How much of your chocolate buying is based on taste, and how much is based on the shininess of its wrapping? A new study backs up what we've long suspected – the way chocolate is packaged creates a stronger emotional pull than what it actually tastes like.
And while the chocolate we buy in the future is mostly dependent on how it tastes, the research suggests, how we perceive that taste on our tongue is influenced to some extent on the way the treat was wrapped up.
The team behind the study, from the University of Melbourne in Australia, says their work could be helpful for companies looking for ideas for how to market their products – as well as making us more aware of how we're choosing what to put in our shopping baskets.
"There's a difference in how consumers perceive intrinsic product cues – like flavor, aroma, and texture – which are associated with sensory and perceptual systems, and how they perceive external cues – like packaging materials, information, brand name, and price – which are associated with cognitive and psychological mechanisms," says one of the team, Frank R. Dunshea.
"The information provided via packaging can influence customers' expectations and affect their emotional response when their sensory experience confirms or doesn't confirm their initial impression."
For this experiment, 75 chocolate tasting volunteers were asked questions based on three conditions: a taste test with no packaging, a look at the packaging with no tasting, and a taste test with the packaging visible.
For the last part, samples of the same chocolate were wrapped in six different packaging concepts – bold, fun, everyday, special, healthy and premium. Participants were asked to rate the taste of the product, the emotions it prompted, and how likely they would be to buy the chocolate in the future.
People rated a chocolate's taste lower if the wrapper didn't match what was inside. What's more, when the wrappers mentioned positive words, there was a positive link between liking both the packaging and the taste of the chocolate.
Where the packaging made a real difference was in the emotions the volunteers reported while they were tasting, and the emotional associations were much stronger when the wrappers were visible. Ultimately, positive emotions prompted by the packaging had a direct influence on the acceptability of the chocolate itself.
Previous research has identified how emotions and packaging can guide our food choices – particularly if our expectations about the food we're eating match up with the way it was presented on the shelf – and this new study draws the two ideas together.
Even though the chocolate taste ended up as the biggest influence on which bar the volunteers would buy in the future, how it's presented definitely plays a part – which is something to bear in mind the next time you're out shopping.
"An estimated 60 percent of consumers' initial decisions about products are made in stores solely by judging the packaging," says one of the researchers, Sigfredo Fuentes.
"As a result, our findings offer important insights that can be used in product design and development to control product intrinsic and extrinsic attributes by enhancing the emotional attachment towards the food products."
The research has been published in Heliyon.