Packaging and consumers' perceptions of products

Published 11 August 2017
Golden letters, earthy colours, plastic bags and resealable bags. How do consumers react to different products due to its packaging? And how does the perception differ in the United Kingdom, Germany and China? Let's find out!

According to our study, the Brits prefer food packaging that is easy to open, easy to pour from and easy to recycle. They think it is difficult to know where to recycle the different parts of the packaging if there are different materials. Although the packaging has to be sturdy it cannot be too hard to open. For example, a metal can needs a ring opener to make opening easier. The consumers in the UK agree that cereal packs create a mess when using them. They also think that the non-resealable plastic bags feels old and worn out.

Interestingly, most consumers also did very similar groupings of their perception of products, revealing how instantly and consistently they decoded packaging and what brands wanted to communicate to them. This is how they identified the ‘Cheap, everyday convenience food’ group: “Use of bright, garish primary colours, shiny plastic and cardboard, frequent use of photography with unrealistic serving suggestions.” The ‘Premium group’: “Use of colours such as purple, black and gold with matte finish. Often use of handwritten looking font and simple photography of finished product or key ingredient.” The last group, organic and healthy, they described like this: “Earthy colours such as green, beige, muted mauve for a country, rustic, authentic feel. Matte, rough cardboard or even wood, rather than plastic. Little photography and more illustrations.”

Many consumers feel that the premium packaging codes have been around for so long now and have lost much of its impact. And it seems to be replaced by the organic and healthy look and feel, expressing good quality through its links to nature rather than gourmet restaurant food, as the dominant premium code was built around.

In China, the most important aspect on consumers’ perceptions of products is the food protection capability. The package has to be solid enough to protect the food before using it. Another important feature is transparency or a window that enables you to see the product. The packaging must also be easy to open and its size should not be too big, making it hard to hold and carry. The Chinese consumers prefer portions packs, regular shapes, resealable packaging and packages that can be recycled. Of course, it is nice if it is also creative, attractive and environmentally friendly.

As protection is the most important feature, the top-disliked feature is packaging that cannot protect the food, for instance cereals getting crushed due to an unconsidered package. The Chinese also dislike packaging that is difficult to open, non-transparent and non-resealable. The consumers want packaging that is good at preserving the food.

In Germany, there are several criteria that contribute to the grocery purchase decision. Experience and trust are important to the German consumers, they buy what they know by experience, especially when it comes to taste. When they buy basics like sugar or flour, the consumers often buy the same products as they use to, out of habit. There is a strong price consciousness for basic food and willingness to pay more for meat and fish, sometimes also vegetables and fruit. The brand is important, especially for certain product categories such as pasta or chocolate. Premium consumers choose branded products because they think they perceive higher quality. The ecologically conscious consumers look for symbols and signets, assuring food is healthy and sustainable. Some prefer small packages, smooth for ad hoc shopping.

The average consumer in Germany thinks that packaging does not matter when choosing the groceries; they say that it is the taste that matters. While preferring textile shopping bags, they do not pay similar attention to the packaging material. They claim that the brand doesn’t play a role when it comes to the “basic” products; the premium consumer does not care if the flour is private-labelled or not.

Functionality of the packaging is not a reflected purchase trigger, but it can influence the consumer to re-purchase that very product. The Germans like packaging that is easy to open and close, easy to pour dose and package without dripping. It should also be steady, stackable and stable. If the package is not functional, the Germans use clips, pegs and rubbers to seal it.

Main complaints refer to unnecessary packaging such as double layer, plastic and non-resealable packaging. The consumers do not like packaging that is hard to reseal or that results in too much waste with for example boxes, plastic trays or wrapper inside.

For premium products, the Germans wish for something special and traditional, and prefer packaging in carton or paper. They prefer an elegant impression, often branded and more expensive, and also environmentally friendly. They dislike pure plastic, thin plastic, multipack and bright colours which that make the product look ’cheap’.

So, important to keep in mind when designing packaging and trying to find out what will be the consumers' perceptions of the product; get to know your target group – what do they prefer and what makes them choose one product over the other?

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