Packages communicate with consumers on a subconscious level, which can affect purchasing decisions. That's why packaging designers must take a deeper interest in consumer psychology and studies on purchasing patterns. Here's a look at how metal packaging must send a message to people's minds that it's healthy and attractive.
Dynamics in Food Purchasing Decisions
One of the challenges for packaging designers this decade is to make healthier food stand out, despite the reduced levels of satiating properties that otherwise work for conventional food. Healthier foods tend to comprise less fat or sugar content, which often accompanies less vibrant imagery on the packaging.
Does healthy food require less flashy colours and pizzazz? To some degree, it's understandable why designers have moved in that direction. Consumers generally associate bright colors with fun and excitement, which doesn't necessarily work for products that are meant to promote more serious concerns.
Food choices are closely connected with multi-sensory perception in the sense people develop eating habits the same way they fall into other routines. They make associations with feelings based on past experience. When it comes to grocery store items, the one thing that separates the product from the consumer is the packaging. So the consumer must trust the packaging in the final stage of making a purchasing decision. Visuals and texture of the packaging material are crucial to connect with the consumer's expectations.
Building on Research and Design
Packaging designers aiming to reach the health food market need to keep the target audience in mind as well as creativity. The watered-down no-frills presentation that accompanies a wide range of health food products may not be in sync with the specific target. Consider all the educated people in the art community who like both attractive design and healthy choices.
To write off healthy consumers as bland and boring would be a huge mistake. It's more effective to think of them as a more educated segment of society with a taste for knowledge of nutritional value.
Taste testing studies have shown that consumers respond to the colour properties of hue, brightness and/or saturation in a somewhat predictable fashion. The results consistently show people associate brightness or noticeably colourful packaging with attractiveness. Meanwhile, perceptions of healthiness are usually associated with less blatant design elements. Generally, consumers respond on a level of increased sensory evaluation when presented with eye-catching designs.
Healthier food packaging commonly uses warmer, saturated and less bright colours. This type of packaging has conditioned many health-conscious consumers to perceive these products as healthier than conventional items, but not necessarily more attractive.
Looking at the big picture, packaging designers must be open to pushing the boundaries of art without stepping over them. Avoiding bright colours for healthier foods is certainly an effective premise based on the available research.
At the same time, designers must remember that this theory is based on colour associations that are unique among individuals. It should not be a given assumption that all health food consumers consciously avoid brightness. Think of how an earthy colour such as green spans the spectrum from dark to bright tints.
Metal is already associated with strength in many people's minds. Using metal packaging reinforces notions of food safety. A key for the metal packaging of health food to look attractive is to experiment with softer colours that don't outshine metal.
Taste test surveys show consumers think of "regular" packaging based on hue, brightness and saturation as "attractive," yet associate less emphasis on colour with "healthiness." Finding a balance between these perceptions can make health food packaging more appealing to its core market.
References and Further Reading
 "Colouring perception: emphasising attractiveness through packaging" (January 2018), by Irene Tijssen
 "Healthy by design, but only when in focus: Communicating non-verbal health cues through symbolic meaning in packaging" (2016), by Nadine Karnal, Casparus J.A.Machiels, Ulrich R. Orth and RobertMai