Can packaging really affect the way something tastes?

Coca Cola probably think so, especially following their less than successful introduction of a special edition white can in 2012 which was designed to raise funds for endangered polar bears.

Soon after the temporary packaging hit the shelves, consumers complained that the brand had changed its recipe and the drink no longer tasted as sweet – even though the secret formula was completely unchanged.

Packaging that Changes Perceptions

Their perception of the change in taste appeared to be based around the packaging and, more specifically, the colour. This idea was backed up by Professor of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, Charles Spence. Spence tested the theory that red is a colour often associated with sweetness when he conducted an experiment where participants were given salted popcorn in a red bowl. Not so surprisingly for Spence, participants believed the popcorn to be sugary, not savoury.

And it’s not just colour that can affect the taste or appeal of products. Further experiments carried out by Spence found that British and Colombian consumers are twice as likely to purchase juice which utilises a concave (smile) rather than convex (frown) line in its design.

Eating & Drinking: A Multi-Sensory Experience

When we think about how something tastes, we tend to think of our taste-buds working all on their own, perhaps with a little influence from our sense of smell. But often, what we don’t realise is that eating and drinking is a multi-sensory experience that employs all 5 senses. Yes, that includes hearing – as Charles Spence once again proved with his Pringles experiment:

Charles Spence Pringles Experiment Extract from Wikipedia

Clever Packaging, Powerful Marketing

On a basic level, food packaging serves a functional purpose – but packaging that takes into account the psychology of the consumer through their associations and perceptions is also a powerful marketing tool. It proves that effective food packaging is not just an art – it’s a science.