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The deception behind food packaging

7 November 2016  •  Author(s): New Food

A team of researchers from Kiel University have found that food contained in light-coloured packaging appears to be healthier to consumers.

packaging-deception-colour-kiel

According to the study, the colour of packaging itself determines how healthy we as consumers might perceive a product to be. On the other hand, those unconcerned with health might also be deceived by packaging into letting its colour determine how we anticipate the contents to taste. 

While it has long been known that the aesthetics of food packaging often affect consumer purchases, researchers have now found that colour also exerts an influence on those who purchase products.

While packaging with a lighter colouring is generally perceived to contain healthier products, they are equally considered by many to have less taste thus deterring those who are not influenced by the health factor. 

In the study, published to the Journal of Retailing, researchers from Kiel University found that the colour of food packaging can cue both health associations and negative taste inferences with the contents, ultimately shaping a consumer’s decision.

How was this conclusion reached?

The research team at Kiel recruited 179 participants who were each shown the same herb cream cheese in both light green and darker green packaging.

In the first place, participants were not allowed to taste the contents. The aim of this was to replicate a scenario in which the consumer is placed in a supermarket and able to scan the shelves but must make inferences on the taste.

In this experiment, researchers found that pale colouring was a significant factor for more health-conscious individuals.

In the second experiment, consumers were allowed to taste the contents and it was found that those less concerned with their health also viewed the light packaging as more healthy – but crucially, they thought it was less tasty.

A spokesperson for the research team explained that “since human abilities are too limited to distinguish more or less healthy products by taste… healthiness evaluations were guided by package colour even after the consumers had tried the product.

“Thus, when selling healthy foods to less health-aware shoppers, pale packages can have a deterrent effect.

“Employing darker tones could be one way to compensate for a perceived taste decrease.”

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