How a Napa Valley Rebel Broke Tradition (and Tripled Sales)

Botanical Bakery's Package Design and Smiling LipsTo adhere to convention or to boldly go against tradition? That was the question facing this Napa Valley startup.

Since their rebrand two years ago, Botanical Bakery has seen sales triple each year. That’s 3Xing of sales the first year after the rebrand and 3Xing that again the second year. Whoa.

That killer sales trend is all in addition to being showcased on The Dieline, Cool Hunting, Lovely Package and Identity Designed as well as Food & Wine magazine, The New York Times, InStyle and tons more. Did I mention their branding also won in Communication Arts’ coveted Design Annual?

How Did They Do It?

How did a small obsessed baker out of Napa Valley rise to such heights? Are there lessons that can be learned and applied to your brand?

In short, they broke away from the chains of what was expected from their category. How far do you need to go for it to work? I go into how to apply this to your brand at the end of this post.

From my perspective, having worked directly with Sondra, the Chief Indulgence Officer (aka owner), there seemed to be part vision, part accident, loads of inspiration, a truckload of moxie and some raw, blind ambition — my favorite recipe for elevating a brand.

From the Chief Indulgence Officer Herself

To get a fresh perspective, I asked Sondra for some of her views on their rebrand and here they are in her words.

Q: What’s the vision of Botanical Bakery?
A: To bring the world amazingly indulgent treats.

Q: What was the turning point when the you went through the rebranding of Botanical Bakery?
A: We fit into our category [of Shortbread cookies] too well. We just blended in.

My business partner’s parents went into a store that they know carried our product and were literally standing in front of our cookies staring right at them and they did not recognize them. To say it another way, they did not jump off the shelf.

Q: How would you describe the response to the new brand and packaging?
A: It seems like we now have a cult following in both the design and food worlds. People love the brand for what is on the outside of the package as much as what is on the inside. People actually pick up our package and play with the boxes, putting them in front of their own face and talking silly, bringing the boxes to life. Now, the brand screams fun, and you can’t help but smile when you see it.

Q: What about the impact on store buyers?
A: Buyers know that the product needs to stand on its own without the product being tasted. It needs to be enticing enough for customers to pick it up and put it in their basket. This last month alone, we have had three similar emails from buyers saying, out of the tens of thousands of brands that they deal with, Botanical Bakery was chosen for photo shoots for their various needs representing their stores’ sample of lines that they carry. It is a brand with personality.

Q: What publications and blogs picked up the Botanical Bakery story and brand?
A: It’s been pretty phenomenal. The New York Times, Food & Wine, Cool Hunting, Cooking Light, Fresh Cup, TEA, US Airways, Trendspotting, Multineer, Forbes, InStyle and Communication Arts. Our work has also been featured in several hardcover books on design and packaging.

Q: What was the inspiration the new Cheese Snaps product line?
A: As people got to know the Botanical Bakery brand, it became obvious that we were more than just pretty leaf lips. We stood for premium ingredients, quality food artistry and the desire to modernize classic recipes for a whole new generation of funky foodie aficionados. “Napa-fying cheese straws” was the perfect challenge that tickled our creativity and dovetailed beautifully into our garden shortbread market.

Q: What would you say in hindsight about having the right brand to match your vision as a business owner?
A: As a food artisan, we tend to focus on what goes inside the package. We can get so passionate about ingredients, sourcing, flavor profiles and methodology that branding is not top of the mind. At least it was in our case.

We figured the product is so great, people will taste it and word will spread. Well it has, but a key component was missing: “How are you going to get peoples’ attention to try it when it sits on the shelf?”

The branding and packaging both need to be compelling enough — alive enough — to scream, “Hey! Come try this all without influence of a single person.”

That’s true for any brand.

Seeing Is Believing

When Sondra first called me, we talked about her brand, her passion, her vision.

Very quickly, I realized Shortbread Cookies were considered this English treat and were considered a well mannered cookie. Yet, Sondra conveyed a wild side to the creation of her cookies. I stated, “Your cookies are like, ‘Shortbread Cookies Gone Wild.’ “ At that moment, we knew we were on the same page.

For example, here’s what the logo looked like before:

The Botanical Bakery Rebrand: Think of it as Venus and MarsAnd the packaging makeover:

Botanical Bakery's award-winning Package Design Rebrand

Part of the success was paying attention to the details. While the first round of packages did have raffia ribbons at the top, this proved too time-consuming, so we later created this look and feel with photography (as you’ll see below on the new flavors) being unveiled at the Fancy Food show in Washington D.C. Here are some examples of the details to capture this rebellious personality throwing tradition overboard.

Botanical Bakery used an incredible color palette to stand out on the shelf

Botanical Bakery's Ginger Shortbread cookie package design

Botanical Bakery's award-winning package design by DBD International and David Brier

And just when you thought it was safe to pigeon-hole Botanical Bakery and happily go back to everyday man cave-style snacks, Botanical Bakery tackled a new category: Cheese Straws, renaming them Cheese Snaps.

Botanical Bakery's Cheese Snaps Package DesignBotanical Bakery's Cheese Snaps Package DesignBotanical Bakery's Cheese Snaps Package Design

Botanical Bakery's Cheese Snaps Package DesignBotanical Bakery Cheese Snap Pouches

Botanical Bakery's Cheese Snaps Package Design by David BrierI mentioned exceeding expectations earlier in this post. So even when looking to turn an existing category on its head, we looked at every detail as you can see on the back on the boxes here with the copy, “Unleash your man cave potential.”

Man Cave Potential, Botanical Bakery style

The newest members to the Botanical Bakery Rebel Crusade are three new flavors to the shortbread cookie line. Take note on how they reflect the original spunk and use of color to keep the brand fresh and alive. (And note how the raffia ribbons look real, saving the company money in package preparation.)

Botanical Bakery's New Flavor line up by David Brier

Botanical Bakery's NEW Package Design for the new flavorsHow Can You Make Your Brand a Rebellious Success?

To do that, you have to take inventory of what’s “the norm” in your category. Without that knowledge, you’re going blind.

But how far do you need to go for it to really work? “Can’t I just stick by big toe in the pond of expectation and rebellion to ‘try’ it out?”

In the words of Yoda, “There is no try. There is only do.” Really? Yes. Really.

Breaking rules and exceeding expectation is not a halfway measure or a tentative step. You have to be willing to put your stake in the ground and be committed, not tentative.

And if your brand is vanilla, then trust me, adding some hot fudge when nobody else is thinking about it is the least risky way to grow your brand.