Updated: 2/13/2020 The food in your shopping cart may have more power to influence you than you realize. Maybe when choosing between 2 types of sugary cereal, you picked the…

young women shopping and inspecting food labels in freezer section

Are You Influenced by Food Packaging?

Updated: 2/13/2020

The food in your shopping cart may have more power to influence you than you realize. Maybe when choosing between 2 types of sugary cereal, you picked the one that also boasted “whole grains” over the other variety. Or when determining which kind of potato chips you want to buy, you might choose the bag that advertises, “made with real sea salt.” Many food products are marketed to the consumer largely based on subtle packaging nuances, and sometimes it can be misleading.

supermarket aisle

Food Marketing Influence on Social Groups

A recent study by Stanford University shows that potato chip companies are continually changing and updating their packaging tactics to attract more consumers. A big part of their concept is marketing toward certain social groups. In the potato chip industry, it’s very common to find 2 main kinds of potato chips. One type is more expensive and advertises “naturally made with sea salt” or “hand-raked” for their high-paying consumers who are looking for bizarre and handmade processes. They also noticed a second kind of potato chip marketing to more economical consumers. Fans of this type of chip often see slogans such as, “just like grandmother used to make!” These consumers are often looking for tradition and familiarity in their purchase. No matter the social class, everyone is looking for what they consider ‘authentic’ potato chips, but each person has a different definition of the word. Manufacturing companies have taken that into account when marketing their brand of chips.

Focused Packaging

Numerous food companies have adopted a focused packaging technique.  The concept is relatively the same as the potato chip marketing: Find your target audience and package your product toward that group of people. Many companies are even asking their consumers to participate in the packaging process. Orbit chewing gum is currently hosting a contest for the design on its fruity “Remix” line. Through the contest, they can get consumers involved and find out exactly what they like while leveraging their customers’ enthusiasm for the contest as additional advertisement.

Quick and Easy

Another example of focused packaging is Kraft’s new “Yes Pack” for bulk salad dressing. The company created a handle attached to the outside of the flexible pouch that is easy to grab and carry. They targeted a wider audience of primarily food-service customers who want the ease of grabbing several packs of dressing at once. Similar to these convenient and easy dressing packages, “family packs” of food items are making a growing appearance on store shelves. These larger-sized packages include anything from chicken nuggets to vegetables and other frozen food and are marketed toward busy moms who just want to grab and go. Many of these items may not be very healthy, and they may have abnormally small portion sizes, but the simple term “family pack” or “family size” can sometimes be the deciding factor for a busy parent.

Gender-Based Marketing

Man and woman marketingTargeted packaging can also take the angle of focusing on either men or women specifically. Dr Pepper Ten has continuously campaigned that its product is exclusively for men to counteract the perception that diet drinks are “girly.” Dr Pepper’s strategy has been to humorously portray the drink as too intense for women. On the other hand, a new brand of beer called Chick specifically targets women with its light brew. The cardboard package is designed to look like a purse, and the bottle itself is pink with a black dress silhouette. By making regular beer that is packaged to appeal to women, they aim to capitalize on the niche of female beer-drinkers who possibly want something made just for them.

Time-Bound Purchasing

“Limited Edition” packaging (like General Mills’ Retro 80’s series) is another angle toward which food manufacturers can focus their marketing efforts. The intention is to grab the attention of other brands’ consumers. The article from Packaging Digest notes that “consumers are drawn to nostalgia.” By adding the aspect of Limited Edition boxes, they put a time limit on how long those specific items will stay on the shelves, which increases the necessity for consumers to buy it quickly.

Whether it focuses on women vs. men or consumer interaction, food manufacturer marketing probably affects you more than you realize. Pay attention to what you put in your grocery cart and why you put it there!

Advertising Healthy Choices

Manufacturers know it’s important to make healthy choices for you and your family. A lot of food products currently on store shelves advertise themselves as healthy options. Many companies promote healthy living and have incorporated this idea into their products.

Diet Coke is currently teaming up with the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute for “The Heart Truth” campaign to promote women’s heart health education  and awareness programs (though soda is certainly not what most would consider a “healthy choice”). The company’s packaging identifies its connection with the organization by placing a big red heart on its Diet Coke cans. Many companies will take an opportunity to promote their product while helping a good cause. When you see the promotional packaging, you are reminded that your purchase may help the cause in some way, so you are typically more motivated to buy that product. grocery shopping cart

Many companies try to proclaim their health benefits, and the inclusion of whole grains is a popular one. The only problem is finding foods that are actually “whole grain” and don’t just claim the title. The first thing to look for on a product that claims to be made from whole grains is the ingredient list on the back. Does “whole grain” show up first as the most prevalent ingredient, or does white flour show up before whole grain? If white flour is first, then it can’t actually be considered “whole grain.” It’s important to identify whether what you are buying is actually whole grain.

What This Means For Me

Knowing the thought that goes into even the simplest packaging may inspire you to be more cautious and aware of what is actually in the food you are buying, not just what is advertised on the front of it. It doesn’t matter if the front says it’s heart-healthy, fat-free, and high in protein if the ingredients don’t support that claim. Check the ingredient list on the back of the product to see what the most prevalent ingredient is, as it will appear first on the list. Simply examining the ingredients can help you look beyond the influence of packaging and manufacturer marketing to be aware of what you are buying.

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