Packaging affects the senses

New research suggests that sense of taste, smell and even feel is directly affected by the packaging a product comes in.

In a unique trial, otherwise identical products were rated 35 per cent better simply due to packaging. For instance, perfume was thought to smell 60 per cent nicer and wine tasted 53 per cent better, simply because it came in a higher quality pack. The impact of packaging on the senses was so high that people were prepared to pay, on average, nearly three times the price for identical products.

The experiment, commissioned by Packaging Innovations London, selected six everyday items – biscuits, chocolates, perfume, wine, a t-shirt and wine glasses – in a bid to see how much packaging affects the perceived price and quality of a product. Identical items were put to 100 consumers, with half testing the products alongside low-end packaging and half beside more luxurious packs.

When placed alongside luxury packaging, the perceived quality of products increased dramatically. Biscuits were rated as tasting 51 per cent better and the taste of chocolates improved by 14 per cent. The quality and feel of the wine glasses increased by 37 per cent and the t-shirt by 10 per cent.

The packaging also significantly affected the price consumers expected to pay for otherwise identical items. People were willing to spend nearly seven times more for the same biscuits when they were in the higher-end packaging. This trend continued amongst the other items – wine glasses achieved nearly four times the price, chocolates, perfume and wine nearly three times, and the perceived price of the t-shirt nearly doubled.

James Drake-Brockman, divisional director of the Easyfairs Packaging Portfolio, said, “Whilst we expected to see the perceived cost of items increase when people thought it came in higher-end packaging, what we didn’t expect to see was how the packaging actually appeared to affect the senses. Identical biscuits, wine and chocolates seemed to taste better, and people even liked the smell of a perfume more if they thought it came in a more premium pack.”

The impact of packaging on the pricing of items was dramatically illustrated in this study. When paired with cheaper packaging, consumers priced chocolate chip cookies that usually retail at £1.59 at £1.31. Yet, when these biscuits were paired with an elaborate canister pack, consumers priced these same biscuits at £8.39.

One item that did not see a massive disparity between the low and high-end packing was the t-shirt, only achieving a 10 per cent increase in quality rating. One reason for this could be that for higher end fashion, the retail experience itself, the look and feel of the store, is still an important part of the way in which a product’s perceived quality and therefore price is conveyed.

As part of the research people were also asked about their attitudes to packaging. Packaging was reported to be a major factor in deciding which product consumers chose, according to 73 per cent of the sample. Indeed, packaging is an important visual determinant of quality. When buying a gift, 59 per cent of consumers said even if a product was known to be inferior they would be more likely to buy a lower quality item in better looking packaging, than the other way around.

“The study highlights how packaging is a crucial marker for people,” added Drake-Brockman. “It signposts to people the value they should place on things. That’s why brands operating at both the premium and lower-end think incredibly tactically about their packaging – taking care to ensure it says the right things about their products. However, for brands operating in the middle, the signs are clear, commanding a higher price, or making it taste, look or feel better may be less about modifying your product and more about taking a fresh look at your packaging.”