Vancouver, BC (June 1, 2010) – Founded in 1997, Level Ground Trading of Victoria, BC is dedicated to trading fairly and directly with small-scale producers in developing countries, and to market their products in North America, offering their customers ethical choices. Level Ground selected Subplot Design Inc. after an agency review to examine their brand and packaging system and help the company connect with a broader consumer audience. The resulting brand and coffee packaging overhaul has been rolled out in Canada and the U.S. over the past month.


The company has steadily grown a local, loyal following for their range of coffees, as well as recent introductions of raw cane sugar and dried fruit. However, as the company and brand grew, Level Ground began to compete with more sophisticated brands farther afield, and were failing to connect in a meaningful way with a broader consumer audience.


Consumer focus groups confirmed that Level Ground’s positioning and mission was right: to celebrate the actual farmers and producers with whom Level Ground maintains direct, personal and business relationships. Level Ground’s own coined term, “Direct Fair Trade”, was the key. However, an overly “charitable” sensibility to their imagery and design, not to mention negative consumer feedback on their packaging’s glossy, metallic foil bags, demanded a change.


“We learned a lot from talking to our consumers and people who didn’t yet know us”, says Level Ground founding partner and CEO, Hugo Ciro. “It wasn’t easy to hear that our packaging was failing to connect with consumers and that our logo and name had little recall, but that’s exactly what we needed to hear.”


The new logomark declares boldly the superiority of “Direct Fair Trade”: two hands (and dialogue bubbles) shake, forming an “equal” sign between them. This brand identity is founded on equality, fairness and relationships, and brings a human touch right into the logomark itself.


The packaging platform takes the thought further: the producer is the real hero. Celebrated with intimate, inviting photography “in situ”, the farmers grace innovative zip-locking, authentic kraft bags, with a label that declares Level Ground’s expertise and deep knowledge of the origins and taste profiles of each of their coffees. From the most prevalent 300g bags, to 2lb club-store bags, 5lb coffee store “eco-cubes”, and 6 and 12-pack shipper displays, the brand comes alive consistently but with rich variation to tell the whole story of Level Ground.


“We were so impressed with Level Ground’s mission and products, we wanted to ensure that this re-branding brought more of who they are out for the consumer to see”, says Roy White, Subplot Design Inc. Partner and Creative Director. “This was a case where they didn’t need ‘repositioning’ per se, they needed a much more powerful, relevant and meaningful expression of their existing core values.


The Identity Platform completes the re-branding effort: engaging copy like “We shake the hands that pick the coffee”, “Coffee lover. Meet coffee grower”, and “Good. From crop to cup” expresses the duality of “direct fair trade” and “superior coffee”, and mixes images of the producers themselves with product shots and prominent logos to drive this new brand’s awareness and recall.


Innovative posters, retail displays, banners, flags, vehicles, t-shirts, coffee cups, event booths and a mini-brochure all help Level Ground’s below-the-line marketing efforts and their ability to get the word out in the community, at events and in retail. The Standards Manual helps keep new materials on-brand and efficiently produced. Subplot Design will also be starting work on Level Ground’s Dried Fruit and Raw Cane Sugar products in the coming months, as well as additional brand and marketing materials.


“This project has succeeded because Subplot believed us”, adds Hugo Ciro. “ If they had been more jaded and detached, this could have been just any other job. But they believed that what we are doing makes a difference, and they came along and walked beside us. For the first time, we can go out and truly tell our story to the world.”


Level Ground Trading’s coffees can be found at leading Canadian retailers such as Save-on Foods, IGA, Thrifty Foods and Fairway Markets, as well as independent grocery stores and cafés and Ten Thousand Village locations across Canada and the U.S.


About Level Ground Trading

Based on Vancouver Island, Level Ground Trading has been trading fairly and directly with small-scale coffee farmers in five countries for over 12 years. Discover the full line of Level Ground coffee, dried tropical fruit, and natural cane sugar at


About Subplot Design Inc.

Subplot Design Inc. is a leading brand design firm with international experience in creating category-defining corporate and consumer brands. We specialize in powerful ideas that build intelligent, relevant, stand-out brands and communications in what has become an increasingly competitive marketplace. From our Vancouver, BC owned and operated offices, we do this with breakthrough creative brand design including Logomarks + Identity, Brand Packaging, Product Design, Print Communications, Annual Reports, and Retail Identities + Environments.