Older consumers found packs hard to open, and labels hard to read. © wowzamboangacity/Wikimedia
Packaging on supermarket goods can lead to older consumers “feeling powerless and vulnerable”, according to researchers at the University of Portsmouth.
The study found that issues with reading labels or opening tin could damage consumers’ sense of self-worth. Other problems included items being difficult to stack or too heavy to carry because of their packaging.
The findings revealed that ageing-related changes – such as arthritis and deteriorating eyesight and physical strength – made consumers more at risk of experiencing “vulnerability” when buying packaged consumables.
The study’s lead author, Dr Nicholas Ford, said: “A variety of products and services have been identified as inhibiting older people’s abilities to maintain their independence, from public transport to kitchen interiors and internet banking.
“However, few factors are highlighted as often as difficulties with packaging. Marketing research has found high levels of dissatisfaction with much packaging among consumers at large. In particular, dissatisfaction has been reported among older consumers with fast-moving consumer goods packaging – non-durable packaged items such as tinned food, packet meals and toiletries.
Dr Nicholas Ford
“Studies show that due to changes in physical capabilities and social circumstances, older people risk suffering embarrassment and anger, and even potential illness and serious injury as a result of difficulties with packaging.
“While seemingly innocuous when considered in isolation, the experiences shared by our participants suggest that the gradual build-up and continuation of stresses can lead to sustained feelings of frustration and powerlessness.”
73-year-old Philippa said that increasing pack sizes was making it harder for older shoppers to get their groceries home, while 63-year-old Jim found the images and text on ready meal packaging deceptive.
Good packaging can help contribute to older consumers maintaining independent lives, Dr Ford concluded. “Interestingly, a number of the problems highlighted in the study are also experienced by many younger consumers – so developing new packaging with the needs of older people in mind could add value for consumers in general.
“Manufacturers need to achieve a balance between communicating the functional benefits to older consumers while maintaining mass market appeal.”
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