Light products are often presented in pale blue packaging. Not the best choice, discovered PhD candidate Irene Tijssen of Human Nutrition. Consumers associate pastel colours with health, but don’t find them as appealing as bright colours such as red or orange.
In collaboration with the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), Unilever and FrieslandCampina, Tijssen investigated how you can make healthy products more attractive, thus making the healthy option the easier option too. ‘You can tell people what is healthy, but we know that they don’t generally behave accordingly. So we especially want to see how we can make sure people make healthier choices, without necessarily emphasizing the health benefits.’
Tijssen got participants to play a computer game in which they had to connect various colours with certain words with attractive and unattractive meanings. It came out that people found warm, bright colours more attractive. Tijssen also scanned participants’ brains to see what happened there as they evaluated the packaging. ‘We saw more activity in the reward centre in the brain when people looked at the packaging in warm, bright colours.’ She also tested whether the packaging influences what people thought of the taste, but that turned out not to make a difference.
Tijssen has one reservation about the study. Most of the participants were Wageningen women whose health awareness is above average. ‘Of course I would have preferred to have a more representative group, but I don’t think that makes the results less valid. In fact, we would expect an even clearer effect. Because we think that people who are less health-conscious choose food mainly for its taste, and are therefore even more put off by products that are promoted as healthy, as they are thought to be less tasty. Whereas people who are already health-conscious are also influenced by other information on the label.’