Is it Really the Cheesiest? Our Thoughts on the Kraft Mac & Cheese Redesign

Brands engage in a packaging redesign for a number of reasons. Factors like shifting trends, stagnant sales, or brand repositioning can impact the timing on when to hit the refresh button. New packaging launches receive accolades from the design community, only to receive stagnant sales – what went wrong?  

According to the DemandGen Report, 94% of a brand’s first impressions are with design, and with Nielson reporting that 60% of surveyed consumers said they make purchasing decisions in-store, a great packaging design is crucial to winning the aisle. 

Seeking to modernize the classic blue box, Kraft Mac & Cheese launched a packaging redesign in 2022. The new visual identity nods at the familiar while making the brand conversational in language and approach for the next generation of consumers. The design received press and design awards, but sales data and consumer insights suggest a different story on the shelf. 

Using consumer insights from our partner, Designalytics, we see where the new visual identity misses the mark for consumer preference. 

Food. Focus. Familiarity. According to Dieline, familiarity to older consumers was one of the goals of the Kraft Mac and Cheese packaging redesign. When asked, many consumers said they were indifferent to the new design because it did not offer familiarity. The visual cues of food – the spoon size and the bowl of cheesy goodness that oozes from the top of the old packaging design – were other consumer call outs.

With a more subtle approach to flavor cues and nutritional information, the new packaging focuses on the smile-like crescent of the noodle. From the updated font to the simplicity in design, the signals point to mac & cheese as a comfort anytime food. The packaging design is more focused on the key message, but somehow leaves the consumer wanting more – and not in a second serving kind of way. 


side by side comparison of Kraft Mac and Cheese brand refresh and packaging redesign. The older Kraft Macaroni & Cheese box on the left with the new packaging design on the right.
Photo courtesy of the Kraft Heinz Company

Emotional Factors As a legacy brand, Kraft Mac & Cheese can use basic signals for memory recall while still changing a significant portion of their visual brand. In analysis of the 2022 redesign, many consumers used those memory structures as a reason for disliking the new look. The lack of emotional connection doesn’t negate great design, but it can hinder sales. 

Change is not always welcomed. The people who disliked the new design did so with passion. Some even went so far as to say “it looks no different from the generic/store brand now”. Yikes. 

Time will eventually reduce the shock of change for some consumers, but the initial feeling invites competitors to take center stage in the aisle. 

Leveraging Data in Design Data and design work well together – allowing you to test your assumptions against consumer preferences, and — taking inspiration from consumers — change course based on those findings. Data can also prove your packaging design is relevant to your audience. If Kraft Mac & Cheese has an audience persona that values minimalist design, but cares less about those nutritional call outs when picking a quick meal, then it makes sense for them to remove those call outs from the packaging. 

Testing design early and often allows your brand to hone in on a design that sells. After trying several iterations, we have found a sticky approach for emerging CPG brands. 

Before the design process starts, our approach is to understand a holistic view of the category and research category choice drivers. The informed design concepts are then put in front of consumers alongside the original packaging design, and/or against the category leader. After narrowing down and revising the concepts, the designs are tested again. This process is applied to Limited Time Offering (LTO) packaging and category updates to ongoingly ensure the best possible design for your products. 

In the end, the success of a brand redesign lies within the post launch sales data. The Kraft Mac & Cheese packaging redesign has only been in the market about a year. Over time, we shall see if long term sales data shows an impact in consumer preference, or if time on shelf helps consumers move past the discomfort of the unfamiliar.