Let your eyes feast on this! How visual packaging elements change taste expectationsRelevant topics Research, Archive
The purpose of food packaging has evolved a lot from what it used to be. At first, packaging was mainly used as a means to preserve and transport food items. Later, it was used as a way to gain consumers’ attention in shops and influence their preferences. More recently, a growing interest has been placed on how packaging can contribute to the multisensory experience of consumption.
But how come that something like packaging, which does not objectively alter the actual taste of food, can have so much impact? Let’s delve into how visual elements on food packaging can change taste expectations!
Eating with your eyes
When developing a product that tastes good, taste is not the only thing you need to focus on. Taste has to be considered as an experience in which all the senses play a crucial role. This is due to a phenomenon called cross-modal correspondence, which states that a sensory experience in one sensory modality (e.g., vision) is often associated with a sensory experience in another (e.g., taste).
For example, what you see can influence what you taste. Imagine you are handed two drinks; one of them is bright red while the other is a much lighter red. Which one do you expect to be sweeter? Exactly, the bright red! It also turns out that it’s not just the expectation that is influenced by what you see, but also the perceived taste. Even if the two drinks contain the same amount of sugar, the bright red drink will still taste sweeter than the light red one.
Packaging design influences taste expectations
Besides the food itself, its packaging can also affect taste expectations through crossmodal correspondence. This is especially relevant for food products that are consumed directly out of the packaging, such as chocolate.
A study was conducted in which the effect on taste expectations of different visual elements was tested. Four different elements of a milk chocolate package were manipulated: color (black/pink), typeface (rounded/angular), chocolate shape (curved/flat) and ingredient image (chocolate/milk). Participants were shown pairs of milk chocolate packages with different combinations of these visual elements. They had to pick which of the two they preferred, which one they expected to be the creamiest, and which one they expected to be the sweetest.
Results showed that both color and chocolate shape significantly impacted taste expectations. Participants expected the chocolate to be sweeter when the packaging was pink as opposed to black. Also, the chocolate was expected to be sweeter and creamier when the chocolate displayed on the packaging was curved.
The taste of colors are culture-specific
Color was found to be a major contributor to the preference and sweetness expectations. This is in line with previous research, also stating that color is one of the main attributes in packaging.
However, the effect of specific colors cannot be generalized to other cultures. Crossmodal correspondence between taste and color can be established by repeated exposure to certain stimuli pairings. The effects of visual attributes in different cultures could be related to the design of popular brands in different countries. If a different packaging color is used for milk chocolate in two different countries, the influence on taste expectations of certain colors will differ between inhabitants of those countries too. This means that the effect of visual packaging attributes always have to be considered in a certain context.
The way to a consumer’s heart, is through their stomach
Even if you’re not involved in chocolate, packaging design influences expected and perceived taste of all food products. However, it is especially relevant for snack items, which are often consumed with the packaging still in sight.
Since food items have to be bought repeatedly, every way to satisfy the consumer can help increase loyalty to your brand. By carefully considering packaging design, you can help elevate the taste of your product. Just beware that you alter the right visual attributes to create the appropriate taste expectations
Tiffany’s blue box. Apple’s all-white packaging. McDonald’s red happy meal. Consumer behavior is often affected not so much by the product itself as it is by the packaging that the product comes in. Packaging of a product sets high expectations for the product within, as well as provoking positive or negative reactions in the purchasing decision. While many studies have shown the importance of proper packaging of consumer goods, little is known about the use of implied motion - the ability to perceive dynamic elements within a static image (Yu et al., 2022) - until now.
Let's look into the influence of packaging displaying images with motion on consumers' behavior!
In their battle for customer attention, food packaging designers are eager to implement techniques from psychology. It gives them an edge over their competitors in grabbing customer attention and increasing sales.
Especially in the aisles containing your typical vice products, most purchases are unplanned. This leaves a major role for on-pack visuals and claims to determine which products end up in our shopping baskets.
Over the years, consumer psychologists have unearthed many of these design techniques, which are often quite eloquent and subtle, such as:
- Getting the typography right (did you know that round fonts reinforce our perception of sweetness?)
- Cleverly arranging the various visual elements (did you know that bottom-heavy pack designs increases our perception of the amount of product we’ll be getting)
- Using nature’s principles of beauty (did you know that designs following the golden ratio are regarded more beautiful?)
As we focus on ever-more subtle design techniques, we may be overlooking the most powerful weapons of influence that are in front of our faces all along. A recent study by Huang et al., (2022) has thrown the spotlight on one such factors: image size.