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Often ignored, seen only as a means of portion control or product preservation, I would argue that it is so much more important than any of us realise1. Getting the packaging right really is key to success in the marketplace. While I do not know the figures for bakery, it has been estimated that we consume 1/3rd of all food and drink direct from the packaging. Change the colour, the sound, the weight, the feel, even the smell of the packaging, and it can significantly impact the consumer’s perception of the contents.

Some companies have been attempting to enhance the perceived naturalness of their food products by giving their packaging a natural feel. Others have been modifying the packaging in order to try and enhance the consumer’s perception of the freshness of the food products inside. 2 At the same time, one can’t help but be aware of growing customer backlash against what they see as excessive, or superfluous, packaging. 3

It is no coincidence that crisps, an especially noisy food come in such noisy packaging. While people rarely think about it, the sound made by product packaging can definitely influence the product experience. Here in Oxford, for example, we conducted the research (so you don’t have to) to show that people rate potato chips as crisper/crunchier when they hear the noisy rattling of the packet while eating the contents. So now you might have an idea about why Frito Lay introduced a new packaging format for their Sun Chips in North America a few years ago. Packaging that was louder than anything that has gone before. The louder the packaging the better the crunch, or so the marketers must have thought. However, in this case, things went too far. The packaging was so loud (c. 100 dB when gently rattled in the hands), that consumers complained and it had to be removed from the shelves.
More often than any of us realise, in other words, the multisensory attributes of the packaging really are part of the product experience. Knowing this, it obviously makes sense to try and optimise the sensory design of the packaging in order to enhance the consumer’s experience of your product. One of the most noticeable trends in product packaging in recent years has been towards the incorporation of transparent windows. When done effectively, this has been shown to both enhance the customer’s perception of product quality and even boost sales4. It is, though, important to choose packaging colour so as best to set off the visual appearance of the product itself. Classic examples here include the distinctive purple of Cadbury Dairy milk packaging (against the brown of the chocolate), or the greeny-blue of Heinz, a colour contrast that helps make their baked beans look so appealing. The question that professional bakers should therefore be asking themselves is which packaging colour makes all those golden bakery products look their best? Packaging colour shouldn’t make such a difference, but trust me, it does!

Finally, when one has a great smelling product, like chocolate, coffee, or, for that matter, bakery, then one should also be thinking about which packaging format allows the customer to smell the contents. Just think of the vent introduced on the front of bags of coffee that squirts some coffee aroma toward the consumer’s nostrils whenever they pick the bag up from off the shelf. A really great example of olfactory marketing at the point-of-sale if you ask me. Of course, one needs to be concerned about product preservation too. But you really don’t want to find yourself in the position of many chocolate companies who have one of the world’s greatest smelling products, but which consumers often can’t inhale until consumption due to the hermetically-sealed packaging.

The packaging, then, really is a central part of the consumer’s multisensory experience of your bakery products. Ignore it at your peril!

References below

1

Hine, T. (1995). The total package: The secret history and hidden meanings of boxes, bottles, cans, and other persuasive containers. New York, NY: Little Brown; Spence, C. (2016). Multisensory packaging design: Color, shape, texture, sound, and smell. In M. Chen & P. Burgess (Eds.), Integrating the packaging and product experience: A road-map to consumer satisfaction (pp. 1-22). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.

2

Brown, R. L. (1958). Wrapper influence on the perception of freshness in bread. Journal of Applied Psychology, 42, 257-260; Labbe, D., Pineau, N., & Martin, N. (2013). Food expected naturalness: Impact of visual, tactile and auditory packaging material properties and role of perceptual interactions. Food Quality and Preference, 27, 170-178.

3

Bland, A. (2008). Fed up with too much packaging? Just leave it on the counter. The Independent, June 1st, 46.

4

Arthur, R. (2014). Consumers equate clear packaging with improved quality. http://www.bakeryandsnacks.com/Processing-Packaging/Customers-equate-clear-packaging-with-improved-quality; Nassauer, S. (2014). See-through food packaging boosts sales. The Wall Street Journal, August 13th. http://www.wsj.com/articles/see-through-food-packaging-boosts-sales-1407884666; Simmonds, G., & Spence, C. (in press). Thinking inside the box: Can seeing products on or through the packaging influence consumer purchase behaviour? Food Quality & Preference.

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