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Extraordinary success for Delikat´s new packaging 2014-06-26
Designer Johan Verde (left) and marketing manager Sverre Jacobsen have been rewarded for Delikat´s packaging design

In the course of just one year, shop sales of Delikat’s mayonnaise-based salads increased by NOK 92 million – from 178 to 270 million – and the overriding reason for this extraordinary success was the new packaging, created by industrial designer Johan Verde

"There are naturally several explanations for the success of the "new" Delikat, but the single most important reason is without doubt the appearance of the new packaging", says Sverre Jacobsen . He is marketing manager at Mills, the Norwegian dairy giant which belongs to the Agra group and whose products, including Delikat salads, are consumed by a majority of the country’s consumers on a daily basis. As has been the case for several generations. 

The Agra Margarinsmørfabrik [Agra Margarine Factory] was established in Oslo back in 1885 after France a few years earlier had launched margarine as a cheaper, and therefore popular substitute for butter. One of the founders of Agra was the 33 year old Knud Knudssøn Heje, whose family remains the predominant owner of the group which, in addition to Mills, includes Foodmark in Sweden and Stryhn’s in Denmark. 

In the 1970s, the Delikat salad factory, established in 1931 by a Danish cabinet-maker was bought up. Another important expansion took place after World War II, when the management of the Agra group sent an engineer to the USA in search of new products for introduction to the Norwegian market. During a walk along Broadway on Manhattan, he caught sight of a large neon sign with the name General Mills. This left its mark and led to the launch of the Mills brand in Norway. 

In the early 1950s, Mills mayonnaise was launched, and has held a dominant position ever since, with a market share of around 90 per cent in Norway. In the years that followed, Mills caviar andMills_Delikat___fylt_beger_topp.jpg other Mills products such as peanut butter, rémoulade sauce, mustard, ketchup and mashed potato mix were launched. 

In addition to the many products bearing the name Mills, the margarine Melange, which was the group’s original product, as well as the more recent low-cholesterol margarine Vita Hjertego and the butter-like family margarine Soft Flora. The margarine now makes up a big part of Mills’ total annual turnover of NOK 1.7 billion. The Delikat salads brand is also included in the Mills company. In Norway, Mills is Agra’s major cash cow, accounting for over 50 per cent of the group’s turnover of around NOK 3 billion. 

Many, if not most, of Mills’ products have been market leaders. This also applied to the Delikat salads, at least until about 20 years ago when they started to lose ground. In 1989, Delikat still had a market share of about 78 per cent. Eleven years later, it had just 58 per cent and in the years that followed this share dropped dramatically. 

In 2011, Delikat’s market share was no more than 28 per cent and, had this development been allowed to continue, it is doubtful whether the products would still be around today. 

"Over the course of 22 years, we’d gone from a position of strong number one on the market to a weak number two, with a distinct risk of losing this position too. And being number three on the market just doesn't work. We simply had to do something if we weren’t going to be forced to stop our production of salads", says Sverre Jacobsen.

Mills' management was of course not unaware of this negative trend, even if the gradual decline meant that the problem had come to be neglected for far too long. But in May 2010, Jacobsen, who had worked for Mills in marketing for 27 years, and was at that time responsible for Melange, was contacted by Mills' top manager. Sverre Jacobsen was asked to deal with the problems facing Delikat; his task was to reverse the negative trend, any which way he could. 

A problem with Delikat salads, especially with the bestselling prawn mayonnaise salad, was that the contents had started to look less appetizing in recent years. Until 1990, the prawns were placed by hand on top of the salad. When the process became automated, as a result of distribution being transferred to the wholesale level, the outcome was, in the eye of the beholder, a mixture, where the mayonnaise appeared to dominate the salad at the expense of the other ingredients, and in particular the prawns.

As a result of the perception of Delikat products, the group of consumers was becoming older and older and it was especially losing ground in larger towns, primarily to its competitor Denja. 

The team responsible for Delikat needed, in other words, to get hold of machines that could top the salads with prawns, so that they looked like they had been placed there by hand. 

Once this had been achieved and the contents looked appealing, it was important to create an attractive plastic packaging, and that the label marketing the contents wouldn't prevent consumers from seeing the actual product.

Sverre Jacobsen contacted Designhouse, the graphic design agency that Mills had already worked with for a few of years, for tips about a product designer, industrial designer, who would be suited to the task of creating new, attractive packaging. The packaging that had been used for many years and that was to be replaced was of the more basic kind, and looked, according to Jacobsen " a burka". 

Designhouse recommended Johan Verde, an established industrial designer who, after a few years of being based at what was at that time perhaps the most renowned industrial design agency in Oslo, Abry Design, ran his own company. Ever since then - the autumn of 1994 - he has collaborated directly with various clients, but has also been given assignments through major design agencies. He has, for example, cooperated with Designhourse periodically since the mid-1990s. He has made a name for himself as a designer of furniture, crockery, glassware and packaging.

"Three-dimensional design has always interested me more than graphic design", says Johan Verde, who does not use a computer himself, but produces all models by hand.

"The best design is created through good craftsmanship", comments Verde.

In the autumn of 2010 he set about the task of producing a new packaging for Delikat.

"It was important to make the cartons seem exclusive at the same time as they shouldn’t give the consumer a bad conscience for throwing them away", says Johan Verde. 

In cooperation with a new analysis company, focus groups were involved from an early stage of the process and, based on what was said there, on whether the user intuitively perceived theMills_Delikat___str___over_fylt_beger.jpg product as functional, Verde produced a number of different models. 

"This collaboration was unique and helped us to identify what was essential to the product", he says. 

One of the earliest packagings had a form that was reminiscent of an emerald, and it won approval at all levels, both among staff at Mills' marketing department and with participants in the focus groups. 

"It was transparent, which was a condition for making the content visible. And the lid with its raised edges meant that the space for an obscuring label was limited, which was positive", says Verde.

The label is modern and elegant but could, in Johan Verde's opinion, have been more understated. If it had been up to him, it would only have contained text. 

"The images on the label with information about the content are superfluous. The content is already visible through the plastic", he notes.

It emerged, in a test with a focus group at a late stage of the process, that the form of the packaging didn’t sit comfortably in the hand, which meant that it was easy to spill the contents when opening and closing the lid. 

"We became aware of this on a Friday. The production of the packaging was due to start just one week later. I immediately contacted Johan Verde, who worked the entire following weekend to improve the design. This dedication in an urgent situation, this flexibility, is something I really appreciate and the outcome was, as I said, really good", says Sverre Jacobsen. 

The lid of the emerald was formed so that it could be opened in all four corners, something that Johan Verde hasn’t seen in any other packaging and which, for this very reason, makes his design unique. 

The work to produce the final design took approximately four months, and Verde’s remuneration for this task was NOK 300,000. In the end there was another six months’ delay before the production of the new plastic packaging at the factory in Drammen could be started. But ever since the new packaging was launched in the shops in the autumn of 2011, sales have accelerated, and in a way that no one at Mills had dared to hope for either. 

Mills has invested heavily in the upgrade and relaunch of Delikat salads, of which approximately half on new machines and increased production capacity in the factories. 

And bearing in mind the fact that turnover from shop sales increased by NOK 92 million during the first year, and that Delikat salads have reclaimed their position as number one on the market, this was naturally money well invested. Last spring Delikat, in competition with 32 other brands in the convenience goods trade, was distinguished with the Nielsens Brand Award. For Jacobsen and the rest of the management at Mills, this award has been further confirmation of the success of Delikat’s relaunch. 

For Johan Verde, Delikat's success has led to three new major assignments for Mills.

"The remuneration for what what I did for Delikat may not seem that high, in retorspect, in view of the impact it's had. But I'm satisfied, it's been an interesting job to get my teeth into and has of course resulted in more work from the same client. What more can you ask for?", says Johan Verde. 

Åke Lindberg

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