by George Taniwaki

The inside back cover of each issue of Consumer Reports magazine has a column called Selling it. It features what it calls “Goofs, glitches, gotchas, and howlers from the world of advertising.” In the past week, I’ve encountered two cases of unusual packaging that may not be goofy enough for Consumer Reports, but definitely got my attention.

Shine your pie

The first example is a blueberry pie I purchased from a Kroger owned grocery store called QFC. Their bakery goods are sold under the Private Selection brand. They taste really good. As I was putting a box into my shopping cart, I saw this bit of advertising puffery on the box flap.

Pie boxFlap

For those who can’t read the brown text on brown background, it says,

The Private Selection journey rewards your sense of good taste. Inspired by food artisans and crafted with authentic ingredients and tantalizing recipes, each private selection offering is sure to feed your passion for gourmet foods.

Well, that certainly is enticing. Now I really want to read the ingredients, but I can’t of course because they are on the bottom of the box and I certainly don’t want flip the box over while the pie is still in it. I could hold the box over my head, but then I would look like a dork. Not that it’s ever stopped me before.

After I get home, I open the box and have some pie.. Then I flip the box over and look at the ingredients. Check out the list of authentic ingredients for the pie shine. Pretty tantalizing. Yum, gourmet foods just like mom used to make.

Pie boxBack

For those of you who aren’t familiar, pie shine is what makes the top crust of a pie shiny. It is traditionally made from egg white. (One egg white can shine about four or five pies.) I figured that Kroger would add some stabilizers and preservatives to the egg white to ensure consistency in a commercial bakery setting, but apparently not. If you can’t read the small ALL CAPITALS text in the picture above, the ingredients used by Kroger are,

Water, soy protein, canola oil, datem, methylparaben and propylparaben and sodium benzoate and mixed tocopherols (preservatives), caramel color, modified cellulose gum, artificial flavor, disodium phosphate, corn syrup, pectin, citric acid, yellow 6, maltodextrin, sodium alginate, soy lecithin, silicon dioxide, mono- and diglycerides.

My guess is that egg whites have too much variability in color and viscosity, are too expensive, and spoil too quickly. In comparison, the ingredients used in Kroger’s pie shine are cheap and will never spoil because no microorganism would touch it. Incidentally, if you are not familiar with datem, it is an abbreviation for diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides.

So a few rules for product packaging designers:

1. If you want people to actually read your copy, don’t use low contrast colors (like brown text on a brown background)

2. You should read your advertising copy in the context of the actual product so you don’t make ridiculous claims

3. If you want people to actually take time to read your copy, don’t use ALL CAPS. (Although in this case, you don’t want people to read ingredient list.)

Detailed instructions please

My other encounter with weird packaging is for a product called Caulk Saver. This handy tool plugs the end of a tube of caulk between uses and keeps the tip from getting clogged with hard caulk. I own several. The front of the package is shown below. I like how the photograph behind the actual tool clearly shows how it works. Very clever.


The folks at Caulk Saver love their product so much that they posted a 3 minute long video on YouTube. You can never oversell.


Tell me more! Video still courtesy of Caulk Saver

However, it’s the back of the package where the real weirdness appears. There you will see a picture that shows that the tip of the plug can be cut to fit a caulk tube as you use it up. The caption reads “Cut stem wherever necessary for tool to fit.”


Above the illustration is a long paragraph of text. If you cannot read the text in the photograph, it says,

Important: There may come a time when you have an inch or two of product left in the tube and the tool will not fit all the way in, due to the plunger that forces the product out. At this time, cut the stem off of the tool wherever necessary for the tool to fit properly. Turn the tool 3 or 4 times into the stem of container to seal the container and your product will stay fresh.

This looks like it was written by a frustrated novelist. I guess everyone who has ever worked as an advertising copywriter (including me) wants to believe that engaging text can always improve product packaging. I think the packaging would be less cluttered if the caption were reworded to read “If your Caulk Saver is too long to fit in the tube, just cut off the stem” and eliminate the entire paragraph above it.

But really. If you only have an inch of caulk left in the tube, use it up or throw it away. Life is too short to spend time keeping track of small quantities of old caulk.