This is a story of a brand that isn’t familiar yet revered as a household name, a story of a brand that has managed to weave itself into the fabric of many cultures. Depending on where you are in the world, the name Friesland Campina might not even spur a single memory in your head. But for some, this Dutch dairy cooperative has been a local favorite in many countries under various names.
In Hong Kong, it’s a key ingredient in Milk Tea. In the Middle East, you can’t make Chai Karak without it. In Vietnam, you must use it for Iced Coffee. So much so that it’s been said that any other tinned milk brand won’t offer the same taste.
Tinned milk products, such as sweetened condensed milk or evaporated milk, have been a staple in kitchens worldwide. A number of cultures have traditionally cooked milk down for long keeping and ease of transport. The idea of sterilizing unsweetened milk in the can came in 1884 from John Meyenberg, whose Swiss company merged with Nestlé around the turn of the century. (Mcgee, 2004)
Friesland Campina, the company behind some of the world’s most beloved tinned milk brands was known as Royal Friesland Foods, a dairy cooperative with roots going back to 1871. It has grown through mergers and takeovers, the most significant of which occurred in late 1997 when four Dutch dairy cooperatives joined to create the business in its current form. In 2008, Royal Friesland Foods merged with Campina to be known as one of the world’s largest dairy companies today.
Let’s take a look at FrieslandCampina’s most successful evaporated milk brands internationally, how they’re used in each region, as well as notable similarities that make them uniquely Dutch while still being culturally relevant to each region:
Rainbow Milk – Middle East
Rainbow Milk, established in 1955, is arguably the most popular dairy creamer for tea-based drinks in the Arab Gulf region. Most commonly used as an ingredient in Chai Karak, a drink originating from the Indian Masala chai. Particularly in the UAE, it’s easy to spot a cafeteria co-branded with Rainbow Milk.
The brand name is an iconic one in the country and perceived to be a part of Emirati heritage. (Beegum, 2018) However, its packaging doesn’t hide its true origins. A wide green pasture with grazing cows and a windmill are visual markers of its Dutch production. This is in line with their marketing efforts in the region to inform audiences of the milk’s quality and freshness at the point of production.
Side by side, you can see that even though the packaging, which is always in English and Arabic, has been modernized, there are key elements that have not been changed or removed. The rainbow is the centerpiece of the design, along with their slogan “This is the Milk” in Arabic, a term denoting its originality. As it doesn’t translate well to English, the other side of the packaging simply says “Quality Milk”.
As a heritage brand, these elements invoke a sense of nostalgia, even in its updated design. In the new design, however, a cup of tea tells us how we should use this product, and the creamy milk swirl visually describes to us how it will taste. Another thing to note is that while their packaging design has been reworked, the logo has been unchanged.
To commemorate the 48th UAE National Day, Rainbow Milk launched a limited-edition evaporated milk tin. It featured the UAE’s Year of Tolerance logo, as well as an illustration of various landmarks from the country. (AlSadr, 2019)
Black & White – Hong Kong
In 1941, Friesland introduced Black and White evaporated milk to the Hong Kong market, making it the preferred brand for many cafes in making HK-style Milk Tea. (Lo, 2019) Enter any of the ubiquitous Hong Kong-style cha chaan teng (local restaurants), and you’re likely to encounter the sight of Black & White cans piled high on the drinks counter. You might even have your milky-sweet beverage served in a Black & White-branded cup and saucer. (Chen Kang, 2018)
The presence of evaporated milk in Hong Kong first came about from Western demand. Without a milk industry in Greater China, it was brought in because it didn’t easily spoil over the journey. According to Nestlé, Great Britain and its colonies at the time procured the highest demand for condensed milk worldwide.
“The use of evaporated milk was initially a coping strategy because fresh milk was too expensive for ordinary people and difficult to get,” says Selina Chan, a professor of sociology at Hong Kong Shue Yan University. “But this gave Hong Kong milk tea a taste that was smooth, creamy and full-bodied, which is very different from the light and diluted taste of British milk tea.” (Today Online, 2019)
The packaging, which reads in both English and Chinese, posts an illustration of one cow on a field of grass, with windmills in the distance. The words “Made in Holland” are printed in English. In Chinese, the words “Dutch Dairy Cows” and “Country of Origin: Netherlands” are displayed in finer print. However, the illustration is a visual cue for its Dutch origins, the text is added to ensure to a mistake is made In regards to its origins.
Gold and red are the main colors of this brand’s packaging. In Chinese culture, this could be because red symbolizes fortune and joy, while gold symbolizes wealth and prosperity. (Bresnahan, 2018)
NouNou – Greece
NouNou, a Greek dairy brand, has been a household name in Greece since hitting the shelves in 1929. (Greek City Times, 2021) Its evaporated milk line is said to sometimes be used as an ingredient for Frappé. While the company had not yet been registered by Friesland until 1983, its ties to the Dutch dairy cooperation can be noted back to 1929.
Its introduction of evaporated milk by NouNou was undertaken by Karakostas / GENKA in 1949 and was noted to be a huge success.
The main feature of the packaging is the illustration of a Dutch milkmaid holding a bouquet of tulips. A similar branding approach was taken by Friesland’s Malaysian dairy brand, Dutch Lady. (Dayangku, 2019) a familiar Dutch background is of course incorporated into the design, such as cows, green pastures, and a distant windmill. The text, written only in Greek, reads the name as well as the words “From 100% Milk of excellent quality. Evaporated milk.” at the bottom. There is no written mention of its origins.
Its packaging has been kept almost identical to its original design, denoting that perhaps its nostalgic appearance takes importance over any other feature of the product.
My first step was to distill common themes to design an editorial around the comparison in branding of these 3 evaporated milk brands from FrieslandCampina. Here are the two themes that really stood out to me:
- The use of symbolism in the label illustrations that denote the product is a fresh dairy that originates from Holland.
- The original branding was preserved over generations to evoke a sense of nostalgia.
To further understand the similarities and differences in branding and packaging, I sketched out the different cans that I was studying for this editorial:
Note that Bonnet Rouge was not included in the final write-up.
Symbol and keys to describe the branding
There are five main elements featured in these label illustrations:
- Language – depending on the country, the label could be bilingual
- Milk swirls or splashes – this product is fresh or creamy
- Cows – this is to signify that it’s a dairy product
- Green pastures/creeks/flowers – this product was packaged fresh
- Windmills – this is to signify that the product originates from Holland
The language(s) used on the packaging most likely follow a tradition of the region’s past. For example, Hong Kong or UAE’s British colonial history would explain why English takes up as much weight, if not more, on the packaging of their products. The products in Greece are only written in Greek as there is no significant use for a second language on the packaging.
To help the reader better visualize the usage of these products, I also created 3 symbols for the iconic beverages. This product is an important ingredient of:
- Chai Karak
- Milk Tea
To stay true to Friesland Campina’s main branding objective of nostalgia, I looked at a few contemporary sources for inspiration.
Bananatopia by Farida Khaled
Bananatopia is a project in the form of a one-off publication designed by Egyptian designer Farida Khaled. Each page of this publication maps out Cairo by its availability of banana variations sold in local markets. Depending on which type of banana is sold, information about a particular city district’s social and economic wealth could be revealed. (Khaled, n.d.)
The publication pages resemble vintage magazines from the region, with elements of local or vernacular advertisement practices, such as the 7-point star label.
The Beirut Issue of the Smudge
In April 2021, the Smudge released a special Beirut Issue with guest editors Perrin Drumm & Tala Safié. The publication featured a sociopolitical take on the current situation in Lebanon, with contributions from a host of Lebanese designers and creatives. The overall aesthetic of the magazine took on a nostalgic theme.
The inside of the publication featured a limited color palette.
Back to the editorial design – I wanted to go for a similar look as the two case studies mentioned above. I opted for a limited color palette, focusing mostly on the sketches and icons created for the final design.
I illustrated the cans once more, tracing over images in Procreate to get a cleaner look and include all of the fine details in the labels.
The editorial content, including the title, the text, the illustrations, and the symbols/icons, were laid out neatly on each page.
The final design was given a treatment in Photoshop to resemble letterpress printing on colored paper, especially noticeable in the title effect.
Thoughts and Conclusions
Friesland Campina is a project I worked on in Dubai for two years. I was aware of its brands and campaigns in other countries, but not to the extent of the research carried out this week. I was pleasantly surprised to find out how careful this dairy cooperative has been in entering markets and establishing trust with its customer base. It’s refreshing to see a brand, particularly a European one, not force its own branding ideas and aesthetics on different cultures but rather work hand-in-hand with local entities and listen to their market wants. Regarding the editorial, if I were to do anything different for this week, it would be further to explore letterpress or other forms of niche printing rather than imitate it digitally in Photoshop.
AlSadr, Ah. (2019). A tribute to the UAE: FrieslandCampina launched a limited edition National Day Rainbow Milk can. [online] Dubai Global News. Available at: https://www.dubaiglobalnews.com/2019/12/06/131556/ [Accessed 23 Apr. 2021].
Beegum, N. (2018). “Let’s dispel rumors about Rainbow milk.” [online] Khaleej Times. Available at: https://www.khaleejtimes.com/news/general/lets-dispel-rumours-about-rainbow-milk [Accessed 23 Apr. 2021].
Bresnahan, D. (2018). Lunar New Year: Red and Gold Appreciation. [online] Sartle. Available at: https://www.sartle.com/blog/post/lunar-new-year-red-and-gold-appreciation#:~:text=In%20Chinese%20culture%2C%20red%20symbolizes.
Chen Kang, S. (2018). Black & White legacy: Brand supports Hong Kong milk tea culture. [online] http://www.campaignasia.com/. Available at: https://www.campaignasia.com/gallery/black-white-legacy-brand-supports-hong-kong-milk-tea-culture/441911 [Accessed 21 Apr. 2021].
Dayangku, S. (2019). 10 Big Brands We Use Every Day & The Meanings Behind How They Were Named. [online] Vulcan Post. Available at: https://vulcanpost.com/666859/brands-name-origin-uniqlo-milo-darlie-gongcha-dutchlady/ [Accessed 23 Apr. 2021].
Greek City Times (2021). NOYNOY, A Household Name In Greece – Greek City Times. [online] Greek City Times. Available at: https://greekcitytimes.com/2021/01/17/noynoy-household-name-greece/#:~:text=Advertisment. [Accessed 23 Apr. 2021].
Khaled, F. (n.d.). Bananatopia. [online] faridakhaled.myportfolio.com. Available at: https://faridakhaled.myportfolio.com/bananatopia.
Lo, Y. (2019). Live Long and Prosper: Longevity Condensed Milk, Black and White Evaporated Milk, and Friesland Ice Cream. [online] The Industrial History of Hong Kong Group. Available at: https://industrialhistoryhk.org/live-long-and-prosper-longevity-condensed-milk-%E5%A3%BD%E6%98%9F%E5%85%AC%E7%85%89%E5%A5%B6-black-and-white-evaporated-milk-%E9%BB%91%E7%99%BD%E6%B7%A1%E5%A5%B6-and-friesland-ice-cream/ [Accessed 21 Apr. 2021].
Mcgee, H. (2004). On food and cooking: the science and lore of the kitchen. New York: Scribner.
Today Online (2019). Hong Kong’s milk tea: how it went from a beverage inherited from another culture, to a symbol of the city’s identity. [online] TODAYonline. Available at: https://www.todayonline.com/world/hong-kongs-milk-tea-how-it-went-beverage-inherited-another-culture-symbol-citys-identity-0.