The study, published in Food Quality and Preference, is the latest in a line of research to investigate the way in which consumers perceive food and drink products based on their packaging, and how this can influence purchase decisions.
Led by Rubén Rebollar from the University of Zaragoza in Spain, the research team used soft cheese as a model product to test how serving suggestion images affect consumer perceptions and willingness to buy. Through an online survey, they found that consumers perceive the qualities and ideal consumption time of the model product based on the accompaniments shown in the serving suggestion.
“The study also shows that serving suggestion influences willingness to buy since there is a strong positive relationship between willingness to buy and accompaniments that are healthy and for special diets,” wrote the team.
“The consumer perceives the cheese to have the qualities of the food accompanying it,” they added – noting that the healthier the serving suggestion is perceived to be, the greater the willingness to buy.
Rebollar and his colleagues said their results have ‘important implications’ for food producers, marketers, and packaging designers – warning that there is a need to “carefully select the accompaniment displayed on the serving suggestion to maximise willingness to buy.”
Consumer science & willingness to pay
Understanding how the perceptions and motivations of the consumer are influenced by product packaging and placement, and how these perceptions further drive purchase decisions, has been an area of huge interest in recent years.
“Packaging not only has the aim of containing the product, but also of promoting it, an idea that is supported by the fact that 70% of all buying decisions are made at the point of sale, even in the case of planned purchases,” noted the research team.
For example, previous studies have demonstrated that consumers are affected by product packaging shape, material, colour, labelling, labelling fonts and even weight.
“Food product packaging is therefore a priority sales tool for manufacturers; this is reflected in the fact that packaging design is the most important marketing task in the case of many product,” wrote Rebollar et al.
The Spanish researchers surveyed 247 Spanish residents via social media using the online survey tool SurveyMonkey. As part of the study, they were shown photorealistic renderings of five different soft cheese packages created specifically for the research investigation, and given a questionnaire to evaluate them.
Participants were shown total of five different packages in which the only variant was the foods shown in the serving suggestion, imitating the foods most commonly consumed with soft cheese: fruit (strawberry and kiwi), quince, salad (lettuce and cherry tomatoes) and sliced turkey, as well as one package displaying just the cheese.
All survey participants viewed the same packages displayed in a random order, noted the team.
“The results demonstrate that indeed the serving suggestion influences the consumer’s expectations about the soft cheese, since the consumer attributes it with the qualities and the characteristics of the accompaniment shown on the serving suggestion,” said the authors, who noted that cheese contained in the packages using sweet accompaniments were perceived to be sweeter (as in the case of the quince) and those using more salty accompaniments were perceived to be more salty (such as the salad and the turkey slices).
They added that serving suggestions also influenced willingness to buy, since purchase decisions were found to have a strong relationship with perceptions of healthiness.
“Therefore the accompaniment displayed together with the cheese has an importance above and beyond there mere aesthetics, a finding that is very important for manufacturers, marketers and designers alike,” Rebollar and his team concluded. “Choosing a food perceived as healthy for the serving suggestion may encourage willingness to buy, whereas choosing a food perceived to be not very healthy may imply the opposite.”
Source: Food Quality and Preference
Volume 52, September 2016, Pages 188–194, doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2016.04.015
“The influence the serving suggestion displayed on soft cheese packaging has on consumer expectations and willingness to buy”
Authors: Rubén Rebollar, et al