Spence, along with Betina Piqueras-Fiszman and Carlos Velasco, used 24 Colombian participants and 24 British to investigate the crossmodal associations between the color of product packaging and flavor variety in potato chips.
Spence said he got the idea to for the study from his Colombian family.
“We were already carrying out research into how color affects flavor perception, for example the color of the plate, and then I noticed how my Colombian in-laws got confused buying crisps [potato chips] in the UK,” he told BakeryandSnacks.com. “They go for green crisps expecting lemon flavour, which is what green crisp packaging means in Colombia.”
The study also used the Walkers brand because of the reversal of color; Walkers uses blue for cheese and onion and green for salt and vinegar – the opposite of other major chip brands.
The respondents underwent a variety of tests, the most simple of which was tasting chips from various packets, some with the appropriate contents and some not, and evaluating which flavor they could taste.
The researchers also used implicit association tasks (IAT) because consumers often find it difficult to articulate certain associations, said Spence.
“We showed them images, flashing up colors or words of flavors, and they had two buttons to play with, for example, left for salt and vinegar and right for cheese and onion,” he said. “They then pressed the button they felt corresponded to the image or word on screen.”
According to Spence, respondents from both the UK and Colombia usually chose the taste of the packet rather than the chip itself. In addition, they generally aligned with their favorite brands. So the UK participants who favored Walkers tasted cheese and onion when eating chips out of a blue packet.
Another part of the research was creating flavors that consumers would not have seen on the shelves, so seaweed and salt, foie gras and figs, and tuna mayonnaise, and put them in a made up brand – Cripps. Again, cultural differences showed up in the responses, as British respondents associated foie gras and figs with purple, which none of the Colombians did.
Spence also conducted research looking at Walkers Sensations packaging.
“Walkers Sensations came in black packets with musical instruments on the cover, for example trumpets on the chicken crisp packets. People often taste the sound so we decided to test whether the right instrument was on the right packet. We gave them crisps and asked them to match them with the sounds of the instruments,” he said. “They didn’t intuitively pick the right instruments and Walkers eventually removed these images from the packaging. “
Spence says the study opens up opportunities to create packaging based on consumer preference.
He said: “Brand owners can apply these tests to real marketing solutions and base decisions on research, rather than the whim of managers. Anyone can run similar tests over the internet and we are putting some of the tests online. Some can even be downloaded as apps so can be played as a game.”
Source: Food Quality and Preference
(2012), doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2012.02.010
“Exploring implicit and explicit crossmodal colour-flavour correspondences in product packaging”
Authors: Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, Carlos Velasco, Charles Spence