Nothing Says Earth Day like Beautifully Packaged, Sustainable Chocolate

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By: Theresa Christine

Brazil’s Amazon has lost nearly 20% of its forest cover in the last fifty years, which is almost three hundred thousand square miles. The harvesting of valuable products, such as vanilla beans, Brazil nuts, and cacao, has negatively impacted this hotbed of biodiversity.

Enter Harper Macaw—yes, the elegant chocolate bar brand you may have spied at Dean & DeLuca or Whole Foods. Rather than merely taking the beans they need and leaving the land as is, they practice cacao agroforestry and replant the area, putting large-scale tropical reforestation into practice. They hope this approach can save Brazil’s cacao economy as well as the region itself.

Of course, with such a deep commitment to sustainability, Harper Macaw needed packaging to match their values—so they turned to Design Army.

“When people do sustainable, they do a lot of the same,” said Pum Lefebure, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Design Army. “They’ll use Kraft paper or some sort of green or muted colors. This is a chocolate factory in D.C., but we wanted to honor the source of the Brazilian rainforest through the visual expression of the design.”

“The rainforest is bright, it’s colorful, so the packaging is also tropical,” explained Pum. “We designed a pattern based on different vegetations, plants, and cacao within the rainforest and invaded the packaging with it.”

But just as chocolate is an experience for the senses, from its deep color to texture on your tongue, the packaging wasn’t just about exterior design. Design Army wanted each moment—noticing the bar on the shelf, opening it up, and breaking off a piece to enjoy—to feel luxurious.

“This is a high-end product—it’s around ten dollars and sells at fine retailers,” Pum added. “We wanted to make sure the paper had that elegant and timeless sensation when you pick it up, each time.”

She used the example of a bag of M&Ms. Likely, you grab it, tear open the cheap plastic, and mindlessly munch away, throwing handfuls into your mouth until it’s finished a few minutes later. Harper Macaw though is fine chocolate you savor. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and just a piece can leave you satisfied.

Design Army selected Neenah CLASSIC Linen to wrap each exquisite bar of Harper Macaw chocolate. “This is chocolate you enjoy over time,” Pum emphasized. Rather than consuming the whole thing at once, consumers are more likely to indulge in a little bit and set it in the cupboard to eat again later. “When it is wrapped and unwrapped a few times, it still needs to feel special.”

Additionally, the paper choice allowed Design Army to emboss on both sides—an extra element that adds to the luxe factor, and it feels almost like fabric.

“It’s important to me that the flip side feels the same as the outside, and most papers you can only emboss on one,” Pum mentioned. “Think of a nicely tailored suit, for example. It’s not only well-made on the outside—a truly exceptional one has details like great seams and a nice lining. Those are the things we pay attention to.”

Pum also found Neenah CLASSIC Linen to hold the vibrancy of colors better than other options they looked at. She said, “UV printing wasn’t an option because it’s not environmentally friendly, so finding the right paper was even more important.

“We knew we needed a sheet that would hold ink very well. We needed to push the ink through the paper and still make it vibrant, and Neenah CLASSIC is amazing paper. Plus, we added in foil stamping, so we were looking for strength, too. It needed to be able to handle the die cut and the stamp before packaging.”

Indeed, the colors pop on Harper Macaw’s chocolate. Rosy reds, lime greens, royal purples, and sunny oranges blend perfectly in M.C. Escher-like graphics. Each bar is distinct, giving consumers a taste of the rainforest, and the foil stamping adds an extra hint of opulence.

But it’s not just about looks, admitted Pum. “We were going to do some hip, modern design with cool typography for Harper Macaw,” she said, “but the more we talked with the client, we learned it’s all about the ecosystem and what’s going on in Brazil. They give back to nature by re-planting trees to battle deforestation and soil issues. It couldn’t just be focused on being ‘cool.’ The design actually explains the brand and why they exist.”

Today, around one-third of the adult U.S. population allow the values of brands to influence their spending habits. Highlighting aspects of a business, such as how employees are treated, philanthropic endeavors, eco-friendly initiatives should come to the forefront of a design—but it needs to be done in a creative way. Just like creating something trendy for the sake of being trendy won’t work, neither will just using Kraft paper and slapping some green on it.

When it comes to developing the packaging for a product with values behind it, whether it’s sustainability or something else, the story is key. Instead of what a product or service is, Pum advised to forget about the “what” and focus on the true motives. “Ask the client the right questions. What is their ‘why’?”


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Theresa Christine

Theresa entered the world of design through The Dieline. With a background in writing and journalism, she has a passion for discovery and cultivating human connections. Her work for The Dieline is a constant journey to deeply understand all facets of the design process and to investigate what makes designers tick. Theresa's writing has taken her snorkeling in between the tectonic plates in Iceland, horseback riding through a rural Brazilian town, and riding an octopus art car at Burning Man with Susan Sarandon as part of a funeral procession for Timothy Leary (long story). When not writing, she is planning her next trip or taking too many pictures of her cat.