What do consumers think about food packaging design? A recent consumer study revealed their perceptions of the packaging and how it relates to safety and quality. Here's a look at this food packaging design study and other research that points to concerns for packaging designers.
The study was published by Nutrition & Food Science in February 2020 and consisted of 547 adults with a median age of 30. The ratio of females to males was 54-46 percent respectively. The interviewer-based questionnaire survey was conducted from November to December 2016.
Consumer Perception Findings
A majority (54.9 percent) of study participants identified the purpose of packaging to protect food while nearly as many (52 percent) believe it's to keep the food safe. People in these categories tended to choose vacuum packages for providing top quality. Most participants agreed that glass bottles provided the safest and healthiest choices for juice packaging. Consumers who view safety as the most important purpose for packaging consider transparent packaging as an attractive way to present food and beverage safety.
Nutrition and health claims rank very high (87 percent) among the study group as important food product information. Nearly three-quarters of the participants said they would be willing to pay more for improved packaging. A clear majority of 59 percent said they would even pay 3 percent more for better packaging.
Art of Capturing Attention
While packaging plays a primary role in protecting food, it plays other roles in identifying the food and communicating its quality to the target customer. The study further reveals that Lebanese consumers understand packaging cues to a degree and even judge brands based on packaging appearance. Consumers use multiple packaging cues to arrive at product judgments about healthiness, purity and sustainability.
As much as color, size and shape of packaging contribute to consumer perceptions about the product, results vary among different market segments. Factors such as age, gender, income and education show differences in the degree to which packaging can persuade consumers to make purchasing decisions. For the group that judges products by ingredients, it's possible for consumers to be misled or confused by claims of natural quality. In other words, consumers are likely to believe claims on packaging until proven otherwise.
Lebanese consumers have lost confidence in food producers in recent years due to a series of food safety scandals. Up to 90 percent of food exported from Lebanon to the United States has been rejected for issues such as mislabeling and misbranding. Consequently, consumer awareness is higher in Lebanon about food safety than in other parts of the world. In developing nations, surveys show that consumers take for granted that packaging "must be" safe. The difference with Lebanese consumers is they have become conditioned to look for packaging features that guarantee food safety.
Perception of Safe Packaging
The Lebanon study found that certain food packaging features shape consumer perceptions about food safety. Members of different socio-economic groups were consistent in identifying food safety as an important reason for packaging. Consumer studies in South Africa have revealed similar results. The expiration date is an important feature that certain people check, particularly those with higher income and education.
Other consumer studies around the world have confirmed that consumers perceive food quality based on packaging. A study from Extramadura, Spain of 203 people found that 24 percent of consumers identify packaging safety with certain materials such as an open/reseal feature. Meanwhile, 16 percent thought packaging transparency was an important safety feature.
An interesting pattern that's emerged from these various studies is consumers, in general, do not have a holistic view of safe packaging. In other words, the common consumer does not have a long checklist of requirements for safe packaging. It's more appropriate to think of a small percentage of consumers as having a deep sense of packaging safety. At the same time, a majority of consumers are conscious that packaging contributes to food safety.
Based on the Lebanon study, it's clear that certain visual elements of packaging contribute to consumer food purchases. At the same time, markets such as Lebanon that have experienced labeling scandals, have more skeptical consumers with higher expectations of packaging to protect food. Packaging designers must be aware of conditions in specific markets that can affect how consumers perceive design elements.
 Food packaging design and consumer perception of the product quality, safety, healthiness and preference (2020), by Christelle Bou-Mitri, Marilyn Abdessater, Hani Zgheib and Zeina Akiki