Obesity creates challenge for pack designers

Consumers are making active attempts to eat more healthily, but the threat of obesity is showing no sign of slowing down, according to a recent Datamonitor report.

This contradiction persists despite efforts by food manufacturers, retailers and designers to highlight the nutritional content of their products using labelling systems on packaging. Supporters of these labels say that never has it been so easy to monitor how much of the bad stuff we are consuming.

The report, however, also finds that shoppers are not willing to forgo flavour for health, something that is attributed to a widespread belief that healthy food tastes inferior.

‘Although shoppers are making active attempts to eat more healthily they are unwilling to sacrifice hedonistic attributes associated with food, such as taste, pleasure and enjoyment,’ says consumer market analyst Michael Hughes.

Designers play an active role in enhancing food products through packaging, while ensuring nutritional guidelines and daily recommendation labels are clear and informative. But the two requirements are often at odds with one another.

When responding to a packaging design brief, designers must take into account the balance between highlighting nutritional content, lending a helping hand in tackling the health crisis, and selling the product for their client.

Clearly, designing packaging for a food product that is both healthy and tasty is the best scenario. But if this is not the case, then, for designers, honesty is the best policy when it comes to shouldering the responsibility in the wider obesity debate, says Martin Grimer, executive creative director of Blue Marlin.

‘I think the worst thing you can do is make something that is not good for you look like it is. If we were asked to do that we would point out that it is strategically wrong. This is where Sunny Delight went wrong, positioning itself as something healthy when it wasn’t true. You can embrace products that are bad for you but in a good way. It is about being honest and making sure people have an informed choice. With all the latest guideline daily allowances being more informative, we have to put this on the pack, but it is about delivering that information in a more engaging way. You have got to be creative around the labels,’ says Grimer.

Datamonitor’s survey reveals that rather than focusing on the elimination of bad nutrients from their diets, consumers are also embracing the concept of positive nutrition, focusing on the good content within food and drinks. While consumers are moderating what they eat and drink they still want to maintain a sense of normality when dieting.

Whether plastering nutritional information on the front of packs makes it easier for consumers when making their choice is not known, says Andy Knowles, chief executive of Jones Knowles Ritchie.

‘We are familiar with the trolley-dash way of life and I don’t know if lots of panels are much help. Is it the responsibility of the packaging designer to target these issues? My view would be no. But packaging design can be most useful in helping consumers find things more quickly and help them make an informed choice. But putting more data on to the labels is likely to have minimal impact. We are not looking at packaging to do the job of solving these issues. People want trust more than anything and it is more important to stay true to the brand than talk about how healthy it is,’ Knowles says.

Tackling obesity

Datamonitor’s report Obesity, Dieting, Exercise And The Future of Food And Drink – Understanding consumer attitudes and behaviours, highlights the causes behind the growing levels of obesity and assesses changing attitudes towards diets, lifestyles and purchase patterns

Key findings include:

• Consumers are making active attempts to eat more healthily, but the threat of obesity is not slowing
• Consumers will not sacrifice taste for health
• People are not making lifestyle changes
• Although they are moderating what they eat and drink, consumers want to maintain a sense of normality when dieting
• Focusing on the good nutrients makes dieting easier and less compromising

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