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Detroit dining and bonbon branding

January 10 2017

Sara Frey

Detroit has been featured in some of the country’s most respected publications and topped lists of America’s hottest food cities. And as Detroiters ourselves, we can confirm: the food is incredible. But there is also much to learn from the brand building efforts of some of Detroit’s most successful restaurants and chocolatiers.

In this week’s episode of Branding Bites, we take a look at Bon Bon Bon, the bonbon brainchild of Detroiter Alexandra Clark, world’s best young pastry chef.

Rather read than watch? Check out the transcript below!

// Transcript

Kacha: Hi, everybody! Welcome to Branding Bites. My name is Kacha, I am the strategy director here at Skidmore Studio.

Shawn: Hi, I’m Shawn, the design director. We’ve got a whole Detroit themed show for you guys today. That’s where we’re coming from live. Detroit was named number 3 on America’s hottest food cities list by Zagat’s.

Kacha: I mean, that is quite a distinction, right?

Shawn: It’s a huge distinction.

Kacha: I mean, not only Zagat’s. We’ve also got Conde Nast Traveler, Washington Post, Men’s Journal, and Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle blog. Apparently I should be subscribing to it, I’m missing out on something. In these articles, they’ve called Detroit a food mecca and they’re not the only ones.

Shawn:Nope. Michael Symon has known this for a long time, so has Wolfgang Puck. They’ve both had restaurants here for the last five, six, or maybe even longer years. I think it’s just starting to get out there now.

Kacha: Yeah, it’s crazy, these celebrity chefs coming to Detroit. Now we’ve got Anthony Bourdain, we’ve got Marcus Samuelson making their way here. Anthony Bourdain, said, and I’ve got a quote here, “When you say you’re from Detroit you have an automatic cred and a coolness that translates everywhere I’ve been.”

Shawn: Don’t you believe that to be true?

Kacha: Completely. As Detroiters ourselves, we believe this to be completely true.

Shawn: Absolutely. We’ve got a lot, so many great restaurants happening here. We’ve got Katoi, they’re a great Thai food sort of space. Rated among the best new restaurants in the country. Though calling it Thai doesn’t do it justice. They call themselves the mothership. They’ve got this whole UFO theme when you walk in, they’ve got all these great lights and the food is incredible. It’s amazing. We got to spend our Christmas party there.

Kacha: Yeah, we were there and just walking in is an otherworldly experience. It’s hard to describe. Katoi, if you get a chance, give it a shot.

Shawn: They’ve just built a wonderful brand and they pay it off at every chance they get.

Kacha: Absolutely. Speaking of other brands that pay it off at every chance they get, another great, up-and-coming, rising star in Detroit, we’re going to talk about Bon Bon Bon. If you guys don’t know about Bon Bon Bon, go look it up right now. Bon Bon Bon is led by chocolatier. Alexandra Clark. She was just named world’s best young pastry chef. That’s unbelievable. She’s on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Martha Stewart loves her. When we saw Martha last, she couldn’t stop talking about her, she was raving about her.

Shawn: And this was a year or two ago.

Kacha: She has been in Vanity Fair and Midwest Living. She’s killing it. Props to Alex, go girl!

Shawn: I think we should find out why. Look at this packaging, it’s pretty amazing. This black bag is more of a traveler, right? But the heart of it is right in here.

Kacha: We’re going to do an unboxing for you guys. Look at this packaging, for starters, right? It’s got this DIY aesthetic, they make it. They’ve got these rows of cardboard up on the shelf, they just pull it down as they need it, and cut it to any length they want. These really nice, simple rubber bands. It’s all so smart.

Kacha: When it comes to food packaging and food branding, food design, this is really sharp and consistent. It’s always the same thing. Really well done, totally on brand for her. Rubber band comes off. We’re ripping off the sticker. The sticker, even this great little red Bauhaus element.

Shawn: I do want to point out the fact that all the chocolates are all hand stamped so you know exactly what you’re getting. They’re hand stamped and then numbered on each box, each individual box. If I take a number 40, it’s a Hot Toddy. Don’t mind if I do.

Kacha: I got Cherry Lux, I got a Better Crunch, I got number 49 Coffee & Donuts, and I got a Fresh Raspberry.

Shawn: Look at the continuation of the packaging. It’s like a little, smaller version of what we just had. I just don’t think it gets any better than this. This is a unique, repeatable thing. They could do this anywhere and they’ll make such an impact. There’s no other chocolate out there like this.

Kacha: You guys, this is unbelievable. Usually chocolate packages, when you go into them you have no idea what you’re getting because the chocolate is a little unobvious.

Shawn: Look at the bon bon bon on the inside. They put the good stuff on the inside – just like the chocolate. Just repeated here, it’s pretty amazing.

Kacha: Oh, this is exactly what I hoped it was. Mine said, Better Crunch. This is with Better Made chips, a little Detroit flavor here, added to the chocolate. How’s yours?

Shawn: It’s amazing. It’s a Hot Toddy. Looks like a coffee bean, on top. The whole thing was thought through, right? The date stamp on the back, to the stamp telling you what it is on each one. It’s all just so unique and special.

Kacha: This is great.

Shawn: In addition to this great packaging and the amazing chocolates…

Kacha: That we totally destroyed the packaging, by the way. Sorry Alexandra, but we had to get into them.

Shawn: The one thing the girls themselves, the Babes Babes Babes, which is what they call themselves. They’ve got these great coveralls, they’ve got the bandanas. They’ve got this kind of Rosie the Riveter vibe happening, which I think translates into the packaging. It’s this sort of DIY, can-do aesthetic that Detroit is known for. It’s such a special, unique story.

Kacha: Even in their messaging, they build from the name Bon Bon Bon. They talk about being “Bonline”, instead of online. On their website, it’s “Bontact”, instead of contact. They just continue to pay this off over and over.

Shawn: I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the time they came to Skidmore and we got to make chocolates with them. It was amazing.

Kacha: It was really great.

Shawn: What a special thing. They just came, they brought all the materials, they brought the chocolates, they brought the actual packaging. We got to build our own bonbons with whatever kind of ingredients we could want. Amazing.

Kacha: And that wasn’t just special for us. They do this with people, other brands, all the time around the city. Just building the community and growing relationships with people. It gives us all an opportunity to share and invest in that brand. That’s a great thing as a brand when you can create a sense of community and ownership with the people around you, that pays off huge dividends. We’re all raving fans.

Shawn: That’s what they’ve done. I’ve seen on their website they do it with a fifth grade class every year. They’ve got all this great community engagement at every level, from a studio like us, to a fifth grade class, to everything in between. They’re doing a lot of great stuff with smaller, local companies. Batch Brewing, they’ve got some projects going with them, Better Made potato chips, they’re just tapping on those other local brands to make these really special Detroit moments.

Kacha: Bon Bon Bon, keep going, we love you. This is going to be great. We look forward to your continued success.

Now is the time on the program when we do Bittie Bites. Bittie Bites is the time when we pull out of the magical envelope of things that happened in the past week or so in marketing and branding in the restaurant and food space, and we give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. What have you got this week, Shawn? The big envelope, this is going to be special.

Shawn: It feels special already, could be just the chocolate talking.

Kacha: All right, what have you got?

Shawn: Wendy’s recent tweet: “Our beef is way too cool to ever be frozen.” Do you remember this?

Kacha: I do remember this. I give this a huge thumbs up because Wendy’s was not afraid to troll back the trolls.

Shawn: They said the things we’ve always been wanting to say, right?

Kacha: Yeah.

Shawn: Always, always. They made it to Anderson Cooper, even. Anderson Cooper repeated the story. Not only repeated it, but acted it out and he brought in a stagehand to play the part of Thuggy D. The one that eventually closes his account.

Kacha: Are you thumbs up on this as well?

Shawn: Huge thumbs up.

Kacha: All right, we love it.

Shawn: I think they’ve done what we’ve always wanted to as marketers. Speak the truth. Up next: We’ve got the Bloomin’ Onion at the Outback Bowl.

Kacha: We got Team Bloomin’ Onion and Team Coconut Shrimp?

Shawn: Absolutely. What team are you?

Kacha: I want to hear your thoughts first on this.

Shawn: I thought it was brilliant. The fact that everyone who picks a side, gets free appetizers the next day. Team Bloomin’ Onion, free Bloomin’ Onion, that’s a win anyways. Had the Twitter-verse exploding with comments.

Kacha: Yeah, great marketing plan, great marketing activation, way to go for getting your product out there. I’m just a little turned off by these characters dressed up as huge Bloomin’ Onions and coconut shrimps, that’s just weird to me.

Shawn: I’m super impressed by the authenticity. I think more should be doing that. Up next: We’ve got Taco Bell Tales. Taco Tales.

Kacha: Who doesn’t love Taco Bell, in general?

Shawn: I love Taco Bell.

Kacha: Taco Tales?

Shawn: Not so much.

Kacha: Yeah, I’m down on the Taco Tales.

Shawn: I don’t know who’s watching this.

Kacha: I love the concept, I hate the execution. It felt a little too slick and over produced. It could have been a lot more fun and funky and DIY, even though Taco Bell made it.

Shawn: Neat experiment, I don’t know where it goes from here. I’m not sure of the point.

Kacha: All right, that’s it. Is that everything?

Shawn: That’s it for this week.

Kacha: All right, it’s been great. Thank you guys for watching. Sorry we don’t have Bon Bon Bons to pass out to everybody. Stop by the studio sometime and we’ll treat you to some Bon Bon Bons here in the studio. Until next time, I’m Kacha, this is Shawn. Hit it us up on Twitter @SkidmoreStudio and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have. See you next week.

Shawn: Thanks, bye bye.