How Lifestyles and Perceptions Affect Food Choices

by Eric Stefan Kandelin Koons on April 19, 2021

Food choices don't seem to require much analysis because everyone is an expert on what their favorite foods are. The question is: can packaging designers come up with designs that sway consumers to buy foods they haven't tried before? That's an area of consumer research that hasn't been explored much. But here are some ideas on what designers should be thinking about in terms of how lifestyles and perceptions of consumers play a role in their food choices.

Upbringing Shapes Food Choices

The primary factor that motivates people to buy certain foods is taste, in which preferences are often shaped at an early age. Some evidence suggests what a pregnant mother eats will affect her infant's taste preferences. But other factors come into play as a person matures and explores new foods. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has published information on four key elements that shape food choices, which are taste preferences, personal and social factors, employment status and cultural influence.

Barriers to Experimenting with New Foods

Manufacturers and packagers can tap into food markets through associating their brands with values that target consumers already embrace. But consumers don't just change food preferences overnight and aren't easily swayed by hype about new food products. A few of the factors that prevent people from experimenting with new foods are the individual's food budget and time constraints that hook people into convenient choices.

While marketing and packaging can capture the attention of consumers, new food items are still a hard sell unless they relate to already popular flavors. One of the main reasons it's difficult to alter someone's tastes is because people build up patterns of behavior over many years.

Nutritional Information Makes a Difference

One trend that reveals how people can be persuaded to change food consumption patterns is the growing awareness of nutritional information. Millennial consumers commonly pay close attention to ingredients, as many consciously try to limit their intake of sugar, sodium and artificial additives. Since the beginning of this century the organic food market has grown from under $5 billion to over $50 billion, according to the U.S. Organic Trade Association.

As the fastest growing sector of the food industry, organic food now accounts for over 4 percent of U.S. food sales. Yet organic food is not promoted that much in mainstream media, which has an influential impact on cultural choices. That's because the industry has relied more on direct-to-consumer markets and the strategic placement of natural and organic stores.

Can a niche market of organic food shoppers be lured into purchasing conventional food because the green package promotes nature? Probably not, since the ingredients have more importance to them than packaging design. But an organic brand can attract all kinds of new attention with green packaging if the product lives up to experiences the package conveys.

Tapping Into Lifestyles and Perceptions

At the core of consumer choices are lifestyles and perceptions that persist over time. Emotional values play a role in how people shape their own lifestyles, as people tend to avoid what they think is immoral behavior and gravitate toward what they believe is good behavior. Lifestyle experiences are what confirm or alter perceptions that influence food choices.

When a person regularly attends a sporting event and buys stadium food, they link the food with the game, which creates a long-term association. So a packaging design that displays sports imagery might get their attention to try a new food product. Another way packaging can influence food purchasing decisions is for the package to have a unique shape that associates with a popular lifestyle.



[1] "Food packaging cues as vehicles of healthy information: Visions of millennials (early adults and adolescents (2019)", by Inés Küstera,, Natalia Vilaa, Francisco Sarabiab

Topics: Metal Packaging, Health, Millennials

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