When food producers overlook market holes, new players can enter the market to serve an under-served group. Consumers have a growing interest in healthy and safe foods, so now more than ever before many care about packaging. Multiple studies show a significant number of grocery shoppers have specific expectations about packaging when it comes to healthiness and safety.
What Consumers Expect on Packaging
The information people expect on food packaging relates to ingredients, nutrients, and calories. Typically, older shoppers with a higher body mass index (BMI) care more about this data. Many consumers now expect these statements on a food package:
- State nutrition and health claims - Not all health-conscious consumers are knowledgeable about the vast field of nutrition. But they still identify with certain nutrition terms that they've learned to associate with food healthiness such as calories, protein and vitamins.
- List all the ingredients - Consumers expect all ingredients that make up the food content to be listed on the label. In the United States, the FDA requires all ingredients to be listed on labels. But it allows certain ingredients to be listed as "artificial flavors" and "artificial coloring." These are vague terms that a growing number of consumers are concerned about. Ingredients must be listed in the order of concentration within the food product.
- Specify the presence of allergens - Allergens in food cause allergies in humans. The big 8 foods that trigger allergies are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybean. Food allergens are required to be listed on labels in the US, EU, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
- Provide detailed nutrition facts - The FDA now requires food manufacturers to keep up with the latest scientific studies on nutrition. In 2020 the FDA updated its nutrition label guidance, requiring food producers to list the amount of vitamin D and potassium at the bottom of the label. This information replaces vitamins A and C.
From a recent study of 400 Lebanese supermarket shoppers, nearly half said they rely on packaging information when purchasing bread. Women particularly study this information. Low-income shoppers and those who care about low fat intake are also concerned about food content. The overall concerns of people who read ingredients are health, weight management, and product safety.
Energy Balance and Avoiding Obesity
The obesity epidemic of this century has created growing awareness among consumers about weight loss diets and physical fitness programs. Nearly 80 percent of hospitalized Covid-19 patients in 2020 were overweight or obese individuals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC reported a few years earlier than 42 percent of the American population is obese, which means they have a BMI of 30 or more. An overweight person is defined as someone with a BMI of 25.
At the core of the Covid-19 pandemic is how the coronavirus affects the immune system. The most vulnerable individuals for getting the infection are those will weak immune systems, which includes obese and overweight individuals, seniors, and people with pre-existing health conditions. Children typically have strong immune systems, as the pandemic did not have a significant impact on most young people.
Scientists understand that a strong immune system is built on the factors of nutrition, exercise, and well-being. Poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress, by contrast, all contribute to a weakened immune system. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the immune system's role in overall human health, partly from research triggered by the pandemic.
Energy balance is an important factor in health because people need a mix of exercise and relaxation. Both nutrition and exercise contribute significantly to a person's energy level. The combination of exercise and low calories helps keep weight down. This awareness is affecting food choices, as in 2020 the greatest sales increases in the food and beverage industry were in zero-calorie soft drinks.
Consequences of Poor Packaging
When food packaging doesn't deliver what consumers expect, they may ignore, reject or distance themselves from the product (Fernqvist, 2015). Consumers tend to lose trust in brands with questionable labels or ingredients. If the text is too microscopic, blurry or it looks like the manufacturer is only providing the bare minimum data to meet requirements, it can create negative perceptions for consumers aware of nutrition.
Studies show that consumers care about specific items on the packaging, such as the product name, manufacturer, and branding. These facts, along with nutritional information, help shape perceptions about food quality. Packaging information influences perceptions of product quality, safety, and healthiness. Labels help consumers learn about food quality while helping producers meet regulations and reach health-conscious consumers.
Food packaging design and consumer perception of the product quality, safety, healthiness and preference (2020) , Christelle Bou-Mitri, Marilyn Abdessater, Hani Zgheib, Zeina Akiki