How Packaging Affects our Food Choices
Refrigerated and frozen foods manufacturers use packaging graphics, text, colors, geometries, internal volumes, clarity, opacity, and ergonomic designs as nuggets of information to persuade consumers that the products they see are safe, will deliver pleasurable eating experiences, and may be enjoyed in specific or universal locations. Fundamentally, packaged messages must communicate to shoppers at the point of sale that there is a reason to believe in a product so that it is wanted.
Convincing consumers that a food product should be wanted involves considerable research to understand who the shopper is and how they think. A shopper’s age, gender, education, race, geographic location, religious affiliation, and income level are some of the factors that affect interpersonal responses to packaged foods. At the point of sale, 90% of consumers principally look at the front face of a package when deciding what to purchase (Tonkin; Eye Tracking Within the Packaging Design Workflow: Interaction with Physical and Virtual Shelves; 2011). And 85% of purchasing decisions are made without handling a competitive item. Therefore, it is essential for food marketers to use packaging messages that quickly and positively resonate with shoppers.
Although the emotional relationship between foods and consumers can be extremely distinct, there are general interests that consumers have for foods. As outlined by the 2019 Food and Health Survey published by the International Food Information Council Foundation (www.foodinsight.org), the fundamental subjects that consumers think about when making food purchasing decisions are taste (86%), price (68%), healthfulness (62%), convenience (57%), and environmental sustainability (27%), respectively. Conducted annually, these surveyed categories have remained remarkably consistent since 2012. The 2019 report additionally concluded that consumers’ trust in a food brand and “recognizing the ingredients” in a food are equally or more important than healthfulness, convenience, and environmental sustainability when a food purchase decision is made.
These conclusions were based upon an online survey (n = 1,012) whose respondents were 18 – 80 years of age. All were Americans; and data were weighted to corroborate with the United States population.
The 2019 report’s conclusions about environmental sustainability, brand trust, and ingredient recognition are interesting subjects to consider. Although environmental sustainability is not a predominate subject that consumers consider when making a food choice (each year since 2012, this category overall scored the lowest compared to taste, price, healthfulness, and convenience), over 60% of respondents believed that this category would have more impact if it were better understood. Regarding brand trust, 85% of respondents aged 65 or over and 66% of respondents younger than 65 indicated that this category is important when food purchasing decisions are made. And ingredient familiarity has a direct affect upon the perception that a food is healthy compared to an unfamiliarity with listed ingredients.
Although the above subjects pertain to foods in general, the survey had a compelling conclusion that affects how foods are retailed. When asked to consider the healthfulness of two similar food products that have the exact nutrition facts panel, a “fresh” food is overwhelmingly considered to be healthier than a frozen product. This finding is significant because it directly ties how a product is retailed to its perceived value. And it is critical to acknowledge that it is a consumer’s emotional response to stimuli that drives such a conclusion.
Although refrigerated and frozen foods are sold into and served in food service environments, retail environments that encourage consumer interpersonal experiences with branded, packaged food products permit food manufacturers and marketers an unmatched opportunity to attract consumers. In grocery settings, refrigerated and frozen foods compete against fresh foods and ready-to-eat shelf-stable foods. All categories use plastics (e.g., films, form-fill-and-seal, thermoform, extrusion, extrusion + blow, injection, injection + blow), glass, metal, laminated paper board, and coated paperboard. Combined with the knowledge that 69% of consumers shop in a grocery store weekly (www.foodinsight.org), the emotional connection that consumers have with packaging remains a fundamental driver.
As a member of the RFA Technical Committee, the delivery of safe foods to consumers is a regular discussion topic during monthly conference calls. Manufacturing methods to ensure that a food product is safe prior to and after package fill, during distribution, and when displayed in a retail environment are extremely important. However, other areas of interest, including sustainability and how it should be communicated with consumers is likewise important. Even though 54% of consumers believe that environmental sustainability is important when making food decisions, the majority of consumers don’t know if their food choices are sustainable (www.foodinsight.org). And more women than men consider this issue to be important.
Many supermarkets have over 40,000 SKUs (IoPP Southeastern Chapter – NextPack 2018 Conference). However, average in-store shopping experiences are less than 30 minutes. When developing messaging to gain the attention of consumers, whatever the food and corresponding package technology is, it is critical to acknowledge that consumers must immediately understand and emotionally believe what they are seeing.
This is an exciting time to further research what consumers want, and how to create effective packaging messaging strategies.