Why buying habits should influence your packaging design

The modern-day consumer is overwhelmed by choice. An endless amount of products fight for our attention on stuffed supermarket shelves and face masks, screaming children, shop workers, and other customers only add to the sensory overload.

Christian Skelton
Written by Christian Skelton
Client Director

Products usually receive as little attention as a cursory glance, before being tossed into a trolley. The psychology of purchasing food and drink products starts way back before the supermarket shelf. External influencing factors such as upbringing, worldview, mindset and mood can make or break a sale, and as we can’t try before we buy, we have to go off intuition.

Unfortunately for many producers, our intuition encourages us not to take risks, not to try anything new, and to purchase the same old supermarket products we’ve bought for years. If we grew up drinking Coca Cola, the chances are we'll keep drinking Coca Cola.

So if consumers buy off intuition, how do small-scale food and drink producers stand a chance against established brands with decades of brand equity behind them?

First, we need to consider consumer buying habits and what draws a consumer to your product in the first place. We buy with our eyes, food and drink products are no exception. Colour, typography, structure and form all have a vast, often subconscious impact on consumer buying behaviour.

With this in mind, it’s essential to consider the dominant market players when planning your packaging. Just as a supermarket own-brands mimic the market leader's packaging, creating artificial familiarity in an already established market (at a lower price-point), you should also use the brand equity of market leaders to your advantage.

By no means should you simply copy them, you certainly won't out Walkers Walkers, but piggybacking off their subconscious brand equity will help. We’re all creatures of habit and familiarity is essential. It pays to remember that you’re fighting for your customers’ precious time and attention, and the easier you can make their experience the better.

Ask yourself, if you’re shopping for ready salted crisps for your craving pregnant partner at 2 am, what colour would you want the packet to be?

When we launched our challenger mayo brand, Good Fat, this is precisely the approach we took. We chose a yellow that resembled the market leader so consumers would recognise it as a classic ‘real’ mayonnaise without saying it. Doing this had two key benefits: it freed precious label space so we could increase the size of the logo, product name and key differentiating feature (avocado oil), and secondly, it allowed us to design a radically different mayo brand to Hellmann’s that still felt familiar.

Getting your products to stand out in a major retailer is hard enough with all the sensory overload of the supermarket experience. Still, there is a fine line between stand out and unfamiliar/awkward. Product packaging can make or break a brand, and understanding what really drives consumer behaviour is vital.

Memorable small-scale food and drink brands align their packaging with consumer expectations but use design, humour and personality in ways the market leaders can only dream of. Get the balance right, and you’ll win over consumers in droves and create true lifelong loyal fans.