Boomtown Coffee Retail Packaging



Company: Boomtown Coffee
Designer: Andrew Loreman
Marketing and Communications Manager: Chris Porto
Location: United States
Project Type: In-house project
Product Launch Location:
Packaging Contents: Coffee
Packaging Substrate / Materials: Polyethylene, paper
Printing Process: Rotogravure, offset printing

We’ve changed packaging in the past, but for years we have exclusively adhered to the speciality coffee packaging paradigm: a flexible sealed bag covered in some form of stick-on label to denote variety. A year ago, we were faced with the reality that our packaging manufacturer, facing extended machine maintenance downtime, couldn’t deliver our bags for a number of months, including the 2018 holiday season.

Rather than playing the waiting game, we took the opportunity to start from scratch and figure out what we really needed, and wanted, our packaging to be.

We first reexamined our product, roasted coffee, hopeful but incredulous that we might be able to think of a better way to protect it. We explored tubes, tins, and boxes, but due to the relatively volatile nature of coffee, we ended up circling back to ventilated and sealed flexible packaging as the core of our packaging system. For an added bonus, our previous packaging manufacturer was now offering a recycling program for its PET bags. Next, we looked at our product line and how it changed through the year. We have a number of coffee blends that we offer throughout the year, but the coffees that go into them change seasonally. We have a number of single-origin coffees that we book throughout the year, but their flavor slowly changes over time as the green (unroasted) coffee rests. Finally, we have a number of short-term single-origin coffees that we offer for a short period of time.

It was from these constraints that we came up with an idea of having layered packaging, but the idea didn’t start quite as literally as it ended. We knew we wanted a bag that could remain the same for long periods of time and be ordered in large quantities, a secondary packaging component that could designate variety and be ordered in smaller quantities, and a tertiary component that could change whenever we desired. We went back first to the idea of stick-on labels, but we knew from experience that label application required the greatest degree of care and created the biggest bottleneck of our assembly line. We came across another piece of packaging with a paper sleeve around a flexible bag, and we immediately saw potential.

After some research, we determined that sleeves could not only speed up our packaging assembly, but they were also more cost-effective and could be easily recycled. When we began designing, the most surprising difference between sleeves and labels was how much additional visual real estate we suddenly had. We spread out the existing information we had for each coffee around the package, and it still initially felt almost empty. We had for some time been producing hand-drawn art to represent our packaging on our website and print media, but nothing on our package had ever actually been hand-drawn. Given that a large portion of our café and roasting brand is built around doing as much as possible by hand, it seemed like an incredible way to translate the more personal aspect of our work environments to the historically impersonal canvas of our packaging.

We started with small pieces of art featured on the front of the packaging sleeve that iteratively shrank and grew as we narrowed down a composition, focusing on creating a visual identity for each of our coffee offerings. The later iterations achieved what we were hoping for, but they were somehow still unimpressive, ordinary, and not unlike other products on the market. Add this to the fact that we had spent all the time focusing on our sleeve while the bag, the core of our packaging, lied underneath like a blank wall in an art gallery, and we still weren’t happy after months of work. A final realization dawned on us: what if the entire package was a work of art?

We had been working with the thematic idea for a little while that coffee has a transportive nature. Even though we care deeply about where our coffee comes from, we were also incredibly interested in where it could take people and how this could translate into a visual theme for our packaging. When the idea of our entire package being a work of art emerged, a visual narrative quickly took shape. We could use the flexible bag underneath as a background image and use a die-cut sleeve to create unique foreground art for each coffee variety.

The bag itself features a hand-drawn Houston cityscape, our home city where we roast our coffee, along with our brand logo. When you place the sleeve over the bag, the Houston cityscape and our name becomes hidden behind a more detailed scene evoking both an origin and a destination, always allowing the sunshine from our logo to peek through and be part of the scene. As you remove the sleeve, the art on the bag evolves upward into a narrative skyscape featuring a balloon race, and a hunt for a hidden castle in the sky. Unzipping the bag reveals a simplified Houston roadmap, the metaphorical arteries and veins that connect our city.

The last piece of the package, the rear insert, brought us full circle to our original (non-literal) layered idea. We now had a bag that could stand on its own as a piece of art to represent our coffee, a sleeve that designated variety, and an insert that we could print locally or in-house and rotate to convey much more specific information as needed. The insert currently holds recipes, activities, and educational content, but we hope to expand it to include a variety of promotional material as time goes on.

The end result is what we hope is a perfect marriage of form and function – a beautiful canvas upon which we communicate our brand while helping educate and entertain our customers through a careful layering of information in and around our package.

What’s Unique?
In our opinion, the interactivity of the rear insert feels the most unique among our peers in the coffee industry. In an attempt to make speciality coffee more accessible and inviting, we desired to create something that explained how to brew the coffee in plain English, with barista tips or activities that could make the entire experience less intimidating, less snobby, and more fun.