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Once You Go Black, Can You Go Back?

Once You Go Black, Can You Go Back? Charcoal Chia: The brand development of my detoxifying black granola.

Last fall, I launched a bold new seasonal flavor the world’s never seen before: Instead of hopping on the typical pumpkin spice or apple cinnamon bandwagon, I brought the first black granola to market by infusing activated charcoal with granola. When planning my Charcoal Chia launch, I contemplated a few risks and potential challenges:

  1. How will people react to a black granola? Will it seem scary or unappetizing?
  2. I know there’s been controversy about charcoal being in foods. How would the nutritionally savvy consumer react?
  3. How do I design the bag? If I stick with my existing design (purple bag with black accents to denote charcoal flavor), it won’t print well since purple and black don’t contrast enough. Grey is dull and boring. Should I break consistency of my bag design to make the packaging more attractive?

Since Charcoal Chia was only meant to be a “limited edition” test, I didn’t let any of these concerns hold me back. Fail fast, right? For design, here were some concepts I initially explored:

gr8nola grey color option

gr8nola orange color option

gr8nola color variations

Pressed for time, I hastily settled on a black bag since it was bold, clean and aligned well with the flavor. It wasn’t consistent with the rest of my line, but it was only going to be a temporary flavor so I didn’t weigh it too heavily. 

Note: I was never a fan of orange, but my designer presented it.

The left design was the final winner of various black concept iterations:

Gr8nola Charcoal Chia brand development

When Charcoal Chia launched, the reception was overwhelming and concerns #1 & #2 quickly fell to the wayside. It instantly became a fan favorite (mine included) that I inaugurated it into my permanent lineup shortly after. Once again, I found myself re-contemplating #3 since the decision to do a black bag wasn’t well thought out and broke my “design system”. 

So let’s frame the question: Once you go black, can you go back?

If you look at my packaging, all my flavors are purple bags with accents in a secondary color to indicate the flavor. This was designed very intentionally to “brand block” purple and pop on the shelf. 

Gr8nola Flavor Concepts

Since purple and black don’t contrast well for printing and grey is too dull for my brand, I leaned into the idea of using silver as the flavor color. So I invested $3 in a silver sharpie and five minutes of careful outlining to see what this might look like: 

Gr8nola Charcoal Chia Brand Concept

Gr8nola Packaging Brand Development

Gr8nola Packaging Brand Development

Here was my designer’s feedback:

Gr8nola Bag Brand Development

Gr8nola Bag Brand Development

Then I asked my community and friends for their feedback...

TEAM PURPLE (Pardon some crass language):

Gr8nola Packaging Brand Development

Gr8nola Packaging Brand Development

Gr8nola Packaging Brand Development

Gr8nola Packaging Brand Development

TEAM BLACK:

Gr8nola Bag Brand Development

Gr8nola Packaging Brand Development

Gr8nola Packaging Brand Development

Gr8nola Packaging Brand Development

Gr8nola Packaging Brand Development

Here were the final results:

Gr8nola Bag Brand Development

Getting feedback is great, but this is what ultimately drove my decision to keep Charcoal Chia black: EVERY TIME (yes, to the point where it deserves all caps) I meet with buyers, they immediately take interest in Charcoal because it’s unlike the rest, starting with the packaging. You know, it’s like the pencil effect:

The Red Pencil Effect
Source: mentafloss.com

Ultimately, this decision might break the “design system”, but it gives the flavor a platform to be talked about and prolongs every conversation I have with a potential customer. And that’s a benefit that FAR outweighs the benefit of design “consistency.”

But the greatest reminder that comes from this exercise? Ultimately, gr8nola is MY brand, and in the world of entrepreneurship, there aren’t any rules :). 

What do you think? Are you team purple or team black?

Gr8nola Charcoal Chia Brand Development: Choosing a Color

Written By:

Erica Liu Williams