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​Can Food Packaging Be Deceptive?

Blog post   •   Jan 17, 2017 06:30 GMT

A team of researchers from Kiel University has found that food contained in light-coloured packaging appears to be healthier to consumers.

According to the study, the colour of packaging itself determines how healthy we, as consumers, might perceive a product to be. On the other hand, those who are not concerned with health might also be deceived by packaging, letting its colour determine how the product will taste.

While it has long been known that the aesthetics of food packaging often affect consumer purchases, researchers have now found that colour also exerts an influence on those who purchase products.

In the study, published by the Journal of Retailing, researchers from Kiel University found that the colour of food packaging can cue both health associations and negative taste inferences with the contents, ultimately shaping a consumer’s decision.

The research team at Kiel recruited 179 participants who were each shown the same herb cream cheese in both light green and darker green packaging.

In the first place, participants were not allowed to taste the contents. The aim of this was to replicate a scenario in which the consumer is placed in a supermarket and able to scan the shelves but must make inferences on the taste.

In this experiment, researchers found that pale colouring was a significant factor for more health-conscious individuals.

In the second experiment, consumers were allowed to taste the contents and it was found that those less concerned with their health also viewed the light packaging as more healthy – but crucially, they thought it was less tasty.

A spokesperson for the research team explained that “since human abilities are too limited to distinguish more or less healthy products by taste… healthiness evaluations were guided by package colour even after the consumers had tried the product.”

Thus, when selling healthy foods to less health-aware shoppers, pale packages can have a deterrent effect.

“Employing darker tones could be one way to compensate for a perceived taste decrease.”


This research is yet another example of how marketing and labeling can make a big difference in how we understand the nutritional value of our food.

For better or for worse, how food is presented and packaged on the shelves makes a big difference for our dinner tables. Food companies practice smart labeling by displaying bright colours, making exaggerated health claims, and listing fancy ingredients (that may or may not actually be there).

Hopefully this research can teach market-goers to be a bit more careful when perusing boxes and packages at the supermarket.

Sources:

http://greatist.com/health/buyer-beware-how-food-companies-trick-you-buying-healthy

http://www.newfoodmagazine.com/27749/news/industry-news/deception-behind-food-packaging/

http://www.newswise.com/articles/green-food-labels-make-nutrition-poor-food-seem-healthy

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