Do you think Starbucks coffee tastes better than McDonalds? How do you think the Starbucks coffee grounds taste compared to Walmart’s when you brew it yourself? According to Consumer Reports if you think the Starbucks stuff tastes better you might just be fooling yourself.
Marketers have known for a long time that packaging makes a difference in how the quality of their product is perceived. To coffee snobs, Starbucks will always be known for making cafes fun again, inventing lots of tasty drinks, and free Wifi. But they’ll never be known for great coffee. The packaging of their product has helped make it a profitable one. And by default we just assume it’s better.
Children are a great example of this. When pushing them through the cereal aisle of a grocery store they gravitate towards the cereal brands they recognize. It’s not simply the colors, but the characters as well well. The boxes draw them in. One would expect that a taste test where children are told what they’re eating would probably lead to them preferring the name brand cereals to a generic with a more ordinary box. But when kids don’t know what the brand is, their preferences are much more skewed to the middle (warning link is to somewhat unscientific study).
But these are active efforts to increase our pleasure or enjoyment of a food. What about passive ones? Researchers in Europe have found that the color something is served in affects how much it is enjoyed. For instance, hot chocolate served in an orange cup is considered tastier than if it was served in a red one. Likewise, coffee served in a brown package was considered to have a stronger flavor.
Other studies have shown that when spicy food is served with more red ingredients it’s perceived to be hotter. Strawberry mousse tastes better when served on a white plate than black as well. There’s not much method to this madness. The only consistency is that for a given food there may be a color or packaging that makes it more appealing to the consumer.
Just like the active efforts to influence your perception of quality, marketers probably use these passive tricks as well. To those not aware of the effects this is probably a good thing. To those of us that find these studies interesting, we just hate ourselves when we reach for the Starbucks coffee anyway.