The art and science of creative packaging

Packaging projects impress corporate sponsors with bold look and sustainable focus

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A winning student design for Chex Mix was a collaborative effort between packaging science students and graphic design students.

Whether it’s your cereal box or bag of favorite snacks, hundreds of hours go into developing the packages for these products before they land on store shelves. 

Students in the packaging science program in the College of Applied Science and Technology and students from the graphic design program in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, developed packaging prototypes for General Mills products in less than a month. 

The brainchild of Karen Proctor, RIT professor of packaging science, and Lorrie Frear, RIT graphic design professor, the idea behind their left brain-right brain collaboration was to bring together students most familiar with packaging structure and production with those knowledgeable about graphic arts and design elements.

“It was a success,” says Proctor. “The students were challenged to develop sustainable, innovative packaging that had a ‘wow factor’ to the packaging sold on the store shelf and to add value to the consumer in use and disposal of the packaging. The students exceeded all expectations on delivery and prototyping of their ideas.” 

Valerie Nadeau, a fourth-year packaging science student, and Jessica Pirrello, a graduate student in the packaging science program, joined Elizabeth Francis, a fourth-year visual media student and Andrew Maruska and Jessica Billow, both fourth-year graphic design majors, to develop the winning design.

The winning student team in the American Packaging-sponsored competition created an updated packaging prototype for Chex Mix. General Mills began pre-packaging the popular snack mix in 1985 after first introducing the recipe on its cereal boxes in the early 1960s. 

“We saw that Chex Mix was aimed toward a different market and we wanted to bring it in a different direction,” says Maruska. Students researched the current market, branding design and consumer’s purchasing tendencies. They found sales of salty snacks continue to climb, but consumers are willing to ‘trade up’ for pricier selections that they considered healthier options. Their redesign targeted health-conscious mothers and children. 

“When classes involve outside companies, it always creates a strong desire to excel and really find out what companies are looking for,” says Pirrello.

The team used stronger packaging, bolder color fields and emphasized the varied flavors. They also detailed how the new packaging could better utilize space on store shelves and how packages could be shipped and distributed efficiently. “All of the design prototypes reduced the amount of packaging in the supply chain. One of the prototypes eliminated 78 percent of the packaging materials,” says Proctor.

At the conclusion of the presentations, David Geier, Rochester operations manager for American Packaging Co. said to the four student teams: “You wrestled with a lot of the things we wrestle with in business, which is how do you get people from diverse backgrounds to come together and understand competing priorities – that’s real world stuff.”

American Packaging awarded $1,000 to each team. American Packaging and General Mills representatives are reviewing the presentations to determine if some of the students’ ideas might be incorporated into their product lines.