As the resident health and nutrition expert for NBC’s Today show, the New York City Ballet’s official nutritionist and the author of 12 best-selling books on healthy eating, Joy Bauer could have pretty much any taste-testing team she wants. And, in fact, she does: It’s her husband, her three kids and their neighborhood friends with on-site support from a dog named Gatsby. All are on hand to try out whatever it is that emerges from Bauer’s creative and chaotic home kitchen.
“We have crowds of people,” Bauer said on a recent afternoon. “It’s a messy house filled with taste testing and [all] sorts of new inventions, food ideas and people. I’m like the mad scientist.”
And indeed, the pace has been particularly mad at the Bauer home in recent months. Three years after launching Nourish, her own line of healthy snacks, Bauer has decided it’s time for an overhaul. The new and improved Nourish—better recipes, a new look for the packaging—makes its official debut today.
Even with a name as widely known and respected as Bauer’s, she has her work cut out for her. The snack aisle is bursting with healthier options, not just boutique brands like Kashi and Pirate’s Booty, but industry giants like Frito-Lay putting forth purportedly better-for-you versions of old workhorses (Baked Lays and Simply Cheetos, for example). With more Americans turning to snacks in between meals—according to Mintel, 94 percent of us snack at least once a day—snack foods have become a $124 billion segment, and the healthy side of them is growing fast: nearly 5 percent between 2011 and last year, according to Packaged Facts.
Nourish had already carved out a piece of that market, but the brand had been launched principally for online sales. Now that it’s competing in the grocery aisle, clamoring for attention with more established names, the challenge for Nourish will be differentiating itself from the zillion other choices out there.
That was one reason Bauer had her brand’s packaging completely redone. Most snack-food containers follow the time-worn strategy of slapping a huge brand name on the front along with a (usually idealized) photograph of the food. In fact, that’s pretty much the approach Nourish took when it first launched in 2014.
This time, the brand threw out the rule book in favor of a design that looks like a melding of carnival signage with 1970s TV game-show set, heavy on the browns and oranges, with the letters spelling “Nourish” each sitting in a circle floating above a field of stripes. (There is a photo of the snack on the front, but it’s very small.) The snack bag is the work of legendary graphic designer Brian Collins, whose client list includes the likes of Nike, Google, Chobani and Facebook.
“The crazy, bold diagonals on the front of of the Nourish package are inspired by the colorful stripes on snacks sold at the circus—popcorn, peanuts, cotton candy,” Collins explained. “All those striped containers held the promise of fun and delight.”
Collins borrowed that “whimsical language of snacking” to use it where shoppers would least expect—on a treat that’s not bad for them. In broader terms, however, the packaging simply looks different from any other bag of snacks on the shelf, and that was the primary aim. Ideally, Collins said, the package should be able to catch a shopper’s eye from 15 feet away, “creating a sense of aesthetic arrest at a distance,” as he put it.
Another notable feature of the bag is that Bauer’s name doesn’t appear on the front. It’s on the reverse side (and without a photo), a seemingly unorthodox move for a brand originally built on the strength of Bauer’s reputation. According to Nourish CMO Jason Harty, the thinking wasn’t only to keep the emphasis on the product, but to achieve a safe distance from the sprawl of celebrity-driven brands. Though Bauer is “the heart of the product,” shoppers are “jaded” when it comes to celebrities selling them things, he said. “Consumers have [come to] look sideways at endorsements. Our first foot forward is the food.”
“I didn’t want Nourish to be Joy Bauer,” Bauer added. “I’m a huge part of the brand, but we did feel the brand should stand on its own.” Shoppers, she said, “are getting smarter. And they see through these nonsense celebrity endorsements.”
Which left Bauer to focus on what’s ultimately the most important aspect of snacking: the snack. Of Nourish’s original four varieties, Bauer selected the most popular (granola bites) and built a new line around them. “It gave me an opportunity to look at what I didn’t like about the existing formulations from years ago and go back and make them sturdier, more nutrient-dense, and create some sort of proprietary nourishing blend,” she said.
It’s common for healthy snacks to emphasize numbers—calories, say, or grams of protein. But Harty believes that approach causes customers to get preoccupied about labeling to the point where they buy a snack they don’t even like the taste of and won’t eat. “We’re not going for high fiber or protein—we’re not driven by numbers,” he said. “We want … the snacks to be about nutrition-rich ingredients, and wherever the numbers fall, let them fall, making sure [the snack is] super delicious.”
“I just wanted to make it easy,” Bauer said, explaining how she reduced the amount of sugar and calories in the snack but would rather the customer simply focus on the flavor. “I feel like I have enough of a following that people trust me, which is a huge responsibility, and at the same time, it’s a pretty amazing feeling and opportunity to develop something. I’ve spent my whole career looking at people go on and off diets, and I wanted to show people it doesn’t have to be about suffering and deprivation. There’s a way to have your cake and eat it too. This was the dream.”
And it was the reason Bauer spent so much time in her kitchen turning out tray after tray of granola bites. Bauer hastens to point out that she does have a professional food-testing team, but they don’t get a crack at her recipes until they pass muster with her family and neighbors.
“My sister brought seven more kids and all of their friends,” Bauer said. “Every single one of them is an official taste tester.”