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Hip Chicks & the Hidden Value of a Makeover

Nobody wants to hear their baby is ugly. And when your baby happens to be a product your family’s worked their butts off to bring to market – uh uh. But that’s what the folks at Whole Foods told Hip Chick Farms co-founder Serafina Palandech in no uncertain terms back in March 2014 when she applied for its Local Producer Loan Program. The message was clear: Ditch the packaging she’d designed with a friend or kiss the loan good-bye.

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Realizing Whole Foods was exactly where their line of artisan poultry products needed to be in order for their brand to expand, Palandech and her Hip Chick Farms partner, wife Jennifer Johnson, relented. And keeping to their core value of using locally sourced ingredients, they found the key to creating appealing packaging at McDill Associates, just the other side of the Golden Gate.

A Success-in-the-making Held Back by Image
There are many lessons to be learned from the Hip Chick Farms story, perhaps none so important as this: Clients are often too close to their products to see them as the public does. Doubly so with small businesses.

Before you start thinking this is going to be one of those “our clients were clueless until they came to us” stories, let’s back up a second. Johnson spent nearly 10 years as a chef at the renowned Chez Panisse, and has prepared tasty dishes for President Obama among others. And Palandech spent many years in the non-profit world, including organizing and fund-raising for events such as the San Francisco AIDS Walk.

 

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When they launched Hip Chick Farms in March 2014 off the back of an impressive $25,000 Kickstarter campaign, and backing from the Pipeline Fellowship angel investment program, they had already racked up a tremendous amount of good faith and respect in the business world.

All of which is why the packaging criticism coming from Whole Foods seemed to come out of left field. Nevertheless, the supermarket chain came through with a $35,000 loan for the venture, and according to Fortune.com, every cent of that money was plowed into a complete redesign of the Hip Chick Farms brand.

Selling Family, Not Serving Suggestions
So what was so terrible about their original cartons? At first glance, not a lot. The colors were a tad muted, sure, and the background uninspiring. But the real problem was that they focused too much on depicting the chicken products on a plate with a few vegetables, and not enough on making the packaging itself pleasing to the eye.

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Truth time: Hip Chick Farms specializes in making poultry-based meals such as chicken fingers, wings and meatballs – treats to the palate by all accounts, but not really the most photogenic of dishes.

Right away McDill Associates zeroed in on the illustration of a rooster, hen and baby chick – representing Palandech, Johnson and their daughter, Rubyrose – that had previously been tucked away in a corner of the box, and expanded it to be each package’s focal point.

“We knew a design with a brighter color scheme and playful illustrations was going to really stand out in the frozen aisle,” says McDill President and Creative Director Melissa McDill. “The true challenge was also emphasizing their commitment to quality ingredients and incredible flavor – the real story behind these artisanal products which is very important to them.”

While the Hip Chick Farms principals weren’t quite won over by the new look at first, once McDill Associates mocked up a box and actually placed it on a shelf, “they got it,” says director of business development Lisa Hansen.

Not only is this more visually appealing than the food images (now safely squeezed off to the upper right corner of the box), it ties in beautifully with one of Hip Chick Farms’ key selling points – family.

‘Food Fortunes’ Favors the Brave (Usually)
Once mockups of the new cartons were ready, Hip Chick Farms lost no time putting them up on their website. However, the move only succeeded in emphasizing the contrast between the expertly designed packages and the site itself, which was in dire need of a rethink.

Adding a sense of urgency to a site-wide redesign – confirmation that Palandech and Johnson would be appearing on an April 2015 episode of Food Network’s “Food Fortunes.” This meant they needed an attractive new website designed and uploaded to impress the show’s group of potential investors and the program’s viewers… in two weeks!

“It was definitely a challenge to pull it all together in time,” says account manager Liz Serafin. “But with the imagery we had on hand from our own photo shoots, it was possible to quickly design a site that creates appetite appeal and tells more of the Hip Chicks story.”

Thanks to Archive.org’s “WayBack Machine” – which saves “snap shots” of websites taken at various times over the years – you can actually watch the evolution of the site from barebones, serviceable page to vibrant, engaging marketing experience.

Yet in an irony as delicious as their meals, Hip Chick Farms was told by the show’s panel that they wouldn’t be getting any investment from them because their products already looked so professional, clearly they didn’t need their help. Proving, we suppose, that a chick can indeed be too hip when it comes to packaging.

 

Creative Director – Melissa McDill

Graphic Designer: David Padron

Photographer – Recipe Shots: Lisa Keenan

Food Stylist – Recipe Shots: Lynn Piquett

Photographer – Location/Lifestyle Shots: Chelsea Keenan

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Author: Aaron Berman

A former writer and editor for USA Today, Aaron Berman is also the editor of PaperSpecs, and covered the newspaper industry for the Newspaper Association of America’s monthly magazine, Presstime.

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