A catalog redo for peanuts

Peanuts are good, and according to the Peanut Institute, good for you. Bertie County Peanuts has been growing and selling peanuts since 1915, so the company knows its product. But does it know how to design a catalog? The North Windsor, NC-based mailer submitted its Fall 2007 edition for a critique. Catalog creative experts Chris Carrington, president of a King of Prussia, PA-based consultancy Catalogs By Lorel, and Kevin Kotowski, president of Torrance, CA-based multichannel marketing agency Olson/Kotowski, thoroughly picked over the peanut mailer’s 24-page book. Did they find the design “like butter,” or did they blister-fry it? Read on to find out.


At some point, it’s a dilemma every niche cataloger, like the Bertie County Peanuts catalog, faces: How do we get more successful without losing the homespun appeal that made us successful in the first place?

The operative phrase is “proceed with caution.” Before redesigning and/or rewriting your catalog, ask yourself if you’re making too radical a change for your audience. So, in that spirit, here are a few suggestions to make the Bertie County Peanuts catalog even better than it already is.

The good news: The front cover has a lot of impact. I like what the designer and photographer have done here. The jars — and more important, the peanuts — are up large and they do look pretty darn appetizing; the toll-free phone number and Website URL are easy to find.

One suggestion? Add short magazine-style teasers with page references along the lines of “See our newest VIP gifts on page XX” to drive the reader inside the catalog.

Consider developing a slightly more refined logo/masthead treatment. I’d also like to see a short tagline added to the logo — possibly picking up the “Our secret’s in the soil” line from the inside front cover body copy to add some differentiation and to position the catalog against its competitors.

As good as the front cover is, the back cover could use some work. Currently, it consists of a nice photo of a field of peanut plants with the name of the catalog, the address, 800-number, and Website superimposed over the blue sky.

But experienced mailers know the back cover is one of the hottest selling pages in a catalog. Bertie County should ask its printer about the minimum space it needs for its mailing and ink-jetting areas.

It should then use the remaining space to showcase one to three products. You can either add selling copy and price points along with the photos and sell products right off the back cover, or just the name and photo of the product and the page number where the reader can find more information if you prefer to drive the reader inside.

If featuring more than one item, I’d recommend different price points: a lower cost item, an average cost item, and a more expensive item to capture the interest of different “price point” shoppers.

Oh, and keep your phone number and Website address prominent. Lots of folks will look for them here.

On the opening spread, the map, the company story, and black-and-white photo are terrific. I learned enough about the company, its 90-year history, who’s who, and why these peanuts taste so good to feel I could trust the company and its products.

I’d recommend a caption under the photo (to identify who the reader is looking at) and a quick recap of the Bertie County Peanuts story. Captions have very high readability and offer an easy entry point for the eye to pull readers in and get them involved.

Since the opening spread is a hot selling spread, consider offering more than one product opposite the inside front cover. Loosening it up to feature a second product will likely give you a boost in sales.

To illustrate some of the following points, we’ve taken the liberty of redesigning two of the catalog’s spreads.

We reorganized the page 4-5 spread (seen here) for more active eyeflow and to use the selling “hot spots” a bit better. Eye-tracking studies show that most viewers begin looking at the upper right hand corner of a catalog spread, so it’s a good idea to put a photo there rather than copy.

Then the design needs to keep the eye moving around the spread. Notice how the alternating product presentations on page 5 are visually more interesting than the original layout, which allows the eye to fall off the right side of the page.

Since every catalog spread should have a “hero,” we pulled the Roanoke River Trail Mix to the top of page 4, made it a true hero presentation, and added a ragged border treatment around the photo to give it a bit more interest. We also swapped the current dark background behind the Boiled Peanuts photo for a lighter background to pop the products a bit better.

Finally, we pulled the text about Roanoke River Partners out of the body copy for the Trail Mix, gave it a bit more prominence and added a bug that reads “Perfect Soil, Perfect Peanuts” to reinforce branding.

On the page 16-17 spread (seen here) , we again reorganized the layout to make it visually more appealing. Don’t be afraid to introduce product, page, or spread headlines like the “Classic Gifts” or “A party tray for the whole gang” that we added. It’ll help the reader make a buying decision.

Visual elements like the photo corners used on page 17 soften the look of the catalog, as does the testimonial in the upper left corner of the page.

Finally, instead of painting each page with the same background tint as the current catalog does, vary the background color. By keeping some pages white and giving others a light tint, you’ll add interest and contrast.

Some general suggestions: Pull the outside margins deeper into the page. The current 1/8″ to 1/4″ margins are awfully close to the edge and run the risk of trimming errors. They also communicate “low budget” to the customer. Generally, a format that brings the margins in about 3/8″ to 1/2″ says quality and feels more comfortable to the eye.

I’d also recommend standardizing the type sizes to give the catalog a consistent look. Set up style sheets for sizes and styles of body copy, SKU presentations, product headlines, etc. Instead of upsizing copy to “fill the space,” include additional selling elements, like guarantees and small, interesting tidbits about peanuts. Anything that emphasizes your company’s personality will help both your brand and your sales.

The current brown type against the cream background vibrates a bit. Consider switching to black type for the selling copy.

Photography-wise, Bertie County shows the products up big while not overdoing the propping. Good job! It might experiment with different lighting styles, though. Gentler, filtered lighting will increase the perception of quality and make the nuts more appealing.

The headlines labeling the products could be jazzed up a bit. Try adding benefits to the headlines along the lines of “you’ll taste the difference” or “irresistible from the first bite.” Sometimes there’s a strong copy line buried in the body copy that would make a terrific headline.


Steeped in the tradition of the South, the Bertie County Peanuts catalog has some real assets — in business since 1915 with a loyal customer base and a quality product. Although the book may resonate with local customers, those who don’t know this brand are probably going pass it by.

Why? Because the catalog is designed and written with an “insider” attitude that doesn’t educate new customers about who and what it is. Even the title “Bertie County Peanuts” doesn’t mean anything unless you happen to live in or near this section of northeast North Carolina.

I suspect this catalog has an aging customer base. The type sizes are large and the design feels dated. Bertie County Peanuts should consider implementing some strategic thinking and design changes that will help the book appeal to younger customers — as well as corporate buyers — without offending older shoppers.

Here are a few suggestions to improve the viability, versatility, and appeal of this catalog and, hopefully, its staying power in today’s ultra-competitive economy.

First off, Bertie County Peanuts should consider designing a logo for the catalog name, rather than just a font. It should include a solid positioning tagline underneath that reinforces what Bertie stands for or its many years in business.

The editorial copy on page 2 takes up too much selling space. I’d advise shortening the copy, taking the point size down, writing in a younger voice, and calling out important features. Eliminate the insider references and stick to information that will encourage shopping, such as the health benefits of peanuts.

Bertie County should also maximize use of key selling space. For instance, it should sell more products on the page 2/3 spread and on the back cover. These are the best selling spaces in the catalog, yet the mailer offers only one product between these two absolutely key pages.

Then, it should sell a revenue-generating product on the second-best selling space: the inside back cover. The photo on page 20 of what look like trash trucks is unappealing and unexplained, and it doesn’t contribute sales to the book.

That brings up another pet peeve: Number the pages correctly according to catalog protocol. The inside front cover should be page 2.

My advice for the layouts? Expand the photos and commit to hero shots. Bleed star sellers off the page and put sub-hero insets on top of them. Put heroes in the best-selling spots, the right-hand pages.

Bertie County should seriously consider increasing the density of the book — currently it averages only 1.85 products per page! Since it sells more products on the Web, why not feature them in the book — or at least use the catalog as a Web driver.

And the double borders around photos and copy look dated. I’d eliminate borders and enlarge the product photos for a fresh look.

How to make space for larger photos? Again, reduce the point size and shorten the copy. Visual appeal, not hokey copy, will get people salivating and sell the product.

Along the same lines, it should anchor floating silhouette product photos with a nicely contoured drop shadow and consider adding some color either in backgrounds or in the headline copy.

Overall, the cataloger needs to eliminate confusion and interpretation. What makes sense to you may not to your customers. Page 19 is titled “Papa Jack’s Country Store,” but it sells only two products, clearly not enough products to make a store. Get rid of this section if it is not a great seller, or add more products to it.

Another example: “Gift Consultation” and the “Continually Nuts” monthly club are great services. But customers absolutely need to see what they are getting when they are spending between $155 and $255. So the catalog include a photo showing the wealth of products a customer will get over the course of a year (as it does on the Web). Style the shots with a more “gifty” feel showing the gift packaging.

It would be a good idea to edit the copy down to emphasize the tradition of peanuts in the South, and use a consistent voice. And descriptions should be clearer. On the Blister Fried Peanuts, I can’t tell if I will get 12 10-oz. jars or 12 30-oz. jars. Make it easy for me to buy the product.

Bertie County Peanuts might want to use a velum over-wrap for new customers and holiday drops since it prints the catalog only once a year. It could use dot whacks to promote seasonal offers and on bounce-back catalogs. Customer are more likely to buy again if you offer them an incentive with their order.

Here are a few other items I’d suggest for this cataloger:


    Consider a corporate outer wrap for those customers.

  • If the majority of people use the two-page order form, keep it in. If not, give over at least one page of this great real estate to selling products. Encourage more Web and phone-in orders.

  • Think about mailing earlier than late October to capture gift-giving holiday sales. The season is moving up every year, and you want to be first, not last.

  • Think of yourselves as a gourmet, small batch product. Include some recipes, or drive shoppers to the Website to find innovative ways to use your products.

  • Start e-mailing all your special offers. Don’t discourage people from shopping by making them hunt for some hidden specials on your Website and e-mailing them others. Encouraging e-mails is a great way to build your list!

Simply send four copies of the same edition, along with basic information about your target market, merchandise niche, and competitive advantages, to:
Catalog Critique, Multichannel Merchant,
11 River Bend Drive South, P.O. Box 4242,
Stamford, CT 06907-0242.

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