All My Souvenirs Are Food: When A Packaging Designer Goes On Vacation


A few weeks ago, my husband and I took off on a European adventure to London and Paris. We saw a lot of amazing things: The Rosetta Stone, the very spot where Anne Boleyn lost her head, and Diagon Alley, but somehow I only came home with a suitcase full of packaged food items. Why? Because European food packaging is beautiful, hands down. Here are some design-based highlights from our travels:

Harrod’s -If you love any sort of food-based retail (or just retail for that matter), Harrod’s is the place to go. First opened in 1849, Harrod’s sells everything from high fashion to everyday items but its beautiful food halls are something special—and worth a Google. Spread throughout 4 rooms, the Food Hall is a riot of sights and smells I could have easily gotten lost in. I spent some time in the Gourmet Grocery section and picked up a few items to bring home.

Planet Organic -While walking back from dinner one night, we ducked into Planet Organic to grab a sweet treat and have a look around. Part grocery store and part cafe, it felt very much like Whole Foods meets Co-op. Planet Organic specializes in offering completely organic groceries and made to order food times. This dedication to cleaner food really showed in the packaging around the store, and I snapped a few photos because the packaging looked so fresh.

WB Harry Potter Studios -Set up on two massive soundstages, the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio tour was a thorough look inside the production of all 8 Harry Potter films. From sets, costumes, and props to special effects demonstrations, the tour was an amazing peek into the massive amounts of creativity that went into these films.One bit I enjoyed the most was seeing all of the pieces the graphics department had to create to populate the world. These items were sprinkled throughout the tour and they were as small as labels on potions bottles or as large as fake London tube billboards. It seemed like 80% of the pieces designed were solely background set dressing but were done so well and were so integral to transporting viewers into the world of the film. It took restraint, but at the end of the tour I was able to walk out of the gift shop with only two items.

The American Section -A cool thing about travel is that it removes you from your well-worn every day and forces you to see your existence from an entirely new perspective. Every trip abroad has these moments and this time around, it was in the “American” section of Tesco. It’s weird coming face-to-face with your own stereotype, but there we stood in front of a wall of Hershey’s, Aunt Jemima, Oreos, & Lucky Charms. Best explained in this NPR article, the American import section is increasingly popular and seems to cater to American ex-pats as well as Brits who have lived in the U.S.. At the time I couldn’t decide if this was a statement on what our neighbors across the pond think Americans eat, or if they’re just a roundup of our most iconic comfort foods that everyone loves. The NPR article seems to suggest the latter, and frankly £5 (about $7) for a box of Lucky Charms box seems like a small up-charge for flavors so iconically American.

I swear we did more than look at food, but visiting grocery stores while traveling is one of my favorite things to do. It’s a great way to begin understanding a new place because I think consumer packaging is an interesting vehicle through which we display our culture’s values. I can’t wait for my next trip. I don’t know where we will end up, but wherever that may be I know we’ll discover more fun things…whether it be in a museum, at a cultural landmark, or in aisle 6.