A few weeks ago, my husband and I took off on a European adventure to London and Paris.

We saw a lot of amazing things: The Rosetta Stone, the very spot where Anne Boleyn lost her head, and Diagon Alley, but somehow I only came home with a suitcase full of packaged food items. Why? Because European food packaging is beautiful, hands down. Here are some design-based highlights from our travels:

– Harrod’s –

If you love any sort of food-based retail (or just retail for that matter), Harrod’s is the place to go. First opened in 1849, Harrod’s sells everything from high fashion to everyday items but its beautiful food halls are something special—and worth a Google. Spread throughout 4 rooms, the Food Hall is a riot of sights and smells I could have easily gotten lost in. I spent some time in the Gourmet Grocery section and picked up a few items to bring home.

Box of Honeyrose biscuits
Honeyrose Bakery Biscuits Beautifully simplistic, this package is looks like a charming English shortbread in and of itself. Simple photography, texture, pastel colors and slight handmade touches makes this package as sweet as its contents.

 

Bag of Pasitficio Di Martino pasta
Pastificio Di Martino by Dolce & Gabbana I had no idea this was a special designer pasta until I picked it up and took a closer look. The amazing blend of more traditional design and modern illustration initially attracted me, but this line of pasta has gotten quite a bit of press from publications such as, Food & Wine, Vogue, and Bloomberg.

 

– Planet Organic –

While walking back from dinner one night, we ducked into Planet Organic to grab a sweet treat and have a look around. Part grocery store and part cafe, it felt very much like Whole Foods meets Co-op. Planet Organic specializes in offering completely organic groceries and made to order food times. This dedication to cleaner food really showed in the packaging around the store, and I snapped a few photos because the packaging looked so fresh.

Grocery shelf of Pukka tea
Pukka Tea This wall of tea had an amazing impact at shelf helped by use of bold colors and flat, illustrative patterns. The whole block had a great cohesive “wallpaper” feel while still being very shoppable through color.

 

Cracker Selection Flat, modern color palettes and simple yet not-traditional die-cuts dominated the cracker aisle. Overall this effectively communicated the organic nature of all of the products while keeping things light, fun and snacky.

 

– WB Harry Potter Studios –

Set up on two massive soundstages, the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio tour was a thorough look inside the production of all 8 Harry Potter films. From sets, costumes, and props to special effects demonstrations, the tour was an amazing peek into the massive amounts of creativity that went into these films.

One bit I enjoyed the most was seeing all of the pieces the graphics department had to create to populate the world. These items were sprinkled throughout the tour and they were as small as labels on potions bottles or as large as fake London tube billboards. It seemed like 80% of the pieces designed were solely background set dressing but were done so well and were so integral to transporting viewers into the world of the film.

Display cases featured a myriad of fantastic odds & ends that made their way into the films as set dressing. Note the “Cheery-Owls” cereal down in the lower left.

 

This case was one of a few full of products from Diagon Alley. This one features products from Fred & George Wesley’s joke shop. I love how the Warner Brother’s team established a very rich array of fantasy brands within the Harry Potter world.

 

It took restraint, but at the end of the tour I was able to walk out of the gift shop with only two items.

Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans no, I haven’t tried them. I’m scared. The Victorian-era circus illustrations straddle the border between creepy and whimsical so well.

 

Chocolate Frog this box is no joke. The wizard trading card inside features lenticular printing so the portrait appears 3D. Small details like the custom structure and gold foil print really brought J.K. Rowling’s world to life

– The American Section –

A cool thing about travel is that it removes you from your well-worn every day and forces you to see your existence from an entirely new perspective. Every trip abroad has these moments and this time around, it was in the “American” section of Tesco. It’s weird coming face-to-face with your own stereotype, but there we stood in front of a wall of Hershey’s, Aunt Jemima, Oreos, & Lucky Charms. Best explained in this NPR article, the American import section is increasingly popular and seems to cater to American ex-pats as well as Brits who have lived in the U.S.. At the time I couldn’t decide if this was a statement on what our neighbors across the pond think Americans eat, or if they’re just a roundup of our most iconic comfort foods that everyone loves. The NPR article seems to suggest the latter, and frankly £5 (about $7) for a box of Lucky Charms box seems like a small up-charge for flavors so iconically American.

I swear we did more than look at food, but visiting grocery stores while traveling is one of my favorite things to do. It’s a great way to begin understanding a new place because I think consumer packaging is an interesting vehicle through which we display our culture’s values. I can’t wait for my next trip. I don’t know where we will end up, but wherever that may be I know we’ll discover more fun things…whether it be in a museum, at a cultural landmark, or in aisle 6.