Case Study — Vamvalis: A Picture of Us

A project reimagining the image of Vamvalis, one of Europe’s oldest specialists in nuts, seeds and superfoods processing, in their manifestation on the international B2B Food & Beverage trade fair circuit.

Background

Established in 1970, Vamvalis was a pioneer in sourcing and processing all of those superfoods that have become part of a contemporary health-conscious dietary canon: nuts, seeds, dried fruits and spices. Located in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest container port, their business has roughly two strands. One part of the business involves large-quantity wholesale to the global Food & Beverage industry, another the production of their own branded health food bars as well as a substantial white-labelling business for bars and other products to some of the EU’s largest supermarket chains.


The Project

For our first project with Vamvalis, PROJECTile was tasked with breathing fresh life into the image of Vamvalis on the international circuit of B2B food fairs that are a key part of its sales channel.


The Challenge

Vamvalis’ existing default fair stand design didn’t scare the horses, but it was lacklustre and not capitalising on some of the key heritage points of the brand, especially for a more contemporary audience. With a vaguely “high-tech” feel meant to underscore the precision food hygiene deployed at Vamvalis’ facilities, it felt rather outdated in branding terms.


The Concept

In getting to know Vamvalis, the ethos of a family-run business and the values of a company in which employees were people who took care of each other was something that struck us time and time again. Thus, PROJECTile’s concept was to pull the new fair stand design back to the idea of “family”.


Taking the traditional Greek family kitchen as its inspiration, PROJECTile’s concept literally placed the kitchen table at the heart of of it; a place where business meetings could be held, but with the warm fuzzy feeling of sitting down to bread bread—or a gluten-free alternative—as part of the family.


The brand’s patriotic signature colours—blue and white–where also a convenient way of signalling Vamvalis’ distinct Greek nature. And these were used as defining colours in the design. The high-gloss finishes of the existing concept were swept away in favour of sun-bleached, whitewashed wooden cladding and other finishes with a patina; a sense of heritage and evolving over time.


Underscoring Vamvalis’ longstanding commitment to organic and sustainable produce—standing long before these became widespread values—the former pre-packed sample packages for visitors to the stand were eschewed in favour of being invited to fill simple recycled and recyclable brown paper bags with sample product from jars using old-fashioned wooden scoops of the kind deployed in many traditional grocers across Greece.


Furthermore, PROJECTile had another card up its sleeve to emphasise the company's commitment to sustainability (while additionally reducing both cost and carbon footprint by the volume requiring air-freight shipping).


To the initial consternation of the Vamvalis exhibition logistics team, rather than shipping the furniture at the heart of the stand across continents, the new design involved process rather than freight.


Arriving prior to the fair—in the USA, Spain or Sweden—the logistical team was tasked with purchasing a table and chairs locally from second-hand stores, ideally those linked to charitable causes. And, yes, PROJECTile even provided them with a list for each city in which they participated in B2B fairs. The idea was to intentionally arrive at a mix-’n-match result; mismatched chairs or a table that wasn’t perfect. In other words, the endpoint was an evocation of a traditional Greek family kitchen.

It took some coaching to overcome aesthetic (and process) resistance among fair teams. For those who don’t know, Thessaloniki is a hotbed for contemporary Greek design and many locals pride themselves on a contemporary image of Greece rather than a traditional one. Nonetheless, PROJECTile preserved. The final part of the process was that, once a stand was de-installed, the team would return the furniture to the shops from which it had been purchased and gift them back, allowing the charity shops to gain an additional future sale.


The Money Shot

In learning more about Vamvalis as part of its ideation process for the new fair concept, PROJECTile learned about a practically unknown CSR initiative the company had been running for some time.


Amidst Greece’s infamous economic woes and a disturbing rise of right-wing attitudes towards the EU's so-called “migrant crisis”, Vamvalis had taken a clear stand. Rather than racism, it offered jobs. For quite some time, the company had set up a process whereby newly arrived “economic migrants” from North Africa were welcomed to be trained to work at their processing facilities, thereby also helping to legitimise their immigration status.


While PROJECTile respected the quiet, modest way in which the company had gone about it, we also thought they were missing a valuable opportunity to give this very real CSR initiative profile.


Vamvalis agreed that PROJECtile would commission photographer Rob Streeter—with his track record of portraits of the people who enable the food we eat—to capture a series of workplace portraits of the Vamvalis workforce, implicitly illustrating its multicultural character.


Rob’s second remit—as an in-demand food photographer—was to focus on the products themselves; to create seductive images of Vamvalis superfood products in the processing facilities as if they too were portraits.


Circling back to the core notion of “family”, irregularly framed prints of these portraits—both products and people—were hung, higgledy-piggledy, within fair stands, bringing the Vamvalis “family” directly into the heart of a traditional Greek family kitchen. Similarly, signage was given a feel of a handwritten note; a reminder held on a fridge door with a magnet or pinned to a domestic cork board.