Wednesday, 2 August 2017


Well dear fiends, welcome back to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible of Tat! Now then yesterday was the ancient festival of Lammas, a time of celebrating the harvest, the life of the fields, and kinds of other pagan and folksy rites and rituals. And hence it's the perfect time of the year to remember that time when cornflakes went all Wicker Man on us. Yes, that packet you can see above is an actual real thing, although you would be forgiven for mistaking it for an obscure prog rock LP cover.  But yes, it was a genuine cornflakes box that was once stacked high on the shelves of the British supermarket, Sainsbury's in the mid 70s! 

So how did this most evocative cereal box come into being? Well, back in the early days of Sainsbury's, in the '60s went supermarkets were a new thing, it was decided that it was somewhat wasteful to spend tons of money on advertising and promotions, with the company's ethos being very much that good food should sell itself. And hence for their own brand range of products, they did employ a fancy marketing agency and instead, designed all their own labels in-house. The Our Label range as it was known was supervised and designed by a clever chap called Peter Dixon, who would stay with the supermarket until 1989. The design ethic was simple, but eye-catching colous, as we can see here in this wrapper - 

How despite being minimal, the Our Label did carve out a distinctive look of its own, often with a futuristic minimalist aesthetic. And their packaging canon is now highly hailed as a treasure trove of iconic designs. For example, this design for dried veg would not be out of place on a '60s Penguin paperback or as the cover of a LP of moog music. 

And indeed, the first incarnations of the Sainsbury's cornflakes boxes followed this almost op art approach, giving us cereal packaging that is either a design classic or a load of balls depending on your view. 

Howee it would seem that as the Swinging Sixties metamorphosed into the As Yet Possessing No Agreed Upon Alliterative Adjective Seventies, the Our Label evolved as well. While their designs retained the same broad no-nonsense but eye-catching approach, a more pictorial approach saw the coming of the much celebrated John Barleycorn inspired design for the above cornflakes box. As far as I can tell it was a complete coincidence, but the box does rather recall the promotional imagery for the great grandfather of folk horror The Wicker Man (1973)... 

Likewise, there is more than a passing resemblance with the cover of a celebrated psych-folk LP of the times, Bright Phoebus (1972) by Lal & Mike Waterson too. Perhaps Thunderclap Newton was right, and there was just something in the air...

Anyhow despite all the oft-cracked jokes about breakfast cereals with free human sacrifices, and shouldn't that be Summerisle's Cornflakes, surprising the pagan iconography of this particular box isn't most scary design in the Our Label archive. For while their cornflakes box may owe something to  The Wicker Man, these pet food labels appear to have been inspired by Zoltan Hound of Dracula

1 comment:

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