Food Packaging Clarity: The Evidence is Clear

When you’re considering what kind of food packaging is best for your food business, it can be hard to know what to look out for. What matters to consumers? What are the factors that can drive the decision to purchase your product above your competition’s? Packaging clarity might not spring to mind straightaway, but research demonstrates that it can actually have a significant influence on consumer behaviour – building perceptions of trustworthiness and quality, stimulating appetite, and increasing purchase intention. Consumer demand for plastic packaging is on the rise! After all, people want to know what they’re getting – and for food products, packaging can form a key part of that purchase experience.


Visual cues build product trust and help you make the sale

Think about what makes you tick when you’re making your own purchase decisions; the visual element of that process shouldn’t be underestimated. When you’re getting a bite to eat at a café, would you rather look at an attractive display of delicious-looking dishes, or a bunch of brown paper bags with labels on them? Visual cues tell us so much about what to expect, and sight-unseen products are simply less appealing, especially when it comes to food. Likewise, when you’re choosing produce at a supermarket, the first thing you do is cast your eyes over the produce and immediately narrow down what looks the most tasty and fresh. Your customers are no different. Clarity means easily accessible information, at a glance, on how to best spend your hard-earned money on superior quality food products.


Getting back to basics, the most fundamental purpose of packaging is to get the contents of that packaging safely from point A to B. However, the overall ‘look’ of the product shouldn’t be underestimated. Unsurprisingly, attractive packaging has been shown to influence purchase decisions, but what might be less expected is that the experience is ‘multisensory’ even influencing how consumers perceive the taste of a food product.


Product packaging: a powerful marketing tool

Back in 2011, the Coca Cola Company briefly changed the iconic red colour of Coke cans from red to white to raise funds for endangered polar bears, leading to consumer complaints that the formula had changed and Coke in a white can just didn’t taste the same! Research by Oxford University experimental psychology professor Charles Spence has demonstrated on several occasions that colours and materials used in packaging can influence consumers’ perception of taste: for example, strawberry-flavored mousse tastes 10% sweeter when served from a white container rather than a black one; and coffee tastes nearly twice as intense but only two-thirds as sweet when it is drunk from a white mug rather than a clear glass one (source: Packaging Digest). Product packaging is a powerful marketing tool, which is great news for producers and manufacturers looking to create a competitive edge and stand out from the pack.


The research is clear: food packaging clarity gets results

So, where does plastic packaging clarity come in? In a study titled Transparent Packaging & Consumer Purchase Decisions, conducted by academics from Boston University, researchers conclude that clear packaging “enhances perceptions of product trustworthiness and leads to higher purchase intention and increased product choice.” This finding is based on a series of consumer behaviour experiments, leading the researchers to argue that:


“(1) people associate the notion of “transparent” with honesty, openness, candidness and forthcoming behavior, (2) they often make inferences and judgment about products based on non-diagnostic packaging cues that are salient to purchase context (such as transparency) rather than diagnostic product information (such as ingredients)…”


This makes sense on a deeper level, with the term ‘transparency’ referring not only to visual transparency, but a brand that values transparency of action – in other words, honesty and openness, with nothing to hide. Oxford Professor Charles Spence’s research also weighs in on the importance of clarity in packaging, in a 2017 study titled Thinking inside the box: How seeing products on, or through, the packaging influences consumer perceptions and purchase behaviour:


“There is rarely the opportunity to sample products in-store, and so consumers must make these judgments concerning the likely taste of the food based on the packaging and branding… consumers primarily buy foods and drinks based on their expected taste and flavour. It is important for designers and marketers to:

(1) grab the consumer’s attention; and

(2) create positive associations and expectations in their minds (such as the expectation of a great taste/flavour experience) in order to ensure the long-term commercial success of a product.”


Professor Spence’s research explores the effects of ‘seeing food’, whether an image of that food (think ice-cream containers) or through transparent packaging – or even a transparent window. He finds that seeing food involuntarily captures people’s attention, and lead to desire to eat – which probably doesn’t come as a surprise for anyone who’s scrolled through food hashtags on Instagram!


Some highlights of this study include:

“Consumers are increasingly demanding to see what they are buying either on, or preferably through, the packaging, with 54% of consumers agreeing it’s important to be able to see a product through the packaging itself”.

“Using any transparency at all has the capacity to signal a premium offering, innovativeness

and modernity in a product and brand; as well as the notions of freshness, honesty,

and quality assurance.”

“Transparent packaging is likely to be especially impactful for brands consumers are unfamiliar with, as it gives them the ability to assess the quality of the product within more easily.”


Spence cites a 2009 study (source) that for an unfamiliar brand of mouthwash, participants evaluated the product being of significantly better quality if it was in transparent packaging, and would also pay a significant price premium; this effect is believed to be caused by consumer skepticism over unknown brands, which transparency helps to alleviate, and is believed to extend to food products as well.


But packaging clarity isn’t the only factor.

However, this research comes with two important caveats:

“The product, or the arrangement of the product as seen through a transparent window, may not be as visually appealing as intended once it reaches the store shelf.”

“Recent demand from consumers to be able to recycle product packaging [may] deter them from purchasing some plastic packages.”

This means that plastic packaging transparency forms only part of a purchase decision: the food must be not only visible, but visually appealing. Furthermore, many environmentally-conscious consumers are concerned about the sustainability of plastic packaging.


Multisteps: the fresher, more attractive and sustainable choice.

Of course, this is where Multisteps can help, ensuring your food products harness the value of ‘transparency’, ‘freshness’ and ‘sustainability’ without compromise on either. Our PET packaging is one of the clearest plastics available on the market, and our market position as an industry leader in PET plastic packaging enables us to empower businesses like yours to achieve less spoilage, fresher produce, improved quality and exceptional clarity.


Here at Multisteps, we’re also the natural choice for businesses seeking to lower their carbon footprint while boosting brand value. Our 20+ years of expertise as a packaging supplier invested in R&D and innovation mean that we’re not able to deliver excellent quality; we’re also an industry leader in sustainable packaging. With our extensive specialist knowledge, your food business is in safe hands.


We’ve been committed to sustainable plastics and ongoing R&D for decades, offering food businesses the choice to do better. In fact, while Australian plastic packaging incorporates on average only 4% recycled content, and the 2025 target under the National Plastics Plan is 20%, Multisteps’ products have the ability to offer packaging with up to 100% recycled content – an achievement that we’re very proud of. With a strong body of evidence touting the comparative environmental benefits of recycled plastic over paper and biodegradable/starch plastics, Multisteps packaging doesn’t just showcase your product at its best – it’s also the sustainable choice.


We offer end-to-end packaging solutions backed by innovation, customisation, premium quality control and exceptional customer service. With our extensive specialist knowledge, you can rest assured of visual appeal, freshness, quality and sustainability – all without compromise. That translates to ongoing customer loyalty, improved brand value and more returns on your packaging spend.


Multisteps is an Australian food packaging company with global business partnerships and an international reputation. Get in touch with us today to discuss plastic packaging solutions to meet your needs!

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