Wear your heart on your print

Helen Dugdale
Wednesday, February 12, 2020

When February rolls around it means only one thing in the world of retail: shelves and rails filled with products covered in hearts and flowers.

How a holy day celebrating the martyrdom of a third-century Italian bishop came to be associated with courtly love, romance and, more recently, gaudy sentimentality, seems to have been largely the responsibility of poets from Chaucer onward (no doubt looking to flog some romantic output to love-struck punters) and the date’s proximity to the start of spring, when traditionally birds, bees and young people’s fancies turn to thoughts of... well, you know what. Anyway, it is perhaps a story best left for another occasion. The upshot is the day is responsible for generating a huge amount of printed matter across the globe, and not just in the form of Valentine’s Day cards.

Research into the national day of love by creative consultancy Equator revealed that the spend on Valentines goodies in the UK in 2019 was £1bn, up nearly 1% year-on-year on the 2018 figure. While shoppers are still buying cards and gifts in abundance, over the past few years there has also been a growing army of revellers who are turning their back on the 14th February in favour of ‘Galentine’s Day’. Taking place on 13th February (so as not to get in the way of Valentine’s Day) Galentine’s it’s all about celebrating female friends and the women in your life and was spawned from US sitcom Parks & Recreation starring Amy Poehler.

So, what will the celebrations in 2020 look like?

“Valentine’s Day is in a suite of seasonal events that is incredibly important to many of our clients,” explains Howard Wright, senior creative & strategy director UK & IE at brand and packaging specialist Equator. “It’s an important event for retailers, but at the same time shops are looking at how can they deliver exactly what the customers want, so they’re not left with loads of product on shelf. Valentine’s Day is really interesting, like other seasons it has its own brand assets that can’t be messed with which include the colour red, hearts and flowers – after all it’s all about love. For 2020, I think the innocence is going to come back as brands revisit what it used to be about. Neo-mint is the colour for this year which will creep into it and I’m sure we’ll see plant-based influences as well.”

The research into Valentine’s Day by Wright and his team went on to reveal that consumers are more focused on moments, rather than gifts, and prefer simple earthy designs and messaging and imagery focused less on gender.

Tom Bosanquet, director at Wrapology, specialists in packaging and print for food and drink and jewellery brands, says everything is becoming more sophisticated. “Designers seem to be a lot more inspired and standards are so much higher than 10 or 15 years ago. Brands are trying to get the balance right between being luxurious and indulgent, but not looking excessive or wasteful. Whereas before they might have done something with a tacky design, something you wouldn’t want to keep as it wouldn’t look nice in your bedroom, now because they want you to reuse it has become a lot more minimal and sophisticated.”

As Andy Pike UK and Ireland marketing manager at HP Indigo & PWP reveals personalisation is a trend that is here to stay. “It’s exploded. The millennial shoppers and marketers are driving this. We love sending greetings cards and the rise of Moonpig and Funky Pigeon means a personalised card from an online retailer is easier than going to the shops.”

Bosanquet says designers are loving uncoated papers and UV varnished textures. “We’ve done a lot of projects with hand-assembled roses made out of paper. Chanel did it originally for bags and now brands like Jo Loves are introducing it. All the brands we’re working with are trying to differentiate themselves and have a better shelf presence.

“Accessorising is a big way to do that. The roses look incredible; they are little pieces of art. Cross gifting or gifting with purpose is also big. Brands are looking at what they can do to add to a standard gift to make more of it.”

HP sees a lot of brands go to town at this time of year and do a lot of quirky things with their packaging. “For gifts, again, it’s all about personalisation – whether that is just the sleeves or more. Come late January a lot of products will have a seasonal wrap on them,” continues Pike. “A nice example of this was by Firefly who produced a limited edition drink brand called ‘Love Potion’, which was sold by Harvey Nichols and Ocado. The cool thing about that was they used the HP Mosaic software, so every label was different. They looked really smart on shelf.”


With the modern environmental consciousness, it is only to be expected that brands are committed to leveraging their environmental credentials when it comes to producing Valentine’s Day print and packaging. As people have become more aware of what they’re buying and giving, this has filtered down into retail. “There will still be flowers given out, but the rose won’t be given out in a plastic tube. How things are presented are now more considered. They’ll be a lot more concentration on the packaging and the substrates and the delivery of it,” says Wright.

Pike says HP has seen a big shift towards sustainability and said this is where digital print steps forward. “The good thing about digital packaging is that you’re only really producing what you need. Digital allows smaller brands to get involved with Valentine’s Day packaging as well. It can help smaller brands can stand out. They only want to order what they need so they can move quickly and be more agile. A lot of it comes down to the e-commerce of these brands and how easier it is for them to add personalisation to the packaging.”

Bosanquet says Wrapology is committed to helping clients be more sustainable with their print and so introduced its ‘Six Pillars of Sustainability’ which gives designers a framework to work within. Bosanquet explains the thinking behind offering the guidance: “We had a piece of Valentine’s Day packaging where it was completely plastic-free produced using moulded paper pulp and it could be easily be recycled in a home compost. When we got the labels through, they were covered in plastic. There was no need to use lamination as the effect could have been achieved with a UV varnish. In the end, we offered to pay to re-print the labels. I think this happened because some people still don’t understand what it means to be environmentally friendly. There is an education piece across the whole industry that still needs to happen.”

Bosanquet believes that all too often marketing teams are focused on their brand guidelines of making their packaging have great shelf appeal and look consistent in a photoshoot and can still overlook the full transition to be more environmentally mindful. “There needs to be legislation that says that there is a legal requirement if you do have plastic in your packaging there will be a 20% increase in costs, then everyone will understand it. At the top of the companies everyone wants to be sustainable it’s the bits in the middle where the messaging tends to get lost. All the inks we use are water-based and don’t contain any solvents or chemicals. There are also some interesting projects we’re working on based around paper pulp packaging.”

Smaller brands are leading the way

Start-ups can jump on the Valentine’s Day theme bandwagon quicker than their larger rivals and are having a significant impact on trends for 2020. “It’s just a one-day event but it’s the ultimate in brand messaging,” says Pike. “It has to be what people are looking for. It’s easier for independents to be a little bit more bespoke and do something different. For larger brands there has to be an element of toeing the line on what people expect.”

Bosanquet agrees: “The niche brands, that are all over social media are in tune with their target market – they are prepared to take risks and try new things. So, I think by being more experimental and trying new things – they are taking more of the market away from the bigger brands who are have been playing it safe and who are now playing catch-up.”

As Wright concludes no matter what, hearts will always sit at the centre of Valentine’s Day. “A lot of the retailer’s tie Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day together – they will produce a set of products and offerings – flowers, chocolates, cakes and gift items – that once it’s gone past Valentine’s Day, they will adapt their POS, for Mothers’ Day.”


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