Case Studies

Caution: Contents Hot—Award-Winning Local Coffee Roaster Gets a Fresh New Look

BRIGADE draws upon local imagery to craft a strategic new brand identity and packaging design for the popular Massachusetts café, Esselon.

Esselon is a much-loved local coffee roaster that came to BRIGADE for a serious brand makeover. The celebrated roastery and café has built a loyal following on the quality of its product—artisanal, small-batch coffee with an emphasis on Direct and Fair Trade. The company grew up with a rustic, simple look and a two-color design scheme. Esselon was ready to take it to the next level and was looking to achieve a new brand identity they described as desirable, clean, and refined.

“Elegance without being elegant,” is how the Esselon team put it. We love it when our clients challenge us with a design framework that seems contradictory (and yes, we knew exactly what they meant!).

Esselon approaches every stage of their production with meticulous care: sourcing the best green coffee beans available within their product price-point, and “cupping” (individually brewing and tasting) to ensure their target quality is met.

Another unique feature of Esselon is that they roast their coffee on-site in their café, in Hadley, Massachusetts. The café itself is in an iconic local spot, located on a busy road at the intersection of several college towns, yet backing up to lovely farmland. Passersby are delighted to discover this not-so-hidden treasure.

“Esselon’s café is a meeting ground—a place where people come together to discuss ideas, share conversation, and practice their daily coffee rituals,” explains Designer Steve Oparowski. “We knew we wanted to feature the art of roasting and the science behind the perfect cup, and create a package design that would leverage the café’s local reputation for potential national exposure.”

The BRIGADE team set out to capture Esselon’s new identity with a bag that would stand out on-shelf and encourage local grassroots brand growth while driving potential presence in national chains. Could we fit all that on one 16 oz. bag? Designer Steve Oparowski, Executive Creative Director Kirsten Modestow, Design Director Jan Šabach, and Associate Creative Director Joe Marden tackled the challenge.

“Capturing the iconic Esselon café meant capturing the vibe of Hadley. I tried to create an accurate representation of the Seven Sisters mountain range, which forms the backdrop of the town” explains Steve. “I love it when I get to pull out the pencil and paper and start with a sketch.”


Steve experimented with different graphic elements to capture the agricultural setting and unique character of the valley, balancing the messaging of the visuals with their aesthetics. After some experimentation, the design team selected a suite of simple and appealing graphics including cows, barns, and a hiker. They then applied those designs across a captivating landscape of flowing graphic horizon lines rendering fields, pastures, and mountains.

“The unplanted fields create instant visual associations with the locally-grown movement, which says ‘this is local, it’s all done here’ without having to actually say it,” says Steve.

The design also features Esselon’s iconic café building front and center, a set of ascending stairs leading to its front doors, creating a warm and welcoming feeling that draws coffee-lovers in.

Interestingly, Steve explains that giving the brand a strong sense of local identity is not in conflict with Esselon’s goal of national exposure, but will actually drive it. The tidal-wave of consumers choosing small and local brands are increasingly seeking specialty products tied to a specific place—even if that place is not local to them.




“We want people who pick up a bag of Esselon coffee in a Whole Foods miles away to feel like, ‘I want to go to that place, I’d like to visit that café.’”

To achieve the clean, refined look Esselon wanted, Steve was inspired by the work of Virginia Lee Burton, particularly her landscapes which form elegant stylized patterns out of topographical lines. Steve’s design also includes ample negative space, simple linework, and a black-on-white scheme.




At BRIGADE, our job isn’t done until the client is positively thrilled with the design—simply liking it isn’t good enough. It’s safe to say Esselon is crazy about their new look. They’ve already used it to launch a new website and dive into several new product avenues including a snazzy line of retail products, and K-Cups are coming soon.

Coffee, anyone?

Wholesome Identity Gives All-Natural Snack Category a Healthy Presence

By Alex Lyman, Guest Blogger

As retail spaces become increasingly saturated, it is that much more difficult for a product to stand out amongst its competitors, especially in the constantly evolving “Healthy Snack” category. BRIGADE combats this by using its unique personality and strategy to impact the way their clients are seen by consumers.

BRIGADE has found their niche in the natural, healthy snack category, which comes with a lot of baggage and complications. In an industry that has reinvented itself overnight, the agency found that their inexperience in healthy snacks was a plus, and drew in clients wanting a fresh perspective, rather than the stale designs that no longer represented their brands.

BRIGADE has also found that a creative way for their clients to compete in the healthy snack aisle is to build an identity that relates to their customers. The word identity has changed over time, and has applied itself to companies and products in a way it had only done with individuals in the past. Companies can no longer sell a logo or a package to consumers. They have to sell their story to gain any traction.

“We work along the lines of what I call the “Six Foot Rule” or the “Twelve Inch Rule,” explained Creative Director Kirsten Modestow. “The idea is that if I’m pushing my shopping cart down a cluttered aisle, I need to see something that pops off the shelf. Once I pick it up, I want to be rewarded for my decision. I want to be drawn into the story more. All products want to have shelf presence.”

It is with this mindset that BRIGADE creatives reinvent the look and feel of their client’s brand in order to accurately convey the source and benefits of the product.

When Frontier Bites, a granola type snack product, approached BRIGADE to help them rebrand several years ago, the agency first did their research on competitors. They sought other products labeled as a healthy snack that also had the same sugar content as Frontier Bites, and sampled them all. What they found, was that the nutrition labels only accounted for the amount of sugar in each product, but not the quality or source of sugar it contained. For example, they came across a kid’s healthy snack that tasted like candy, likely because it came from a natural sugar source, rather than sugar from fruit, like Frontier Bites. This completely alters the taste. The challenge was then to try and appeal to the right audience that wanted a truly healthy snack, not a candy-like substitute. One way around this was to include a glycemic index callout in addition to a non-GMO verified stamp and list all-natural ingredients on packaging.

“The average consumer is more educated and knows how to read labels better than ever before,” said Modestow. “Could you have mentioned a glycemic index on a label a few years ago? I would say probably not.”

Now, Frontier Bites has grown, and is looking to introduce new products, while still keeping the brand clear and consistent in a landscape that has significantly shifted since their last rebranding and packaging efforts. BRIGADE’s Associate Creative Director Joe Marden was tasked with giving Frontier Bites new shelf presence, while still retaining familiarity to the consumer.



Considering the average customer and their needs and wants in snack products goes a long way in establishing appeal and benefits for consumers and their families, something Joe had to take into account.

“With increasingly busy schedules and active lifestyles, consumers are looking for ease on the go and functional packaging to complement their snacking habits,” he noted. “They’re getting smarter and are looking for transparency with less noise and distractions from what is important to them. Also, consumers today think of the products they purchase as extensions of their values. They want to know the beliefs and principles of the companies they are supporting by purchasing their products.”

One of Joe’s major challenges was the idea that the snacking category is filled with products claiming to be all-natural—many of which are misleading.

“Frontier Bites are made with only eight real ingredients,” explained Joe. “They can legitimately make that healthy claim, but it’s so overused and over saturated in this category that it doesn’t really mean anything anymore. We had to figure out another way to clearly show the consumer that this is a healthy, all natural snack.”

While researching other food products, some even outside of the snack category, he found that while many did employ the all-natural narrative, they also used warm, natural colors on packaging to cognitively influence the customer’s perceptions of those claims. He also paid close attention to how other products handled new flavors and subcategories within the context of branding.

Once the team knew what everyone else was doing, they made a conscious effort to design something completely different for Frontier Bites. First, since the product’s hallmark is that they are made with recognizable ingredients, the BRIGADE team displayed the three main ingredients on the front of the packaging, so the consumer is able to clearly see what they will be eating. The wording and narrative on the package also supports a healthy message by talking about the real ingredients, using words like ‘simple’ and ‘balanced,’ and introducing a new way of snacking. Joe and team also used slightly desaturated colors that were still bright, but had a more natural matte look and feel, a clever way to stand out from the competition.



Frontier Bites also opted to switch from clear bags to metallic ones, which would increase the shelf life of the product. The catch was that the metallic bags couldn’t have a window for consumers to see what the product actually looked like.

“We had to solve that with imagery,” Joe said. “We introduced a circle graphic that works as a callout on the front of the bag to showcase the product and separate it from the other messaging on the bag. Also, we placed other product shots on the back of the back around the story and ingredients panel.”

Finally, the team solved the subcategory problem by calling the products Frontier Fruit and Nut Bites. This allows the brand to add other categories as needed. The newest addition is Frontier Fruit and Seed Bites. For the design, the BRIGADE team wanted to keep the boldness of header on the old packaging, while also keeping it flexible for shorter or longer subcategory names. Overall, the ingenuity in the packaging lets the consumer know instantly that the snacks are bite sized, made of fruit and nuts, and have real ingredients in each bite.

One concern of working with and in the healthy food industry is the risk of companies stretching the truth of how healthy their snack really is, or simply not providing the quality product they claim to. This can be challenging to any designer trying to not only brand a product, but also take responsibility for honestly informing consumers.

“Our clients coming in through word of mouth are genuine,” Modestow noted. “They have found a niche and developed a phenomenal product. The right client for us has already been in the trenches making their product quietly behind the scenes. They know they have a good product that’s solid and authentic before they spend money on design. I’ve found that when people come in here looking for design to help them further develop their product, we have a problem.”

It’s the ingenuity of BRIGADE and the authenticity of clients, like Frontier Bites, that make for a “naturally sweet” partnership.




Alex LymanAbout the author: Alex Lyman is a multimedia journalist, public speaker, social media enthusiast and blogger. Learn more about her here or follow her on Twitter @alexlyman89.

BRIGADE Helps SVEDKA Roll Out Bold New Vodka Flavor

SVEDKA Blue Raspberry Key Image

The design agency celebrates its most recent national print campaign for the leading imported vodka brand in the United States.


SVEDKA Vodka–the number one imported vodka in the United States–has been working with longtime design partner BRIGADE to launch its most innovative vodka flavor to date: SVEDKA Blue Raspberry. Geared toward the millennial market, Blue Raspberry delivers on the trend of extreme foods and flavors. It is now available in-store as well as at the BRIGADE office bar.

SVEDKA tapped BRIGADE to develop a national print campaign to launch their explosive new flavor. In development for more than a year, BRIGADE collaborated with a range of vendors and agencies to develop and launch all visual aspects of Blue Raspberry. From the bottle artwork and shippers to in-store displays and magazine ads, Blue Raspberry needed to look like nothing else in the vodka aisle.

“We quickly determined that if Blue Raspberry blended into the crowd, we would have failed” said Robert Parker, Creative Services Director at BRIGADE. “Most flavored vodkas emulate a taste, but Blue Raspberry creates one. Our creative strategy was to instantly communicate that this meta-flavor was something new, explosive, and energetic. Our goal was maximum impact.

If the goal was maximum impact, BRIGADE struck gold. Going so far as to create proprietary inks for the bottle and explore all new production methods to help print items pop, the team at BRIGADE left no detail to chance. That attention to detail can also be seen in the bold key visual of three bottles exploding with lightning, liquid, and shots.

“We wanted the creative to appear as if it were glowing” said Dave Grasso, Senior Designer at BRIGADE. “Even without the special production techniques, lightning appears to sear off the page while the bottles seem to explode with color and flavor. The composition took a lot of finessing, especially when it came to amplifying the impact of colors used on black.”

With the creative printed and in market, BRIGADE’s team shifted its attention for detail onto a range of celebratory Blue Raspberry cocktails. Thankfully, the good people at SVEDKA Vodka, owned by Constellation Brands Inc. (CBI), made a few suggestions to get the ball rolling. Check out the best new cocktail recipes below.




  • 1 1/2 parts SVEDKA Blue Raspberry
  • 3/4 part lime juice
  • 3/4 part Simple Syrup
  • Pinch muddled mint
  • 3 muddles blueberries


Instructions: Combine ingredients in a shaker set and shake over ice. Strain into a rocks glass with ice and garnish with mint, raspberry, and blueberries on a skewer.




17_BRI_BR_BlogPost_BlueHeaven_1000x1000Blue Heaven

  • 1 1/2 parts SVEDKA Blue Raspberry
  • 1/2 part Blue Curaçao
  • 1/4 part fresh lemon juice


Instructions: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake and strain into a shot glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.



BRIGADE has worked with SVEDKA Vodka for more than ten years in varying capacities. To date, BRIGADE has helped SVEDKA launch many of their award-winning flavors, including SVEDKA Cucumber Lime, SVEDKA Grapefruit Jalapeño, SVEDKA Mango Pineapple, SVEDKA Strawberry Lemonade, SVEDKA Strawberry Colada, SVEDKA Colada, and SVEDKA Orange Cream Pop. Click here to see more.