Semiotics Case Study: Bread Bags (Part 1 of 2)

Introduction

For this project, I chose to do my research on bread and baguette packaging. I am passionate about food packaging because I live a zero-waste lifestyle. While I understand that packaging is necessary for the transportation and storage of food, I also believe that their impacts can be minimised through better packaging design. In this section of the project, I will be comparing and analysing two existing bread bag designs. The two designs of the product I want to focus on are: side gusseted bags with window, and clear wicketed bag.

Side Gusseted Bags with Window

bag1

The primary function of this packaging is to visually display the contents. These bags are typically used in stores where customers help themselves to the products, such as a convenience store or a grocery store.

The main body of the bag is made with ribbed kraft paper. The window is made with polypropylene (PP), a thermoplastic polymer, and is also known as #5 plastic. These materials are used because they are both approved to be food safe. They are both also recyclable, but they must be separated before recycling. In the Metro Vancouver area, the paper component of the bag can be recycled through the recycling bin the municipals provide for the building. However, the plastic component must be brought to a depot to be recycled.

The triangular gusset at the sides allows for the top of the bag to be bigger than the bottom. The bottom of the bag is flat, which means that the bag cannot stand on its own. In stores, the baguettes are typically displayed in a basket so they stand upright  and the bread loaves are displayed by stacking them in front of each other in a low basket (see photos below).

The bag design uses implicit elements and affordance to communicate its use. There is affordance in the design such that the paper can be printed. Typically, the front side of the paper bag (the side with the plastic window) would have the company logo. The back side would have additional information about the company, and sometimes also instructions on how to recycle the packaging. The opening is also an affordance since it allows one to put in and take out the contents. The lack of handle on this bag design implies that the bag should not be held with the hand, but the arm instead.

This bag design applies a simple metaphor – the plastic section is like a window that allows users to see what is inside. It is aesthetically pleasing due to the combination of materials. The style can be seen as bricolage since it utilises paper (traditional and natural material) and combines it with plastic (modern and synthetic material) almost seamlessly.

The visceral aspect of the design comes from the material of the bag. The kraft paper is typically associated with eco-friendly products due to its natural elements. However, the plastic section can cause confusion to the consumer since plastic products are viewed as polluting and flimsy. The behavioural aspects of the design are not very positive since the bag doesn’t function well. The open top means that the bread can easily fall out if not held upright. It also means that the bread is not protected against contamination. In cases where the bread is longer than the bag, it sticks out the top and is likely that someone else has touched it. The mix of materials used in the bag also makes it more difficult to recycle because it needs to be separated. The reflective elements of the design focuses heavily on our desire to consume products that appear more environmentally friendly. We want products to be packaged and presented nicely, even though the packaging may be ineffective.

 

Clear Wicketed Bag

bag2

Wicketed bags are bags that are stacked and held together on a metal wicket that acts as a dispenser. The primary function of this packaging is to securely enclose the contents for transportation and to protect the contents from moisture and other contamination. In store, they can visually display the contents. These bags are typically used by large baked goods distributors, and the goods are packed inside the bags before they are transported. The bag requires a bread clip or twist tie in order to be secure the contents.

The entire bag is made with 1.25mil clear 100% virgin Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE), a thermoplastic polymer, and is also known as #4 plastic. This material is food safe and recyclable. In the Metro Vancouver area, the bag must be brought to a depot to be recycled. The waterproof aspect of the plastic makes it ideal at keeping out moisture and contamination. The plastic will also preserve the moisture inside the bag and soften the crust of the bread. However, this also causes the bread to grow mold at a faster rate.

The bag design uses affordance to communicate its use. There is affordance in the design such that the plastic can be printed on. These bags have a bottom gusset to provide neat presentation of products, as well as extra space for displaying the brand logo and other information. The large surface area also affords stores to place their own stickers and labels, so the same bag can be ordered in bulk to save on costs, and they would just print new labels each specific product when they are needed. The extra plastic sticking out past the bread clip is often used to hold the bread bag. This can be seen as an affordance in the design, even though the plastic isn’t particularly comfortable to hold. The opening is also an affordance since it affords one to put in and take out the contents.

The visceral aspect of the design comes from the material of the bag. Plastic packaging is seen as a single-use item, so the initial reaction to the product is that it is new and fresh.  The gut instead is to pick the bag that is the newest looking and one that has not been opened.

The behavioural aspects of the design focuses on how the bag makes the shoppers feel. The bags provide a sense of security for both the shoppers and the manufacturers. They can feel at ease that none of the slices of bread will fall out, and that everything inside is not contaminated. With the labelling, shoppers can also easily identify the brand or the type of bread they want to buy. The reflective aspect of the design is how much we value the bag itself. Once the contents are consumed, the packaging is seen as a single-use item to be tossed out.

Analysis Results

Between the two bag designs, the clear wicketed bags manifests their usage and function more clearly. This is because the bag has more useful features overall and is easier to recycle since it only consists of one material. Also, all parties involved (bakeries, stores, and shoppers) get a sense of security with this bag design. They can feel at ease that none of the slices of bread will fall out, and that everything inside is not contaminated. And if there is something wrong with the bread, it is easy to see it though the clear plastic. The only downside to the plastic is that it traps the moisture inside. This leads to the crust of the bread to get soft. It also decreases the bread’s shelf life because mold grows faster from the trapped moisture.

Continue to part 2

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