A picture is worth a thousand words! This famous proverb attributed to Confucius fits a research article published in the Recherche et Applications en Marketing review like a glove…
Indeed, researchers Fanny Thomas and Sonia Capelli focus on depicting ingredient images on food packagings – a most relevant topic since manufacturers compete with each other for attracting consumers using the packaging of their products.
Ricola puts its ingredients into boxes.
Most of brands use images of the ingredients that go into the composition of the product, in addition to the image of the whole product. This marketing action emphasizes the quality and salubrity of the products, which is especially important given than most consumers do not even read the list of ingredients on the packaging! Then, what are the effects of this strategy on packaging evaluation and product choice? Does a high number of ingredients on the packaging make it more efficient? Or, does it lead to information overload? To answer these questions, three studies were conducted using a chocolate-hazelnut brownie package.
The number of ingredient images and cognitive load impact…
• Purchase intention
The first study, with 217 participants, evaluated the influence of the number of ingredient images on the packaging (on top of the image of the whole product) on product perception and purchase intention depending on cognitive load (i.e. the mental resources available to solve problems or accomplish tasks). Results show that when the cognitive load is high, a package with many ingredient images increases gustatory mental imagery (i.e. the consumer will imagine the food and its taste), which increases the intention to purchase the product. However, when the cognitive load is low, the number of ingredient images has no impact.
• Taste evaluation
A second study was conducted with 197 participants and tested the impact of the number of ingredient images on gustatory mental imagery and the evaluation of the product’s taste. Results show that when the cognitive load is high, a packaging representing many (vs. few) images of ingredients improves taste evaluation via an increase in mental imagery. Thus, results confirm those of Study 1 in the case of taste evaluation.
• Packaging preference
With 122 consumers, the third study investigated the effect of the number of ingredient images on packaging preference depending on consumer hunger (i.e. an underlying visceral motivation in the presence of food products) and need for cognition (i.e. one’s ability to reason or one’s need to understand their environment). Under a high cognitive load, consumers with a high need for cognition prefer a packaging without any ingredient images whereas those with low need for cognition prefer a packaging with many images of ingredients. Hunger reinforces this effect.
What implications for managers?
Using packaging with many images of ingredients to encourage buying in supermarkets (where the cognitive load is high) is a winning tactic! These images enhance gustatory mental imagery and, consequently, purchase intention and taste evaluation. On the contrary, in a delicatessen or an organic grocery store, managers should choose a packaging with few ingredient images since the low number of shelved products puts people under a lower cognitive load.
Also, the number of ingredient images is a tool available to managers to communicate the positioning of their brand. Unlike national brands, private labels sold in supermarkets use few ingredient images on their packaging when consumers are familiar with the product being sold. On the contrary, this research suggests that managers of private labels should add ingredient images on the packaging of their products. In the same way, national brands wishing to emphasize their “pleasure positioning” could trigger consumers’ gustatory mental imagery by adding images of ingredients.
Thomas, F., & Capelli, S. (2018). The effect of the number of ingredient images on package evaluation and product choice. Recherche et Applications En Marketing (English version) , 33(3), 6–30.
Blog post adapted from Fanny Magnoni.