The Wild Landscape of Private Label Soft Drinks

PepsiCo, Coca-Cola Bottling, and even RC Cola International spend the equivalent of the GDP of a medium-sized country convincing you to buy their sweetened, fizzy drinks. Pepsi’s investment in Mountain Dew, which they first purchased from a pair of regional bottlers and drink-makers in 1964, has been nothing short of exorbitant. They’ve spent billions to position the caffeine-laden, citrusy drink as the “extreme” soft drink, and they’ve done it well. Mountain Dew’s partnerships with video games, alternative sports, fast food outlets, and other PepsiCo products, have led to its accounting for 80% of the citrus-flavored soft drink sales in the United States.

MountainDewIts competitors have all but disappeared in the face of this media assault. Our old friends of the ‘80s and ‘90s – Mello Yello and Vault – don’t show up in your average bodega or convenience store. But go to your local Sam’s Club, Albertson’s, Safeway, or IGA, and you might find a host of new competitors sharing shelf space with the world’s favorite citrus drink: private label brands.

Referred to dismissively as “off-brands” or “generic drinks,” or more forgivingly, “store brands,” these carbonated drinks take the form of facsimiles of major brands and “archetypes” of soft drinks. For example, Albertson’s A+ Cola imitates Coke’s red packaging and cursive lettering, while its proximity to the major brands’ flavor is debated. Taste becomes less of an issue for many families, however, when the store-brand version of the soda costs 20-30% less than the national brand. Grocers are able to keep their store brand prices at or below the price of the national brands’ as they don’t need the same levels of marketing, advertising, or packaging design as the big boys. Even at their cheaper prices, the store brands make their stores a 35% return, as compared to a 24% return on the national brands.

But what’s a store brand drink-maker to do when the brand most people associate with a flavor is trademarked?

That’s where the fun comes in!



Clockwise: Mountain Frost from Aldi, Mountain Maze from Albertson’s, Mountain Lightning from Sam’s Choice, Mountain Yeller from Piggly Wiggly

If I were Mountain Dew, I’d be a sugary soda. But I’d also be pretty angry that all of these private labels of my flavor were riding my coattails. It’s a good thing I’m not a can of soda, I suppose.

Working With Graphic Designers to Produce Labels

Ideas symbolically presented on chalkboard

Designing an eye-grabbing product label can be challenging, especially for businesses with limited experience. For that reason, many turn to professional graphic designers.

However, brands need to realize that graphic designers aren’t the magic bullet — simply employing an artist and leaving him or her to create a label won’t result in a representative package. No one knows the target audience of a product like the company itself, so businesses should look to be involved in the actual design process when they can be. Continue reading “Working With Graphic Designers to Produce Labels” »

Print vs. Online Advertising: Which is Better for Your Business?

The Internet has opened up a lot of exciting advertising opportunities. This is a good thing, for sure. Like many things in life, however, more choices often means more confusion — at least in the beginning. If you’ve ever visited a new restaurant and been handed a 10-page menu, I’m sure you get what I mean.

So it is not surprising that I am often asked which is better for my business — print or online advertising? In the latest edition of Label & Narrow Web Magazine, James and I tackle this question head-on. We clear through the clutter for you by summarizing the pros and cons of each medium, and then provide  you with a checklist of questions you should consider when planning any type of advertising campaign. Continue reading “Print vs. Online Advertising: Which is Better for Your Business?” »

Sticker Trouble: When Not to Use Your Stickers

Stickers are an affordable, fun, and easy way to promote your business or cause, but sometimes it’s best to leave those stickers at home.

A few days ago, a Cincinnatian named Stephen Dapper found this out when the local Sheriff came knocking at his door. It turns out Stephen is a candidate for a township trustee position, and his campaign budget was somewhat limited, so he turned to an online printer to help him get his message out via stickers.

Stephen was smart to use custom sticker printing to prove he’s good with money; he said his campaign stickers were quite affordable. According to the local sheriff’s office, however, Stephen wasn’t so smart to post his stickers all over a local city-owned garage. Stephen was caught on camera posting “50 to 60” of his custom stickers throughout the park-and-ride structure.

Not to worry, claimed Stephen, the stickers are easily removed! Stephen reasoned that since his stickers were non-permanent, made for simple sticking-and-re-sticking, he hadn’t damaged or ruined anything in the parking structure.

But the local sheriff didn’t see it that way, and cited the candidate for criminal mischief. The misdemeanor means Stephen’s looking down the barrel of a citation that could carry a penalty of 60 days in jail and/or five hundred-dollar bills, payable to the local government.


One might say Stephen’s suffering from sticker shock. Stephen suggested that the message on the sticker, which criticized his opponent for a failed business park that went into foreclosure, rather than the stickers themselves, was what caught the attention of the sheriff’s department.

“I’m being persecuted,” he said. “I refused to be intimidated.”

All of this over some removable stickers! I suppose one has to be careful when posting stickers, even if they are the non-permanent variety.

On the other hand, Stephen probably received more media and public attention because of these stickers and their accompanying misdemeanor than if he’d spent thousands of dollars more on radio and television advertisements. Good luck, Stephen! And if you need any more sticker printing, we’ll be here.

The Customer’s Shoes: Designing Labels for Your Target Audience

The customers' shoes

Businesses always have a preconceived notion of what their product stands for and the purpose it serves. The trouble with these notions, however, is that companies are frequently not part of their product’s target audience, and as a result, they may misrepresent it when they bring it to market.

This is why brands need to take a step back from their product and look at it from the customer’s viewpoint. How the companies perceive their product doesn’t matter, it’s all about the intended buyer.

When it comes to designing labels, keep the customer’s perspective in mind. If a company is striving to reach an affluent market, the product label should represent this — it could make gratuitous use of white space or cursive fonts to convey that feeling. Conversely, if a product were meant for the everyday consumer, the label would still need to reflect its audience.

Companies must also remember that a product release doesn’t necessarily mean work on it is finished. If the item is struggling to find an audience, businesses should try a different label design to see if the product’s image is the problem.

Regardless of what type of product businesses make, the label is crucial to making a good first impression. By using a professional label printer such as Lightning Labels, brands can successfully nail that first impression.

History of the Mac Cosmetic Label

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to introduce Jessica Wiener as our newest blogger. Jessica graduated from Northwestern University with a BA in Art Theory, and currently resides in New York City. When she is not improving the Lightning Labels website, you can find her reading, playing hide and seek with her nephew, or planning great adventures.

Iconic cosmetic line M·A·C Cosmetics, short for “Makeup Art Cosmetics,” started as the brainchild of two Canadian entrepreneurs, Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo. In 1984, with the help of Toskan’s chemist brother-in-law, the two Franks developed a line of makeup able to endure the increasingly high demands of the professional entertainment world.

M·A·C owes part of its success to the industry environment at the time. Three major limitations contributed to a sub-par makeup market. One was the limited color selection. Most makeup lines focused on a few color schemes, rarely deviating from “what sells.” If there was a special line of makeup with a new color, it was seasonal with limited availability.

The second issue was that average makeup didn’t withstand the harsh demands of entertainment world. On set, make-up artists struggled to keep makeup from melting off of the faces of models and actors. Searing heat from stage lights in photo studios and theaters made it difficult for average makeup to remain intact. Toskan and Angelo recognized the need for a more durable, versatile and flexible product that could handle everyday demands while catering to the unique needs and requirements of professional makeup artists. The two Franks saw a gaping hole in the market and decided it was time to take advantage of this opportunity. Continue reading “History of the Mac Cosmetic Label” »

Packaging Gets Bossy

Just packaging features prominent call to action

“Choose me, choose me!” That’s what I hear when I walk down the non-alcoholic beverage aisle at the supermarket, where hundreds of soft drinks, sports beverages, and bottled waters vie for my attention.

Each one tries to tell me why it’s the best. One diet soft drink claims it tastes better than the competition. A sports drink says it will increase my endurance. Several brands of vitamin-infused waters promise to enhance my vitality.

I am overwhelmed and in a hurry, so I toss a sports drink that’s on sale and a random case of water in my cart. Next!

The designers of a British caffeinated water called “Just” have figured out there are lots of consumers like me who simply want someone to tell them what to do when they only have five seconds to pick out a drink. They’ve responded by including a clear call to action on their packaging label. “PICK ME UP,” it says. Not in images or vaguely worded text, but in a bold, bossy font that says just that. Brilliant!

Consumers see and hear calls to action on websites, magazine pages and radio ads all the time. Late night infomercials even tell us to “call now!” But putting a putting a call-to-action on a beverage label? I haven’t seen it … until now.  *smacks head*

Rolling Out New Products: Not a Cut-and-Dry-Affair

Rolling out a new product is never easy. When businesses are designing a product to bring to market, there are a number of variables they need to account for, some of which may not be easy to identify.

For example, packaging expert KC Boxbottom recently noted an instance in which a manufacturer was having a unique problem with its labels — out of the blue, they just started wrinkling. The company told Boxbottom that nothing had changed in the way products were produced, they were using the same equipment, bottles and labels.

However, after some further digging, Boxbottom found that the company from which the packaging materials were purchased had recently changed the way the bottle was produced, which necessitated a stronger adhesive be used to prevent wrinkling.

The moral of the story is that putting out a product — especially for the first time — isn’t a cut-and-dry affair. There are a number of things that can go wrong, but manufacturers can avoid these issues by planning in advance. Using experts in the field, such as Lightning Labels, can also help minimize missteps.

Color Me Surprised: The Importance of Color in Label Design

Color Me Surprised

Colors are more than just visual cues — they can evoke emotions in consumers and completely change how they feel about specific products and services.

As a KISSmetrics report indicates, 93 percent of customers judge products by visual appearance, compared to the 8 percent and 1 percent, respectively, who go by texture and smell. Additionally, 85 percent of customers say color is one of the primary reasons they purchase a product.

Colors can also become associated with specific brands. Four out of every five consumers say that vibrant colors help them remember brands. Continue reading “Color Me Surprised: The Importance of Color in Label Design” »

Clean Copy Key to Establishing Credibility

Labels with perfect copy stand out from the crowd

When most companies create their product label artwork, they focus on perfecting color schemes and graphic designs. While these visual cues are vital to attracting the interest of shoppers in a retail environment, well-written copy is also a vital element of any product label. A beautiful label design encourages consumers to pick a product off a shelf and consider purchasing it. It’s what they do next — read the label. Continue reading “Clean Copy Key to Establishing Credibility” »