Born on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Levain Bakery is famous for its thick, gooey cookies available in an assortment of flavors. With the popularization of its baked treats growing across the country prior to the pandemic, the 26-year-old New York institution was already underway in its transition into a nationwide brand. As one of the first bakeries to offer online shipping for pre-baked goods, Levain more recently made its debut in grocery stores with the launch of Levain Bakery frozen cookies. However, the company needed more than just a head start when the onset of COVID-19 contributed to an explosion of online orders. With the help of RRD, a leading global provider of marketing and business communications, Levain accelerated changes to its package design and addressed logistical growing pains, enabling the company to continue thriving in unprecedented times.

A Company Undergoing Transformation

Founded in 1995 by Pam Weekes and Connie McDonald, two friends who shared a passion for baking, Levain became a popular destination among New Yorkers who lined up at its locations across the city for its decadent 6-oz cookies. By early 2020, Levain’s cookies were already sold online and packaged in simple, shippable, self-erecting corrugated boxes containing 4, 8 or 12 cookies. To protect the cookies during shipping, the boxes were stuffed with paper packaging material. However, the team at Levain was eyeing a refresh for a more on-brand presentation and better product protection.

“We were a growing company,” says Andy Taylor, CEO of Levain. “As we were opening new locations and exploring opportunities in grocery with our frozen, ready-to-bake cookies, we wanted to nurture our e-commerce business with packaging that we felt best represented our brand.”

Levain was set to work with designers at The Creative Pack to take its e-commerce package design to the next level. The branding and packaging design agency had already enlisted RRD to execute on production of the new boxes. Then, COVID-19 turned New York — and most of the world — upside down.

Accelerating Adaptation 

When the pandemic hit New York City, many of its residents relocated and were craving a bite of home. As a result, Levain saw a dramatic increase in e-commerce orders — an uptick that would eventually amount to a whopping 200% plus increase.

“The increase in demand around the onset of COVID made the packaging redesign more important than ever,” Taylor says. “At a time when people were isolated, it started to feel like these were more than just cookies to our customers. They were little tokens of affection and comfort shared with the loved ones they couldn’t see — or they represented the neighborhood treats they missed. We had to make the unboxing experience as special as it felt to know that.”

So, all three teams set to work. As the new graphics came together, RRD collaborated directly with Levain to identify a replacement for the interior packing material that would better protect the cookies in transit so they arrived looking as perfect as they would taste.

Achieving an Award-Winning Unboxing Experience and Efficiency Gains

Because the original e-commerce packaging wasn’t specifically designed for fragile baked goods, cookies could be damaged during transit, sometimes resulting in broken cookies upon arrival despite the boxes being overstuffed with packing materials. The Levain team also wanted the new package design to help streamline packaging efficiency, reducing the time and labor investment in its 8+ step process as orders poured in.

To add product protection that would improve the condition of Levain’s cookies upon arrival, RRD’s packaging engineers designed a lightweight paperboard insert to accommodate pack sizes for 4, 8 and 12 cookies. Redesigning quarter inch by quarter inch, RRD supplied different iterations of packaging and inserts for the Levain team to evaluate through transit testing of the prototypes until the integrity of the insert was proven. Once approved, the insert not only withstood the perils of shipping and kept the cookies in pristine condition, it also helped to cut the number of steps in the packaging process in half.

The universal insert nicely complemented the redesigned package. Once the design proofing was complete, RRD worked across multiple plants to print the exterior of the boxes on its flexo press and apply offset litho-laminate sheets with a four-color process on the interior.

“By working closely with Levain, we were ultimately able to help improve efficiency by 50% while simultaneously cutting down the use of unnecessary materials per order and the cost of shipping,” says Lisa Pruett, president, RRD Packaging Solutions, Forms and Labels. “Combined with The Creative Pack’s artwork and design, we transformed Levain’s packaging to create the best possible brand experience.”  

The final result was a shippable corrugated box with an exterior enveloped in Levain’s signature vibrant blue and “wrapped” with a printed ribbon bearing Levain’s logo. Upon opening the top flap, recipients are greeted with a whimsical illustration of the “cookie lover’s parade” snacking on their cookies. Above that is printed a heart-warming message:

“Sharing something truly delicious can change your day. And day by day, it can change the world. Baked with love in NYC. Enjoy!” 

Nestled in a white paperboard insert, customers can find one, two or three neat stacks of four cookies inside a transparent bag tied with a blue organza ribbon.

“It looks like a gift we hope anyone would be delighted to receive,” Taylor says.

That sentiment was seconded by the international jury of the Pentawards, who, in 2021 recognized the new packaging with a Gold Award in the e-commerce subcategory of its branding and consumer entries.

Easing Supply Chain Challenges

With a smaller footprint, RRD’s redesigned package also helped Levain overcome limited warehouse capacity to meet rising demand. Nevertheless, Levain was still swiftly outgrowing the space of its Long Island City commissary.

RRD worked with Levain to implement a replenishment model for shipping its containers. This enabled the bakery to receive partial orders for its rolling shipments of 15-pallets per week at its production facility while the balance remained in proximity at an RRD warehousing facility in Pennsylvania. As demand for shipments fluctuated, so did the frequency of shipments.

“What differentiates RRD from others is our range of expertise,” says Pruett. “From package design and engineering, to printing, supply chain and marketing, we can serve as that single-source solutions provider for companies in growth mode.”

A Single Source for 'Baked-in' Business Solutions

Following the success of the partnership for Levain Bakery’s e-commerce initiatives, the companies continue to work together as Levain expands availability of its frozen, ready-to-heat cookies available in tuck tab folding cartons at over 1,700 grocery stores across the country.

RRD also printed the promotional mailers for Levain’s new bakery locations in Washington, D.C., and Bethesda, Md., that opened in 2021. The two companies are currently working together to swiftly overcome any hurdles that arise due to emerging supply chain challenges. They are taking a proactive stance by extending lead times on orders to anticipate issues outside of control, adjusting packaging to suit new automated equipment, preparing packaging for seasonal demand, and more.

In the face of unprecedented and new challenges, having a true supplier-client partnership is key. When combined with a wide range of capabilities and expertise, building a partnership based on dynamic business solutions, communication and dedication to success can help prepare for the unexpected — no matter what the future has in store.