Package design plays a significant role in affecting consumer expectations on how a food product tastes and the perceptions of healthiness. It might even have greater impact than what researchers have observed the past few decades. At the core of this finding is multi-sensory perception, in which consumers make decisions based on a combination of inputs from the five basic human senses. Here's a look at how sensory design of metal packaging affects consumer expectations of a product.
Taste and Other Sensory Properties
When it comes to food, people naturally think of taste as the most important factor as to whether a consumer will purchase the product again. Yet multiple researchers have found over the years that taste is just one factor that influences consumer purchasing patterns of food. The perception of the package has a subtle impact as well, since consumers respond emotionally to certain colours that associate with memories deeply embedded in the mind. Brightness levels of packaging also affect food perceptions.
A PhD thesis by Irene Tijssen at Wageningen University in The Netherlands published by ResearchGate in January 2018 brought together a wealth of packaging research in one paper. The thesis focused on how consumers form opinions on taste over a lifetime with the help of brand claims, labelling and advertising that shapes emotional associations and expectations. Ultimately, package cues that trigger memories influence perceptions on taste and the healthiness of food.
But packaging cues are accompanied by existing consumer associations, which is unique for each individual. So while a red hue with low brightness and high saturation on packaging can influence many consumers to perceive the food to be sweet and creamy, it still comes down to a consumer's history with colour associations as to how they subconsciously connect the dots between food and its packaging.
A 2011 study by Antmann and other researchers found that altering brightness levels of packaging can influence texture perception. It showed consumers perceived sausage as more fatty when presented in less bright packaging, while brighter packaging increased the perception of creaminess. Furthermore, the study indicated that less vibrantly-coloured food packages, such as those with a green/blue hue, are commonly perceived as more healthy.
Metal Packaging in the Age of Multisensory Research
A few of the main reasons for metal packaging of consumer goods are security and durability. Not only are materials such as tinplate and aluminum highly reliable in protecting food ingredients from air and other degrading factors, they communicate strength to consumers in preserving taste. These perceptions come from years of experience and aren't predictable for random consumers.
The shiny quality of metal can play a role in how a consumer evaluates the food quality. During the pandemic this perception of strength increased as concerns were raised over food safety and hygiene. Metal packaging has merged with the concept of sustainability, which has become a worldwide concern. Recent studies have shown consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging as a measure to protect food quality.
The main key to reach consumers who prioritize healthy food, however, is through labelling. The more educated consumers who associate food with health pay closer attention to ingredients than the average consumer. Label readers are less likely to be swayed by packaging elements beyond ingredients.
Certain packaging materials rank higher than others in national surveys regarding perceptions of sustainability. While paper-based cartons are favored for sustainability in the United States and Europe, other parts of the world have different views on sustainable materials. Metal packaging will likely remain important in the post-pandemic era due to its robust properties that keep food safe.
 "Haptic Aspects of Multisensory Packaging Design (2019)" , by Charles Spence, Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Psychology University of Oxford
 Read more articles on "Multisensory Packaging Design (2017 - today)" , by Charles Spence
 "From Disgust to Desire: How Products Elicit Our Emotions (2004)" , by Pieter M. A. Desmet, in Design and Emotions, edited by Dena McDonagh et al.
 "Luxury branding: the industry, trends and future conceptualisations (2015)" , by Yuri Seo and Margo Buchanan-Oliver
 "Food packaging: The medium is the message (2010)" , by Corinna Hawkes
 "Multisensory design: Reaching out to touch the consumer (2011)", by Charles Spence and Alberto Gallace