The consumer

Packaging affects consumer choices. Specific features, such as a tab for easy opening or the size of the packaging, can be crucial. Many favourable properties of packaging – such as whether it improves the shelf life of products or has sustainable origins – are not as easily visible to consumers.

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research studies consumer attitudes versus packaged products: which aspects influence their choice for a particular packaging? In answering specific questions we combine our expertise in the field of consumer research with our knowledge of sustainable packaging options.

Consumer research

Various methods can be used to research consumer experience and evaluation of packaging. We study the way in which people choose packaging in the supermarket, why they make certain choices and how we can encourage them to select a ‘sustainable product’, for instance by changing the packaging. Using insights from this type of research we can advise governments, trade associations and companies on how to use the right information on, for instance, (bio)plastics in communication and marketing campaigns, and make the benefits of sustainable packaging more visible.

In our ‘real life’ test facilities, we present packaging options to consumers and monitor the way in which they use and evaluate the packaging and whether they understand how the packaging should be disposed. Our research shows that many consumers don’t recognise specific recycling logos on packaging, let alone understand their meaning – as a result, they don’t dispose of the packaging in the right way.

From consumer to material choice

To link our expertise in the field of sustainable packaging development and consumer acceptance, when choosing a packaging material we always recommend that people start with looking at who will use the packaging and how. If we look at coffee pads and tea bags, for instance; these products are typically tossed in compost bins after usage. Nowadays, these products often contain an unrecognisable percentage of non-compostable material, while the packaging suggests that it can be deposited in the compost bin. When developing materials for sustainable tea bags or coffee pads it is therefore logical to use compostable materials - or for manufacturers to clearly indicate whether the packaging can or cannot be deposited in the compost bin.

Consumers and food wastage

Our consumer research is also focused on sustainability issues that involve preventing food wastage. This includes studying the effects of various uses of ‘use by’ labels. With a smarter design – so-called intelligent packaging – we can create better insight into and often extend the shelf life of products. Understanding consumer behaviour and acceptance is essential in this: how do consumers deal with opened or resealable packaging? What information on quality and storage has a positive effect on reducing waste? We deploy our expertise in consumer research for ‘social innovation’, including using packaging to influence consumers and prevent food wastage.