Kelly the Culinarian: Food Swap Packaging Tips

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Food Swap Packaging Tips

An assortment of goodies from a past swap
I'm a big fan of the food swap community and have attended a number of Chicago Food Swap get togethers. I love the camaraderie of hanging out with people who have a passion for culinary pursuits. Julia Child was right - Food people are the best people.
I often joke that I tend to "win" at food swaps. What I mean by that is I'm usually very pleased with the haul I take home as relates to what I put into my swap items. A huge part of this is the packaging. As kids, we wanted to open the pretty presents first. That drive doesn't dissipate in adulthood and the fact is, the nicer packaged food tends to do better. I've wondered if it's the psychology of a swap - since you have to trust that the other people prepared their items with care and in a sanitary environment, more care placed in packaging appears to be a manifestation and confirmation of that.

So that's a little deep to just talk about pretty ways to pawn off your baked goods, but that's my reasons as to why it's important to put a little thought into how you'll box up and display your wares. Here are a few of my tips on making your goodies more swapable:

1. Think disposable and cost effective. At my first food swap, I brought kombucha. The bottles were roughly $2 a piece. Learn from my mistake - I think about the packaging when decided what to bring so I don't spend a small fortune on the part that people throw away. Instead, I look at low-cost, disposable alternatives like plastic cups, plastic CD sleeves and favor bags. Check out Amazon and Oriental Tradings for these items. I am lucky to have a restaurant supply store nearby, which is where I often get small cups with lids and little sample cups, too.
These are small cocktail cups with cling wrap and ribbon

2. See through is the way to go. People like to see what's inside. Think glass or plastic, not cardboard.
3. Label with contents, creator and contact info. This is pretty standard so people remember what the got and who they got it from. I like to include my business card in case people want to contact me for the recipe, too. Just google "Free label template" or variations thereof for all sorts of stuff to manipulate and print.
Cute, neat and uniform labels

4. Display it like it's jewelry. A few years ago I interviewed a spice shop owner who took over a store front that was once a jewelry store. She kept a lot of the display windows and lighting, showcasing her spices in a way reserved for engagement rings. When you display something as valuable, people will perceive it as more valuable.
My biscoff bar on display, then the swapables in CD cases

5. Think small. Portion size is important. You can barter better with cupcakes than a cake. It also makes it easier to transport. You can always trade two pre-packaged cupcakes v. trying to hack a cake in half, too.

6. Uniform is appealing. This is a trick I learned in retail. Repeating patterns and organized rows of like items are ascetically pleasing. If you can, package all the items the same.

7. Cruise Pinterest. There are so many creative people out there sharing their ideas and insights. I maintain my own Food Swap Ideas board with recipes and packaging inspiration for future swaps and I know I'm not the only one.

8. Have a display version. I usually set aside the nicest-looking bar, cupcake or whatever and set it aside for my model version. I have a tiny cupcake display dome, but you could totally DIY a cake stand with a plate and candlestick. Alternatively, the ones that turn out looking less than stellar can be sliced and diced for samples.

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