Universal Favourite serves up a generous mix of rebellion and homeliness for The Dinner Ladies

The Australian frozen meal service needed a rebrand, one that reflected its huge success, homely meals, and anti- "mumsy" attitude, extending from its website to its packaging.

When we hear the very mention of dinner ladies here in the UK, we might consider the likes of Victoria Wood, Julie Walters and Maxine Peake. Or we might remember the women who looked after us during school meals, of course. But in Australia, it means something else entirely. The Dinner Ladies has, in fact, been filling the "freezers, bellies and hearts" of Aussie families for nearly two decades.

It's a frozen meal service that has been popular with Australians thus far, but the company felt it was ready for a refresh to no doubt keep the momentum going and cement its place on supermarket shelves. It wanted the new identity to pay respect to its unique origin story but also reflect its phenomenal growth as Australia's tastiest frozen meal service.

It appointed Universal Favourite to create a fresh look and feel that reflects its "homely meals, tenacious past, and rebellious attitude" – one that would be rolled out across everything from its website to its packaging and delivery vans.

Humble roots

It all began with two determined women in a Sydney backyard shed in 2007. Both super busy mothers, Sophie Gilliatt and Katherine Westwood understood the issue of dinner-time stress and never having enough time to cook. They cooked their delicious, homely, ready-to-heat meals on camping stoves and delivered them initially to friends and family. Demand grew, orders took off, and they decided to call themselves The Dinner Ladies.

Seventeen years later, their hard work and determination have more than paid off. The Dinner Ladies is now a multi-million dollar business, employing hundreds of staff and sending out tens of thousands of meals weekly.

So, why is there a need for change?

Based on insights and research, the market for pre-prepared meal delivery is oversaturated and "steeped in clichés and same-same messaging", according to Universal Favourite. Everyone claims to offer the most healthy, convenient, or delicious dinner-time solution.

"They not only lack a distinct personality but also relatability to their customer, the studio adds. And that's "time-poor people who just want simple, genuinely good, homemade meals that help take the pressure off when needed most".

This is where Universal Favourite feels its client shines. However, you don't need a rebrand unless necessary, so what was the problem? The Dinner Ladies had become known and loved for their unexpected, no-nonsense, and "slightly audacious" approach, which felt refreshingly real and wholesome.

But with over seventeen years of brand iterations, its look had become diluted and lost in a sea of sameness. "Our vision was to bring back the best from their history and turn up the heat across the board to let the nation know they mean business," says Universal Favourite.

Getting to the heart of the brand

So, what was the solution? The obvious focus was on the founders and how the company began. Their passion, determination, and commitment to providing healthy frozen meals for busy families inspired a brand essence around the slogan 'Food From The Heart'. This meant Universal Favourite could take a deep dive into all past website designs and hand-drawn logos to pick out the best of the existing identity and bring it up to speed with its current successful standing.

The work began with the refinement of the logo. The studio decoupled the heart and the script to give it more flexibility and eligibility for every touchpoint and allow it to scale as needed. Universal Favourite designed the custom heart logo, and then, alongside the wordmark, illustrator Jake Foreman added his iconic style, texture, and gritty stipple.

All in the detail

The Dinner Ladies' existing red was already distinctive and strong in the market. Universal Favourite just gave it a modern update, adding a secondary palette of warm, approachable and slightly retro hues to support the hero red. Together, the colours make for some interesting and vibrant combinations that are particularly useful across digital applications.

For the typography, Denim by Displaay Type helps show off the brand's confident personality yet retains practicality. Denim Wide, meanwhile, is used in everything from headings and campaigns to command attention, while its regular cut counterpart rounds out the system with a friendly, clean, and legible option for subheadings and body copy. This choice aims to showcase the brand's bold tone of voice as well as its personality.

Looking at the tone of voice, Universal Favourite worked with copywriter Cat Wall to bring out the "joyful, cheeky yet comforting" personality of the brand while steering firmly away from any patronising "mumsy" tropes or stereotypes. The verbal identity balances the "empathetic caregiver with the charmingly rebellious tone of the ladies themselves," as the studio puts it. "In a category saturated with over-sincerity and fake friendliness, the tone offers a refreshing sprinkle of irreverence with a straight-forward, bull-free reflection of the audience and their needs," it says.

Adding further life

The photography by Alana Dimou is designed to celebrate the "authentic messiness" of real-life dinner-time. Rather refreshingly, the shoot didn't shy away from capturing those raw moments you'd not expect to see attached to a brand, like the remnants of a great dish alongside a new one being served or a bolognese-faced baby.

Alana was accompanied by Jerrie-Joy Redman-Lloyd on styling, Oriana De Luca on wardrobe, Gavin Anesbury with a hair and makeup brush in hand, and Michaela Le on production, who all helped bring the brand to life. Warm and natural lighting, quirky styling choices, pops of colour or pattern and "intentional chaos" help set a homely and inviting scene with a pinch of rebellion.

And then what about videos? Driven by the clever line 'Heat Up. Feet Up. Eat Up', Universal Favourite worked with director and producer Hugh O'Brien to create a series of clips that highlight The Dinner Ladies' unique selling point, i.e. a no-fuss, no prep meal delivery service that you can take from the freezer and whack in the oven.

Illustration has always played a major part in The Dinner Ladies' brand, a tradition Universal Favourite didn't want to break. The original illustrations enjoyed a punk and "rough-around-the-edges" flair, something that drew the studio to references to traditional tattoos.

Collaborating with illustrator Jake Foreman, it crafted a suite of illustrations that served as both storytelling pieces full of personality and functional devices. "While the small scenes and spots speak to specific offerings of the brand, the hero illustration speaks to the love behind every Dinner Ladies dish and the comforting shared experiences created around the table," it says.

These illustrations are supported by a suite of type-furniture elements that not only accompany the main design elements but also add character to any layout.

That's a wrap

Funny enough, The Dinner Ladies' products are often shoved in a freezer and then grabbed in a rush, so legibility and easy differentiation were the priorities for designing the new packaging. Universal Favourite opted to keep things simple with a basic colour-coded system that distinguishes between protein groups at a glance, making it super easy for people to find what they want after another busy day.

Finally, the website. Alongside applying the new look and feel, Universal Favourite upgraded and introduced new web features such as quick filters and a bookmarking tool to help customers easily navigate through the extensive menu, jump to their favourite meals, or refine by dietary needs.

What was the outcome? Thanks to Universal Favourite, The Dinner Ladies now have a brand that not only celebrates its seventeen-year legacy but gives it the tools for future decades of success. "The flexible design system and punchy tone of voice pays tribute to its tenacious past; the founding ladies behind the service and their wholesome mission put joy back into dinner time," says the studio. "Now The Dinner Ladies can stand loud and proud with a brand that reflects their readiness to dish up delicious dinners to an entire nation."


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