The True Perdue

Posted: April 17, 2014 by
Patrick Henry

Steve Jobs. Martha Stewart. Sir Richard Branson. As entrepreneurs whose personal celebrity is all but impossible to separate from the public image of their companies, they have a common ancestor in Frank Perdue.
Perdue, as almost nobody in the B2C professions needs to be reminded, was a visionary who took a commodity food product and branded it with himself—a stroke of marketing genius that would transform Perdue Farms from a modest family business into the third-largest poultry company in the U.S. Along the way, the look of its packaging has become so ingrained with shoppers that any attempt to change it might be seen as a high-risk game of “chicken.”
But that doesn’t apply to a brand that expects its packaging to evolve along with its ongoing efforts to optimize the quality and the customer appeal of the products inside. A redesign that went into effect this year respects both tradition and innovation as it supplements tried-and-true branding elements with carefully considered additions that articulate the renewed brand promise in full.
The overarching goal, says Gail McWilliam, senior marketing director, Perdue Farms, was “elevating” the product with a graphical refresh. That message was to be delivered, adds John Bartelme, Perdue’s chief marketing officer, with a design that ascribed a “higher order of benefits and attributes to the product line.”

Message from a farmhouse
Creative execution for the campaign came from Murray Brand Communications, a San Francisco brand design studio with extensive credentials in food and grocery channels. Tom Kane, senior design director, says that discussions with Perdue yielded three main objectives: 1) a simpler, cleaner look that evoked “fresh from the farm”; 2) a closer visual tie between the label’s distinctive farmhouse image and the Perdue logo; and 3) a prominent place for information about Perdue’s exclusive “process-verified” quality assurance program in a trustmark that would be easy for shoppers to see.
SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) of the existing packages and their brand marks pinpointed what worked and what could benefit from being changed, says Kane.
Murray Brand then prepared a series of “mood boards” that included collages of magazine clippings, website grabs, and other visuals illustrating the positioning values to be embodied in the new packaging. These pictures, says Kane, were of antique barns, old rural roads, and handmade signs—scenes of authenticity that helped agency and client clarify the approach and crystallize ideas.
John Murray, director of brand strategy and project management for Murray Brand, recalls that in the redesign, one question was how to communicate more fully the values and customer benefits that the picture of the Perdue homestead represents. The agency put the farmhouse on the label seven years ago in its first branding assignment for Perdue Farms. The image, from a painting commissioned by Murray Brand, depicts the Salisbury, MD, home where Arthur W. Perdue started the business in 1920 and where Franklin P. Perdue, the brand’s iconic pitchman, was born that same year.
Located across the street from Perdue’s corporate headquarters, the house was renovated last year and now serves as a facility for meetings and other company events. Although it’s not open to the public, Murray says that it has become “almost a little museum to Perdue” and to the traditions symbolized in its packaging. The image of the farmhouse, Bartelme agrees, "is a very quick way to say something without using any words.”

As if packed by hand
Murray and Kane believe the new direction imparts a handcrafted look to the 150 SKUs that Perdue has chosen to refresh. The impression begins at the main panel—a space with the parchment look of handmade paper, a deckled edge, and a script typeface that resembles well-schooled penmanship. The painted farm scene retains its original look with a little refinement, now adjacent to the Perdue logo and the ribbon-like banner denoting the subbrand.
Something else preserved from the original design, but given new emphasis in the refresh, is the “Perdue blue” that keynotes the packages chromatically. Now a black-ink overprint gives the blue areas the textured appearance of rustic burlap, a look that serves as the visual complement to the tagline that proclaims: “Fresh From Family Farms Since 1920.”
Murray explains that yellow predominated in Perdue’s packaging until research showed that consumers responded more strongly to the brand’s use of blue—a color universally associated with trustworthiness and dependability. According to Murray, the blue also allows Perdue to color-block at retail relative to competitors who rely on yellow and red. “A huge thing a brand can do is to own a color,” he says.
Perdue relies heavily on eye-tracking research, and Bartelme says that this method was used to refine Murray Brand’s concept for the package design launch. With the help of Perception Research Services, a specialist in eye-tracking techniques, Perdue measured the engagement of both shoppers and retailers in a geographically limited test market during spring 2010.

Reaching for reassurance
Above all, Perdue wanted the packaging to reflect the company’s commitment to continuous improvement—the corporate policy behind the unique process-verified program that Perdue Farms has adopted in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). A new feature, the seal denoting the program, is side-by-side with new lines of type that check off three related pieces of information about the wholesomeness of the product inside.
The USDA-bearing seal, says Kane, gets an appropriately “official” look from the serif type of the agency’s initials and from the golden tone of the corn icon within the concentric ovals. The presence on the package of the USDA information, says Bartelme, “gives consumers added reassurance about the product.”
Also offering reassurance is the pre-existing tagline that reads, “No Hormones or Steroids Added.” This is a somewhat unnecessary claim, since (as both the old and the new packages point out) federal regulations prohibit the use of these substances in poultry. But it’s an attribute, according to Kane, that other makers of chicken products have failed to leverage as a benefit statement.
Despite the fact that steroids and hormones have been officially off-limits to chicken producers since the 1950s, says Bartelme, half of all consumers continue to believe that they are present in poultry. The USDA requires all packages to display the federal-regulations-prohibit disclaimer, so this language, as a branding statement, isn’t unique to Perdue.
What sets the company wholly apart is being the first and so far the only poultry producer to have adopted a process-verified program in cooperation with the USDA—a distinction clearly asserted by the oval emblem and its trio of benefit claims. Process-verified status, Bartelme explains, is conferred by the USDA on food producers willing to submit their facilities to third-party audits that verify compliance with self-imposed best practices for product quality.
With input from the USDA, Perdue has defined customer-benefiting processes for feeding, breeding, and preparing its chickens. These standards, stated on the new packaging, are examined and verified twice a year by external auditors.

Staying on message
Perdue’s McWilliam says that as the new packages begin to fill the distribution pipeline, Perdue is communicating the refresh with in-store signage and point-of-purchase, newspaper inserts, TV spots, and other media. Although the refresh didn’t change any of Perdue’s existing packaging structures, the updated look will soon grace some new package designs that are being test-marketed for national release later in the year. Bartelme describes these offerings as “consumer preferred, and a bit more eco-friendly” in their construction and design.
Adding new features to a well-established design isn’t something to be done merely for its own sake, a principle that every brand of Perdue’s stature takes seriously. Bartelme admits that in adding the new elements, the company was a little fearful that they would get a patch job of unharmonious icons. But this worry was laid to rest by the natural order of viewing in the new layout, from the logo and the farmhouse down to the USDA oval and the process-verified claims.
Careful attention was paid, says Murray, to giving this hierarchy the correct visual balance. For example, the process-verified elements—while important to place prominently—could not be allowed to overwhelm the Perdue brand identity.
The sub-brand banners also were modified for proper fit with the other icons.
Although it’s been only a few months since the new packages first started appearing at retail, their in-store effectiveness seems clear. McWilliam reports that the company has sales improvements that can be attributed to the new look. It’s all indicative of a methodical, no-nonsense approach to getting it right that Frank Perdue himself would have been the first to salute. As Murray says, “When you do the up-front work that we did, you limit surprises.”