Packaging key to kids' food choices

Can be used to promote healthy foods
  • Deborah Condon

Children are more likely to reach for healthy foods if the packaging appeals to them, a new study has found.

"The food industry has a lot of experience in using marketing effects to increase product sales amongst children. By comparison, there is very little knowledge about how such marketing effects can be used to better promote healthy food products to children," noted Prof Bernd Weber of the University of Bonn in Germany.

He and his colleagues set out to assess whether the packaging used had any effect on children's consumption of healthy foods. Some 179 children aged between eight and 10 years were offered three identical healthy yoghurt and fruit cereal snacks.

However each snack was wrapped in different packaging. The first was in plain packaging, while the second included health information. The third type of packaging included an attractive name and cartoon characters.

The study found that the children were much more likely to reach for the cartoon packaging.

Furthermore, the children were allowed to taste each of the three snacks and despite the fact that they were all identical, the children tended to say that the snack in the cartoon packaging tasted the best.

According to Prof Weber, this is a ‘classical marketing placebo effect'.

As is sometimes found with placebo medication, effects are attached to certain products irrespective of the ingredients. In this case, the children believed they could taste something different in the cartoon-packaged snack.

"Attractively designed food packaging can tempt children to pick unhealthy foods. However, marketing effects of this type can also be used to promote healthy food products to children," the researchers insisted.

They suggested that this method could be used, for example, ‘to investigate how the appeal of school milk or wholegrain sandwiches can be increased'.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology.


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