage, all on a palette of visually textured fiberboard. In a snapshot, the package visually describes the benefit of natural nutrition.”

Vibrant graphics essential

In order to capitalize on the emotional bond consumers have with their pets, the animal photography featured on the cartons had to be vibrant across the pet-food line. Unfortunately, Kraft paperboard does not always provide the highest print quality.

Charged with sourcing the carton material for the package, Directions turned to converter Great Northern Corp. The agency had worked with Great Northern’s StrataGraph web-based manufacturing operation on other consumer packaging projects and was confident it would be able to combine high-end printing with a paperboard product made from 100% Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood sources.

“Kaytee wanted the earthy, organic look you get with Kraft, but to get that green-looking package, you have to sacrifice some print quality,” explains Don Schroeder, president of Great Northern’s StrataGraph operations. “Putting wet ink on top of wet ink makes printing lifelike graphics on an uncoated substrate nearly impossible.” The StrataGraph process uses UV inks and UV dry-trapping of inks and coatings to combine the quality of process printing with the structural integrity of folding-carton paperboard, completely in-line. The result, notes Great Northern, is consistent quality and reduced turnaround time. In addition, cost-to-market efficiencies are achieved by incorporating UV printing, coating, die cutting, and stripping in one, continuous process.

“For the Nature’s Benefits boxes, we first printed a thin coat of white as a silhouette of the image to seal the uncoated substrate,” says Schroeder. “The white makes the ensuing colors really pop out. The StrataGraph process allows us to produce graphics with brilliant whites and skin tones”

As each ink color is applied, the substrate is moved through a fast-acting dryer. The dried ink forms a polymer that sits on top of the paperboard rather than being absorbed into it and acts as a base for the application of the next layer of ink. After printing, the top sheet is laminated to the paperboard.

The resulting carton for Nature’s Benefits is 100% recyclable and compostable. Or, consumers can use the box for their pets “to tunnel and burrow in,” as copy on the back of the carton suggests.

“Kaytee really wanted the natural substrate to be an integral part of the new design,” notes Grant. “We worked collaboratively with Great Northern throughout the entire package development process, from design through die cutting. What we envisioned graphically is exactly what was produced.”

Brand’s ‘natural’ positioning preserved

“The brown Kraft box isn’t merely a package printed to look natural, it truly is natural,” says Kay Thomson, senior marketing manager, Kaytee Pet Bird. “The color and style of the package tell the consumer, even before seeing the brand name Nature’s Benefits, that this is a natural product. It quickly provides the natural-food shopper a quick way to identify a product that appeals to them because it will appeal to their pet.

“There are a number of all-natural foods for pet birds and small animals on the market, but none of them are in a package of this style. This package simply looks natural as you pass by it while shopping. The use of the box is a bold statement within this industry and indicates that Kaytee is willing to take some risks in order to promote the product and the brand.

“Our buyers and retailers have been very excited about the unique look of the package and have expressed that it’s a great way to promote an all-natural product.”

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