RIGA - With supermarket shelves stacked full of shiny, glossy and often sterile products, each of which claims to be new, several Latvian companies have bucked the trend by coming up with product designs that hark back to the time of homemade, grandmotherly quality.
In fact, when it comes to packaging a product "retro" is in, and more and more companies are exploring ways to use the theme.
Viktor Yefimov, president of Velte L, had been selling hot sauces, marinades and garnishes for seven years with marginal success, but once he placed a small cream-colored cloth over the tops of sauce jars, many customers took notice for the first time.
"The cloth trim emphasizes once more that the product is handmade, that its spices are grown on ecologically pure land in Latgale [southeastern Latvia] and made according to our grandmothers' recipes," said Yefimov, who developed Velte L's marketing concept – the cloth trim with a stamped logo, Collection Evald.
He explained that Collection Evald, which now boasts 20 kinds of sauces and garnishes, is based on old recipes originating from a variety of countries, including the Caucasus region. The old recipes were then adjusted to please the taste buds of Europeans.
The name Evalds, an old Latvian name that is now rare, was chosen with care to better convey the product's image as something "respectable, maybe a little aristocratic and sophisticated," said Yefimov, who had the concept and the skirted jar-cover look patented in Latvia.
"It's not like [the name] Vanyka. With Evald it is clear that he is not a shepherd or a locksmith," he explained.
A different man's name inspired the branding of yet another company's product. Emihla Gustava Shokolahde, a chocolate shop making its own in-house sweets, opened last month in Riga.
The name spelling on the company logo is that of the Latvian language used back in the 1930s. Emihla Gustava Shokolahde is a true retro concept from store design to product appearance, creating a 1930s atmosphere in the shop's interior and the way the chocolate is packaged and presented.
In the popular imagination, the 1930s – the time of the first Republic of Latvia, before the 50-year Soviet occupation begun – are remembered as times of abundance for Latvia.
Emihla Gustava Shokolahde, a 30,000 lat (50,000 euro) project, is owned by Zane Berzina, who also co-owns Stendera Ziepju Fabrika, a soap factory with its own chain of shops launched in 2001.
Even though the name of Stendera Ziepju Fabrika was completely thought up by the concept's owners, the name's old-fashioned allure has convinced many consumers that such a factory indeed existed 70 years ago.
While there was no man named Stenders who owned a soap factory, a man named Emihls did exist in reality. He was Berzina's grandfather, and he used to work as a confectioner in one of Riga's fanciest restaurants. The chocolate shop subsequently received part of its name in his honor, with owners adding Gustavs to emphasize the good old days of interwar Latvia.
To bring the product closer to the public, Emihla Gustava Shokolahde has designed its shop so that customers can watch the chocolate being made behind a wide glass window. "We want to bring everyone closer to the secret of making chocolate," said Ieva Andersone, company director.
People are tired of products tested in laboratories, said Laila Ozolina, executive director of the Latvian Advertising Association, pointing to the many television commercials that feature experts in white lab coats claiming everything from toothpaste to washing powder has been tested.
"Today, people believe in the old traditions more. The consumer misses the soulful, emotional element," Ozolina explained.
Some companies, however, see their future in slick packaging and an up-to-date image.
Dzintars, a Latvian cosmetics company that has been making lipsticks for over half a century, recently jazzed up its lipstick containers. A team of in-house designers created numerous examples of possible new designs, which were then evaluated by consumers of all ages at Dzintars' stores.
One of the designs that received the thumbs-up from consumers was a container design for the lipstick line Miss. The matte gold-colored case exhibits a chunky and shiny gold-colored ring woven around the case.
Introduced this spring, the new designs have drawn many positive responses from the consumers, said Mihails Spika, commercial director of Dzintars.