With child obesity levels rising on a global scale each year, Stergios Bititsios, associate director packaging and design at MMR Research Worldwide, explains why obligatory nutritional information labelling can be used to help brands get their ‘health factor’ message across.
In every product category, brands rely heavily on packaging design to grab shoppers’ attention at the point of sale and to communicate key product benefits. In the food and drink sector, especially when the product is aimed at children, labels crucially have an additional responsibility: to provide nutritional facts.
The majority of food and drink brands choose to display this information in the form of a colourless matrix or grid on the back or side of the pack. Although informative, this style of display suffers from low visibility, losing shoppers’ attention to flashier elements of a pack’s design such as vibrant imagery and colourful jargon.
However, some brands are taking action to make the ‘health’ factor of their products clearer, promoting nutritional information to the front of the pack, displaying it horizontally and in colour.
This is a much more shopper-friendly display method that offers a greater degree of readability and recognition, making it easier for parents to compare products.
From our experience in consumer psychology, sensory science and design, we know that shoppers make their decisions at a visceral, non-conscious level. Decisions are more strongly influenced by the meaning shoppers subconsciously assign to visual, more abstract cues such as colours and images, than overly rational elements such as text.
On this basis, we believe that brands should seek to adopt more intuitive ways of presenting nutritional facts.
The traffic light colour-coding system is an excellent example, which some brands in the UK are now adopting. This system helps shoppers recognise at a glance if a product contains high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt depending on the whether the colours red, amber or green are presented.
Using traffic lights as a healthiness indicator is an ingenious design metaphor that makes great use of universal semiotic principles. The system has global appeal and is easily recognisable, and is of benefit to manufacturers because it's straightforward to embed into any pack format at no extra cost.
It has long been established that effective packaging has the capability to connect with consumers at an emotional level. Even when it comes to displaying nutritional information, adding emotion is imperative because how people 'conceptualise' (attribute meaning to) the product and pack can actually be the most important factor in determining what people think of it.
A product conceptualised as being better nutritionally is more likely to appeal to parents when looking for healthy food choices. However, manufacturers must execute this without disregarding the regulatory requirements surrounding such information.
To avoid a 'beauty contest' situation, and to make sure the ‘health factor’ is pushed forward, brand owners, governments and relevant official bodies should agree on what constitutes a balanced design.
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- Beverage > Functional
- Food > Functional
- Health > Nutrition
- Packaging > Labelling