Can the Wording of a Product Label Really Affect How Food Tastes?
Posted by : Mercury Labels Ltd on Monday, February 28, 2022 in Printed Labels.
Few consumers or businesses genuinely understand the extent to which packaging or labelling can affect our interpretation of the product within. It is no secret that the packaging plays a key role in appealing to our senses when it comes to convincing us to buy something in the first place.
When it comes to the enjoyment we get out of the content in the packaging, the messages we receive before we even open it are incredibly influential.
In fact, a recent study carried out in the United States found that it is perfectly possible to manipulate human taste buds, simply by altering the wording of a product label. With just a few basic modifications, researchers found that the same chocolate chip cookie could be made to taste unpleasantly bitter or completely delicious.
This is based entirely on the information on the label and nothing else.
Ohio State University Study
The study conducted in Ohio involved around 60 participants each given a selection of cookies, some of which were labelled 'Consumer Complaint' and had supposedly been criticised by customers for their unpleasant flavour. Meanwhile, others were labelled ‘New and Improved’ - a revamped and reformulated cookie, created to remedy the issues with the previous product.
There was also a third type of cookie labelled ‘Factory Typical’, which was described as the most basic formula for the recipe.
What none of the participants were told was that all of the cookies were, in fact, identical.
As expected, the participants reported completely different flavours, and textures and levels of enjoyment when sampling the three identical cookies.
"We had both negative and positive bias – but the negative bias was much bigger," explains food scientist Christopher Simons from Ohio State University.
"On one hand, it is not surprising. On the other hand, the degree of the impact was really surprising."
Disproportionate Negative Bias
What the team found was that while a positive description slightly altered the way the cookie was interpreted, a negative description had a more powerful effect. This is due to the fact that the human brain is automatically engineered to focus on the negatives first.
If there is something negative to be said about a product, or a variation of a product, this is what we focus on, over and above any positives.
But what the team found particularly interesting was how changing just a couple of words alone was enough to make people who absolutely loved cookies perceive the products they were eating as bitter and unpleasant. Even though they were completely identical to the ‘New and Improved’ versions they thoroughly enjoyed.
"These outcomes, being observed across both product types, suggest the impact of an applied negativity bias on the perception and liking of food products is robust," the authors write.However, given the products tested presently are relatively simple, further research should also examine the impact of applied negativity bias on more complex products.”