Well, theres a question! A brave one to throw out there I know, but I thought I'd broach this subject as it's been close to my heart in recent years - and a question that has been asked of me many times by fellow designers.
Before I begin to answer the question of 'who does it better' I need to explain why I even raise the subject of who produces the better packaging design. I have been fortunate enough to have spent a large amount of time working on both the UK and the US territories gaining a thorough understanding of what makes the consumers' tick in the world of FMCG (CPG (US equivalent)). Many would assume when comparing UK and US markets they are the same when it comes to branding and packaging. The reality is they work very differently.
Firstly, even though both countries speak the same language, the consumer's expectations and understanding of their own markets are quite different. Consumers in both territories have differing brand heritage which they subconciously refer to when it comes to their own markets, consequently brand/category recognition at the point of purchase is different.
Adding to that, local legal requirements that dictate what needs to be said on the packaging can also differ massively between the two territories. This can mean the packaging for the same product can look completely different when comparing one country to another, be it through differing photography, brand colours, typography styles or even the packaging format.
Local culture and consumer understanding also play a key role in the process of applying design too. Just how much a consumer knows about the product will dictate what needs to be applied to the packaging in terms of visual information.
As a designer one of the biggest challenges comes when one has to create a brand that works in both territories, especially when working on new brands with no history in either country. The task is made a little easier when their is some heritage to work with and some form of brand recognition can be built upon.
From my own perspective there have been many occasions where I've been tasked with assessing/ analysing market research for a particular food/ drinks category gathered from either the UK or US market and had a knee jerk reaction to the design appeal of the packaging. My judgement is fundamentally based upon whether I think the design would fit into the UK market (one which I'm well versed in and of course where I currently reside). Whether a design that is intended for the US market would work in the UK market has no consequence on the consumer sales numbers when it's a US product marketed and sold in the US.
So, to answer my question in short, who does it better... one cannot simply say one country or the other provides better design because there are so many variables that dictate the outcome of the packaging design within each territory.
Its a little bit like comparing apples to oranges in many ways. Of course one can have a subjective preference of one design style over the other but in terms of who is 'better', this decision would need to be based on which item sells the most within its respective market. And even then, the markets are so different in scale and construction its difficult to compare.
All said and done, both territories are seemingly getting closer in terms of style for branding and packaging. With designers using global references for their design stimulus to create their work, the design outputs are starting to look familiar to one another therefore the question of which territory produces 'better design' may well be a valid one in years to come.