Packaging in the food industry serves not only the functional purpose of preserving sold goods in a consumable condition. Nowadays, it is also an important part of the marketing mix and is used as a tool in marketing strategies with the objective to communicate with the customer and differentiate from other competitors by innovative solutions (Rundh B, 2013) These packaging strategies have numerous targeting audiences but past research studies have shown that the main demographic highly influenced by them are children resulting in annual three billion dollar investments in child-orientated product packaging. (Hawkes C, 2009).
The following report will discuss what effective food packaging methods and characteristics that are used in food products targeted at children and analyse what affect it has on their health and eating habits. Following the information conducted in present research studies, it will look at both negative and positive effects of these marketing schemes, such as the connection between food packaging and the rising level of child obesity and the ways of how responsible marketing does and could influence eating habits of these younger consumers in a positive way in order to demonstrate the possibilities and power of food packaging to the behaviour of children.
Review of literature
In the modern day world, we live today children have a lot more influence over their food preferences and the initial buying process and have a powerful tool as ‘pestering’ or ‘Pester power’ to influence their parents buying decisions and satisfy their needs. (Bhagat, S. 2016)
Furthermore, children are becoming more liberated as consumers because of the growth of their spending power (Pettersson and Fjellstrom, 2006) This is a main target audience for a number of companies and children are exposed to a variety of choice. In order to differentiate from the competitors and attract the attention of these younger customer’s companies incorporate various visual aspects into their packaging like cartoon characters. The characters often featured on food packaging have the capability to serve as an endorser for the brand and has the power to create a connection amongst the child and the product, due to the fact that the presented characters are able to communicate with children from their point of view, and are a part of their fantasy world (De Iulio, 2010).
The tendencies of packaging are analysed in Elliot D (2012) research study conducted in Canada which evaluated the foods targeted at children in the supermarket environment and the fundamental characteristics of the used packaging. Using a content analysis of 354 products it was found that in terms of graphics the majority of products (86%) displayed a cartoon image on the front of the product page. With many products (more than one in five) using licensed characters from children’s movies and television programmes. The recognition and preference of cartoon characters in kid’s food choices shows that there is a need and expectation for entertainment, excitement and fun when it comes to food products. “Signifiers of fun, existing in the food names, shapes, and promised experiences around “entertained” eating, are reinforced by the use of games or activities.” (Elliot, 2012, p.310) Another finding showed that packaging showcases the interactive characteristics of the product suggesting that the edible in itself is a form of entertainment and fun. These entertaining qualities of food are presented on product packaging by using words suggesting interaction to describe food such as: ‘stackable’, ‘stretchable’, ‘changing colour’ etc.
The effectiveness of such product marketing to children and similarities to Elliot’s findings can be seen in a more resent research study done by Nelson M.R, Duff B.R.L, Ahn R (2015) where seven snacks that all varied in packaging were selected and presented to 13 pre-school children. When asked to choose a snack for themselves all 13 of the participant’s chose the snack which displayed licensed characters on their packaging (Dora and Mario fruit snacks). When children were asked to group the presented snacks in terms of ‘fun’ 11 out of 13 chose products considering the entertaining shape, playfulness and interactive activities they could use the product for. Different to Elliot’s research study the results showed that the edible itself was not significant in the ‘fun factor’ of the product by stating: “children actively and primarily used the packages and not the product contents in their product preference and their perceptions of the product’s fun and taste”. (p.398)
Child-targeted products can have false or misleading claims about nutrition and can confuse children with product packaging. Josion-Portail, Margaret (2011) did a research study in France where he explores children’s views towards nutrition messages provided on kids products packaging in order to see if these younger consumers use them to evaluate the healthiness of the product they are purchasing. By using the methodology of semi-directive interviews to collect the data children aged 7-12 were presented with 3 different product packages and were asked to describe why the presented products are healthy or not. Results showed that all of the participants mentioned fruit images (displayed on 2 out of 3 presented products), and seemed to reference short messages as ‘no sugar’ mentioned on the presented packages. However, despite the fact that children referenced the visual characteristics and often mentioned nutrition, sugar and other messages on the packaging of the products, some cases showed that the provided information was understood but interpreted incorrectly by children as some claims were quite complex for children to understand like the nutrition table, more complex words as: ‘calories’, colouring agent ‘, ‘artificial flavour’ were mentioned by children but they could not explain what it means. The study highlights that the provided nutrition information on food product packaging can be useful if interpreted correctly by the child but in other cases it can be a confusing force that misleads children to buying products with contents they are not aware of or don’t understand. Furthermore, research done by Macher J K. (2012) studies the perception kids have regarding fruit content in child-targeted food and beverage products which were packaged using fruit symbols and other designs that indicated the presence of fruits. The used methodology technique was a designed questioner and 169 children participated in collecting the data. Children were asked to evaluate what in their view is the amount of fruit content (‘a lot’,’ a little’ or ‘no real fruit at all’) presented in the pictures of selected products. According to the results of the research study less than 40% of participants gave correct answers. The confusion in the child targeted food market and an incorrect perception of kids caused by packaging is evident as 50% of participants thought that a product (‘Dannon Danimals XL Strawberry Explosion Yogurt’) had a lot of real fruit when in fact it had no fruit at all. Similar results occurred with products which contained real fruit as 40% of these younger consumers thought that it had no real fruit at all. Both Josion-Portail, Margaret and Macher J K. mention a strong impact of the visual aspect of fruit imagery on product packaging as children tend to notice and reference it relating it to health and content of the product itself. In addition, both studies concluded that due to confusing packaging children can often misinterpret the product incorrectly.
The bigger picture and concerns towards the nutrition value of child-targeted products
The inability to measure the nutritional value and confusion factor concerning products noticed in children is evident. This causes a concern on a bigger scale that a certain form of packaging is misleading when it comes to promotion and consumption of child-targeted products. Elliot C (2012) found that most of children targeted food products in Canada (even 72%) had nutrition claims displayed on the packaging even though they were high in sugar. Furthermore, Den H, Rebecca C, Elliott C (2013) questioned the views of parents in regards of fun foods and the packaging characteristics used to promote them to children. Through 60 in-depth interviews it was found that parents find the communication through packaging of child-targeted products is often misleading. These claims could be justified by a research study carried out by Mehta K, Phillips C, Ward P, Coveney J and Handsley E in Australia (2012) where the nutritional value of products targeted at children in a supermarket environment was evaluated. Using the method of content analysis 157 products were divided into core and non-core categories. Non-core foods representing the products which should not be consumed daily by children as they are high in sugar and fat whereas core foods are recommended to be consumed as often as possible because they are full of nutrients. Results showed that only 24,8% of the products fell into the category of core foods and the remaining 75,2% are non-core. The information concerning health and nutrition displayed on product packaging was found on 63,7 % of the products used more on core products, nevertheless, even 55,5% non-core foods also displayed claims concerning health and nutrition regardless of being high in fat or sugar. This information is significant to consumer behavior regarding children as both parents and these younger consumers could possibly purchase unhealthy products believing they are good for them because of the way they are presented through product packaging aspects as misleading symbols and false nutrition facts and are worrying: “Claims about health or nutrition on non-core foods deserve urgent attention owing to their potential to mislead and confuse child and adult consumers.” (Mehta, K., Phillips, C., Ward, P., Coveney, J., Handsley, E. & Carter, P. 2012 p.1763)
While discussing the effective strategies and messages directed at kids through food packaging the question of responsible marketing is often mentioned in the referenced studies of this paper. Considering the gained knowledge of consumer behaviour and the negative aspects of food promotion to children there are numerous ways some companies use or could use this information in the future to promote healthier foods in order to influence good eating habits of children.