The whole package

Imagine a group of people sitting around, showing an ad for your business to each other every day.

Imagine a group of people sitting around, showing an ad for your business to each other every day.

Your packaging could provide a more powerful space for advertising than you think, as some industry insiders explain

Every time you sell a takeaway coffee or sandwich in your restaurant, have you thought about the image your customer walks off with? Sure, they’ll remember your smiling face or the stamp on their loyalty card and probably return next time they’re passing by. But when they reach their office and sit that skim latte or salad roll on their desk, it’s most likely the branding of your coffee supplier or packaging company that stares back at them.

The use of promotional and branding products in the hospitality industry seems to be an increasingly overlooked advertising opportunity for food service businesses. Few cafes bother having their name or logo printed on the coffee cup their customers take with them these days, seemingly happy to promote the default branding of Toby’s Estate or Belaroma instead. On the one hand, it’s easy to see why: most restaurateurs and caterers have little cash to spare, and paying for branded disposables seems like a waste when it often comes for free from wholesale suppliers.

But on the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence to show that this kind of branding could be a lot more powerful than you’re giving it credit for. And the big-name marketers who are cashing in on that fact don’t  want you to know it.

In a study of international travelers by Georgia Southern University recently, more than 76 per cent of people who recalled receiving a promotional or branded item during the past year could accurately remember the name of that brand. By comparison, only half could remember the name of a company they had had direct contact with in the previous week.

“This kind of approach definitely works,” says Noela Thorne, Queensland-based branding advisor and owner of Adz Impact. “There’s just no other marketing channel that delivers such solid brand recognition for such a relatively small outlay.”

And while it’s perhaps not surprising that Thorne believes in the power of her own kind of promotion, she’s also quick to tell it like it is.

“To be honest, we don’t get much business from restaurants and caterers. They usually don’t allow for this kind of promotional material in their marketing budgets,” she explains.

“We do some items for [meat suppliers] like aprons and bags, but that’s leaning more towards the corporate side of things. From what we can see, independent food businesses like restaurants and cafes just don’t do it. For everyone else, though, it’s huge.”

Indeed, it is. Australian advertising company Eat Media coordinates a series of high-profile campaigns designed purely around the takeaway coffee cup space. Its heady list of cashed-up clients includes Qantas, St George Bank, Optus, Nokia, B-Pay and the Australian Defence Force, among others.

It’s also rolled out targeted campaigns for NRMA and 3Mobile using promotional material on takeaway sandwich bags. Interestingly, the recent adoption of this kind of promotion by wealthy corporates seems to be more about reach and value than exorbitant ad prices.

Eat Media itself explains that, continuing with the coffee cup example, consumers will spend an average of 37 minutes exposed to your logo or message.

“Engaging with a consumer over this period of time provides an incredibly compelling reason to put your brand
on the tips of people’s tongues,” the company claims.

So why, then, are restaurateurs and caterers passing up such a potentially valuable opportunity to connect with their customers?

More than 76 per cent of people who recalled receiving a promotional or branded item during the past year could accurately remember the name of that brand.

John Lambross, part-owner of Sydney café Food Fair, says he’s recently been revisiting the idea of branding their own coffee cups and other disposables. But he argues that piggy-backing on a recognisable coffee brand like Toby’s Estate (for instance) also has its own advantages. “I think we do better aligning ourselves with quality coffee than trying to achieve cut-through with our own name,” he says. “People instantly recognise a major brand and trust it, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing that we’re promoting that particular supplier instead of our own name.”

He makes a good point, but then suggests a business with multiple venues would be looking at a different set of costings.

“I think if you had more than two sites or were members of a coffee club, it would definitely be more cost-effective and a lot more worthwhile,” he says. “And obviously, franchises would be mad not to use their own branding wherever they could. But for us, right now, I don’t think the numbers work out.”

Jarrod O’Doherty from Newcastle Hospitality and Packaging says he’s seen some “reasonable demand” for branded disposables within the hospitality industry, as well as more aggressive branding across a restaurant or café’s entire
crockery and glassware stock.

“The clients using these items come from a standpoint that they have a great product that they want to promote. They usually operate in a closely competitive environment and need to create a point of difference to establish their products in the market.

“The most popular item we brand would definitely be disposable coffee cups, however we have a reasonable demand for napkins, paper bags, pizza boxes and food containers, as well as non-disposable glassware
and crockery.”

When it comes to cost-effectiveness, O’Doherty says its not unusual for smaller clients to baulk at the bulk volumes needed for minimum print runs, but if they consider it a marketing investment, most consider the outlay justifiable.

“It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg scenario; most who go ahead with their own branding on disposables almost always see direct benefits of their investment,” he says.

Newcastle Hospitality and Packaging has also noticed the increased interest in this kind of advertising space from third-party corporates, which O’Doherty suggests points to the effectiveness of disposables branding.

“We have had some inquiries recently from organisations unrelated to the hospitality industry that are interested in marketing their brand through disposable coffee cups.”

Away from the popular coffee cup space, pizza boxes probably offer the next best advertising opportunity. Certain fast-food chains have long promoted distinct points of difference through this kind of packaging, with ‘hot spot’-style gimmicks and other brand-specific guarantees sprayed all over their cardboard takeaway trays.

In the more upmarket slice of the pizza market, Sydney’s three Gourmet Pizza Kitchen outlets—based in Chatswood, Erina and Kingsford—all use the same recognisable logo on their boxes.

“It definitely helps people remember our brand, and realise the connection between the stores,” says
Aries Utomo from the Chatswood store.

“We are proud of our brand so we want people to recognise it. We think it’s important.”

Especially when those crisp brown boxes are stacked up next to the recycling for a whole weekend in a customer’s home. Not many advertising spaces can offer that.

This great content is produced for members of the Restaurant & Catering Association. Find out about becoming a member here.

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