Writing in Frontiers in Psychology, the research team examined how children aged 8-10 responded to three different packaging designs for identical yoghurt-fruit-cereal snacks – one with previously unknown cartoon characters and an attractive product name, one with plain packaging, and one with additional nutritional information.
"The food industry has a lot of experience in using marketing effects to increase product sales amongst children," said Professor Bernd Weber from the Centre for Economics and Neuroscience (CENs) at the University of Bonn. "By comparison, there is very little knowledge about how such marketing effects can be used to better promote healthy food products to children."
The researchers, from CENs and the Dortmund Research Institute for Child Nutrition (FKE), offered the yoghurt snacks and asked the children to hold the packages as tightly as they could. They then measured handgrip strength using a ‘handgrip dynamometer’ to determine how hard children were willing to work to receive a particular item. They found they gripped the child-friendly packages significantly harder than the other products.
The children were then invited to taste the products, and judged the cartoon branded products as tastier than the others.
"This is a classical marketing placebo effect," said Weber.
When asked which yoghurt they preferred, there was no difference between the plain label and the label that carried nutritional information, both chosen by 22.8% of children. Meanwhile, 56.3% of children said they preferred the yoghurt with the ‘fun’ label.
The researchers suggested that similar techniques could be used to improve children’s acceptance of other healthy foods and drinks, such as school milk or wholegrain sandwiches. They called for further research into the effects of cartoon branded packaging on overweight and obese children in particular.
Source: Frontiers in Psychology
Online ahead of print: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00882/abstract
“Food packaging cues influence taste perception and increase effort provision for a recommended snack product in children”
Authors: Laura Enax, Bernd Weber, Maren Ahlers, Ulrike Kaiser, Katharina Diethelm, Dominik Holtkamp, Ulya Faupel, Hartmut H Holzmüller and Mathilde Kersting