Branding (and rebranding) wisdom from David Zeigert, president of tea company Celestial Seasonings.

Jenna Blumenfeld, Freelancer

October 19, 2016

7 Min Read
How Celestial Seasonings strengthened consumer trust through packaging

By all accounts, Celestial Seasoning’s 2015 redesign was a textbook example of how a legacy brand can refresh its packaging in a way that leverages continuity across all SKUs.

Whereas the classic packaging noticeably had a distinct lack of white space, the updated version was sleek, pared down and maintained a modicum of the original artwork’s most defining features, such as main characters or prominent flavors. Celestial’s much-adored Sleepytime tea blend, for example, still featured the snoozing bear—but gone was the cozy fire and curled-up cat. Similarly, Morning Thunder, a caffeinated blend of black tea and yerba mate, still depicted the flavor’s snorting bison—but designers had removed the brilliant, bison-containing purple clouds in the background.

The design delivered a clean, modern aesthetic to a group of emerging shoppers who craved streamlined, serious objects to cull in their pantries. But to many of Celestial Seasoning’s core consumers, the new packaging was a watered-down version of its delightfully kooky feel—some passionate Celestial fans said the boxes were boring, had a hard time finding the products in the store and even complained that the experience of drinking tea—opening the box, reading a mindful quote, admiring an artist’s rendition of the flavors crafted in the tea—was hindered.

Celestial Seasonings listened to its consumers. The Boulder-based company (aptly located on Sleepytime Drive) recently announced the return of its classic packaging—colorful, idiosyncratic artwork and all—and a targeted campaign called the “Magic of Tea” to reconnect with loyal fans. Here, Celestial Seasonings president David Ziegert explains how returning to the original packaging strengthened relationships with consumers.

I almost never hear of a packaging redesign in the natural space being rejected by consumers. Did nostalgia play a role in the consumer backlash?

David Ziegert: I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily nostalgia that's a driver for us with the decisions we make with Celestial Seasonings. It’s really more about remaining true to the iconic nature of the brand and all of the meanings and attributes to our wonderful, loyal consumer. We’re doing this with the classic packaging we’re returning to the shelf and with the “Magic of Tea” campaign that’s getting us in front of millions of consumers. But we can take this further into the heritage of the brand with regard to ethical sourcing, and the amount of packaging material we save from going into landfills every year.

Can you elaborate on the “Magic of Tea” campaign? What does it entail?

DZ: We’re really excited about it. [The campaign] is a multifaceted and multilayered approach to directly engaging with our consumers. It’s spread across many different platforms, engaging with consumers on Facebook and other social media, carousal ads and more.

For all specialty tea consumers, it’s a complementary experience they have with their tea each and every day. In tea, there’s a lot of magic, a lot of intangibles that when you couple them together, there’s something exceptional about the experience. This campaign is about emphasizing all of those points. 

In what ways do you believe the new packaging impacted sales? Were there cases where consumers were unable to find Celestial Seasoning’s products on the store shelf?

DZ: Taking a step back, remember that the key drivers to us [going back to our original packaging] was first and foremost, the feedback and the input we were receiving from our consumers of having lost the Celestial feel and experience with the product. What we knew to be important from our loyal fans were the iconic images on the package in addition to strong flavor names. We really thought we had that in the [new] package we had a year ago. But we underestimated how all of these pieces worked together to deliver an experience that was greater than the sum of those parts. We knew the best decision going forward was to reintroduce the classic package.

So consumers were missing the artwork, they were missing the colorful boxes. In that context we did a lot more research and spoke with our consumers. We put our classic packaging back into the marketplace mid-to-late summer of this year.

What was the most important insight you learned throughout this packaging change?

DZ: The real insight was how all of those pieces on the box work to engage our loyal fans at a level much more subjective than objective. This goes back to our founder Mo Siegel harvesting herbs in the foothills [of Boulder] and really wanting to make the experience with the Celestial brand one of truth, beauty and goodness.

As we sit here today, we endeavor to engage with all of the five senses. Thought-provoking quotes. Beautiful packaging. Sense of smell and obviously sense of taste. It’s how all of these pieces are working together. One of our fans hit it on the head when she said the artwork is the soul of the package, and it’s the piece that is delivering all of the tea-drinking experience.

When the package design first launched in 2015, in a press release you expressed hope that the new packaging would forge relationships with new tea drinkers. Did the new packaging accomplish this goal?

DZ: Yes, definitely. The specialty tea category is a phenomenal category to be involved with because it continues to grow. It continues to bring new users in to accomplish many different things to the specialty tea category. The 2015 packaging effectively brought in new users to the tea category. That being said, it was clear to us the best move for our consumer base was to bring back the classic packaging that was able to tie all of those experiential parts together.

The artwork is certainly iconic. When launching a new SKU, what does the process of creating a package look like?

DZ: Every time we launch a new product, we commission a piece of artwork for that box of tea. Some are with local artists, some are with artists that we’ve worked with for many years and others we are just beginning a partnership. Based upon a brief we give them, they provide us with a rendition of the artwork for the package emphasizing characters, beautiful landscapes and strong, powerful flavor attributes. Our passionate onsite creative department then identifies and decides which artwork is best for the package and teas we’re launching, how it will look on the store shelf, how to scale it and how the artwork will interact with consumers.

Every Celestial Seasoning tea has a unique piece of artwork, and all of those original pieces are prominently displayed in our tour center. At last count, 140,000 people come to visit our facility annually to experience our world-class manufacturing.

I love the artwork! My favorite is the Morning Thunder that blends maté with black tea—the one with the bison on the front.  

DZ: Then you and I have something in common. I start each day with a glass of Morning Thunder. And then I move on to our decaffeinated green tea with mint, and then usually finish the day with a mug of Jammin’ Lemon Ginger.

It’s clear that Celestial Seasonings has some very loyal shoppers. What advice can you offer natural food entrepreneurs who wish to share a similar bond with their consumers?

DZ: First, you need to be genuine and you need to be authentic. We started the “Magic of Tea” campaign with me hand-signing 1,500 letters to all of our consumers who took time out of their busy day to let us know they thought our packaging could be better. It’s also being able to engage with them over many different platforms and different vehicles. In our campaign, we’re engaging [our consumers] digitally because we know they index highly with the use of the Internet—we’ve certainly refined and modified our approach there.

How do you create a following with your consumers? You have to love them. You have to engage with them. And you have to be authentic and stand up for your brand and ensure that all of the decisions you’re making will be closely aligned with the brand attributes. Then, you’ll have some positive momentum, and you’ll pick up steam from there. 

About the Author(s)

Jenna Blumenfeld


Jenna Blumenfeld lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she reports on the natural products industry, sustainable agriculture, and all things plant based. 

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