Chickpea snack brand Hippeas is stocked in more than 20,000 stores and has plans to become a global lifestyle brand. Founder Livio Bisterzo and JKR design director Stephen McDavid explain how a strong identity and a focus on giving back have been crucial to the brand’s success
In 2015, entrepreneur Livio Bisterzo began developing a new snack made from baked chickpeas. Less than two years later, Hippeas chickpea puffs are stocked in 20,000 stores and food outlets across the UK and US – including Waitrose, Whole Foods, Starbucks and WH Smith – and has received backing from actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Forbes claims it is on track to become one of the fastest growing snack brands in the US and the brand now employs over 30 people. Bisterzo has plans to launch a whole range of chickpea-based products and believes Hippeas can become the next big global food brand.
Bisterzo believes Hippeas’ success is down to having not just a good product but a great brand identity, a clear purpose and a strong focus on doing good. “Its as much about the brand as the food,” he says. “Consumers want to feel a part of something, they want to belong to a community. It’s all about telling a story, and the emotion that a brand brings, and the whole idea of giving back…. You’ve got to have the whole package to stand out in a very crowded, very saturated emerging brands ecosystem today.”
A portion of the brand’s profits go to Farm Africa, which helps chickpea farmers in developing countries grow their way out of poverty, and it has pledged to create a sustainable supply chain in Ethiopia.
Its visual identity is a playful and contemporary take on graphics influenced by the hippie movement – a refreshing approach in a sector where most brands use earthy tones, handmade fonts and images of fruits, nuts and seeds to convince us of their organic credentials.
Hippeas’ tone of voice combines humour, optimism and a touch of political activism. A statement on the about section of its website (addressed to modern hippies and people “who believe that chickpea by chickpea, we can change things for the better”) reads: “Let’s stand together: arms in the air, flowers in our hair and crumbs in our beards.”
Design agency jkr worked with Bisterzo to develop Hippeas’ positioning, purpose and visual identity. Bisterzo approached the agency while the product was still being developed and asked jkr to help him build a brand with mainstream appeal. At the time, Hippeas products were round and still tasted “like cardboard”.
“I came here with a vague name [Hippeas], which we liked, but then obviously we had to create a story off the back of that,” Bisterzo explains. “The brand got there sooner than the product, so I was working on the [branding and product development] simultaneously. It was a parallel process – it felt very much like we jumped off a cliff and built a flavour on the way down but fortunately before we hit the ground, we started flying.”
Bisterzo has considerable experience in launching and developing brands. He co-founded men’s grooming range Kyoku and backed drinks brand Little Miracles. He is also the founder of Green Park Brands – a company set up to launch and develop healthy food and drink brands.
The idea for Hippeas came out of research into emerging food trends – Bisterzo wanted to create a health food brand that would be popular with millennials and would have a strong focus on giving back – and began researching chickpeas, pulses and legumes.
“I knew we need the right product, and a very powerful and culturally relevant brand story,” he says. “I am fairly tuned in in terms of trends and what’s next in natural food … and I knew there were a lot of chickpea products being developed and coming to the market. So I started with the idea of trying to create a snack out of chickpeas and played around with different innovation labs until we came to the concept of working with chickpea flour.”
Based on Bisterzo’s vision – and a rather excellent name – jkr began researching the visual language of the hippie era. There was a wealth of great visuals to draw on – from pyschedelic art to the peace sign, the nuclear disarmament symbol and badges, banners and graphics associated with anti-war protests.
“The challenge was [working out] which bits of that do we tap into? Because there was so much inspiration to pull from,” says jkr design director Stephen McDavid. “With the name Hippeas we could have gone potentially down a cliched [route] but we were very clear that we wanted to create something that would be relevant to our target audience today.”
jkr took recognisable slogans and graphics and gave them a contemporary twist to create a playful identity that provides an obvious nod to the hippie movement without feeling rooted in the past. McDavid says there was a desire from the outset to “go against the grain” and create an identity that would stand out alongside the artisanal look favoured by other health food brands.
“Looking at the hippie movement, it was all about counterculture, which I think put us in the headspace of lets do something different – whether it was the back of a pack or an experiential event, it was about ‘lets go against the grain’,” adds McDavid.
jkr also drew on its experience of developing packaging for global FMCG brands such as PG Tips and Budweiser. “[With Hippeas], we were thinking, ‘how do you take that knowledge and build a brand totally from scratch but just behave in a big confident way?’”
“I think a lot of it was about ensuring we were creating distinctive assets. A lot of the heritage brands we work with, they already have those assets and we kind of sharpen them to get rid of the generic clutter, to make sure that their assets are absolutely making them stand out. With Hippeas, we were creating assets from scratch but it was the same mentality … it was always, what are the most distinctive elements of this brand and how do you get the brand noticed?”
“Symbols were a big part of the hippie movement if you think about badges and patches – and we thought how do we create the next big, instantly recognisable symbol?”
The agency’s designers began sketching ideas for the Hippeas symbol and hit upon a smiling face with a chickpea for an eye. The idea was presented to Livio along with a number of other options and was a clear winner from the outset. jkr then set about designing a range of assets, from fly posters to a yellow Hippeas-branded van.
McDavid says the team was keen to avoid “rubber-stamping” the brand’s logo, instead crafting a bespoke design for various touch points. Boxes are designed so that the smile doubles as a perforated line, and fly posters pasted around London feature a peace sign with a chickpea placed in between two fingers. The branding is consistent – ads, social media content, brand films and packaging feature the same bold colour palette – but McDavid says the brand needed to be able to flex to ensure Hippes wasn’t just “delivering the same message every time”.
The brand uses puns to great effect. Its social media feeds include images of Hippeas products alongside lines such as ‘Find cheese within’ and ‘Give a puff’. Its strapline is ‘Give peas a chance’ – a homage to the hippie movement and a riposte to those who might not find the sound of a baked chickpea-based snack all that appealing.
“We were always keen that we wanted the brand to be big, bright bold and positive and in terms of our tone of voice … we always talked like a hippie – that kind of ‘cool man’, very laid back, but with a lot of humour mixed in,” says McDavid.
Creating the brand identity was a collaborative process – jkr and Bisterzo describe the relationship as a close partnership. Developing the brand while the product was being created allowed Bisterzo to go to investors with a compelling and memorable proposition – something that he believes was key in helping secure investment in Hippeas and a place on supermarket shelves.
“I remember showing the brand to [potential investors] in November 2015 and the brand was so strong already. We didn’t even have a finished product … but I remember [going] to meetings and showing the brand and the reaction I would get was pretty excited, so we knew we were on to something in terms of the storytelling side. I just had to deliver a product that would be as good as the brand and sell it to the world,” he says.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do this if we hadn’t created a brand that was strong from the get-go … it goes to show the right food innovation together with the right brand, and the capacity to [bring the product to market] really creates the perfect storm.”
Bisterzo believes the success of his collaboration with jkr was down to him having a clear vision for the brand from the outset. “I had a very good understanding and a good idea of what i wanted to do and a lot of entrepreneurs don’t ,” he adds. “If you do your homework ahead of starting the creative process, it really helps.”
jkr was the only agency involved in creating Hippeas’ branding and communications – producing films and print ads as well as packaging. “What that unlocked for us was the opportunity to really stress test the brand and ensure consistency across everything, so it didn’t become disjointed through different people playing with it,” he explains. “It was a relatively small team in terms of the people working on it at jkr, so it meant that the core idea an the expression of it remained consistent.”
The brilliance of the branding lies in its wit – not laugh out loud humour, but a gentle, a-ha moment – whether it’s the eye in its Hippeas face logo that doubles as a chickpea, or the cleverly designed Hippeas face boxes delivered to stockists.
Hippeas is now looking to expand into new categories – from breakfast products to chickpea cereals – and grow its fanbase. “For me this is a platform, it has so much room to grow into all sorts of products,” says Bisterzo. The brand’s success to date is testament to the power of having a strong, standout branding – and a client who understands the value of good design.
“I’ve made mistakes in the past of trying to be cost-effective … [but] I think investing in quality, investing in time and money and relationships in the process is so important. It does truly pay off,” says Livio.
Bisterzo believes it is also the brand’s desire to be transparent and deliver on its promise to do good. “The giving back side is super important – I think consumers expect private companies to try and do good somehow.”
This article originally appeared in Creative Review.