When something tastes good, it tastes good, right? End of story – or so people thought. In recent years, sensory research has revealed a much more complex reality. Some sensory experts estimate that at least half of our experience with food and drink is determined by all five senses. For example, a dessert served on a white dish will be perceived as 10% sweeter than the same item served on a black dish, according to a study by Piqueras-Fizman, Alcaida, Roura, Spence; Food Quality & Preference, Vol. 24, No. 1, April 2012.
These fascinating findings have real implications for brand managers. The fact that consumer perceptions of taste are determined well before the food or beverage is even sampled creates a host of interesting opportunities, particularly in terms of packaging.
To further explore the role of all the senses in consumers’ experience of taste, Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) commissioned studies of the sensory science behind the aluminum can and other packaging options. Primary research and a review of published secondary study sources were conducted by FoodMinds, a Chicago-based food and nutrition consulting company.
Qualitative experiential research highlights the multi-sensory effects reported in academic papers – and demonstrates how the tactile nature of aluminum cans enhance the taste experience for study participants across a wide range of beverages:
“The feel of tea in a can is cool and metallic on the lips and in the hand … it offers a cool burst of smoothness.” Craft beer from a can produces “a familiar aroma – you can smell different ingredients in the beer, like hops and barley.” For soda drinkers, it’s “the cool feeling of canned soda hitting the lips and the fizziness popping against your nose on that first sip.”
The look and feel of beverage cans contribute important cues to consumers’ overall drinking experience. In quantitative attribute and benefit research, over two-thirds of all consumers agree with the statement: “Relative to a plastic bottle, a chilled can of my favorite beverage feels colder and more refreshing.” Clearly, the smooth, cold beverage can positively affects people’s drinking experience. Also, a beverage can’s 360-degree brand graphics provide visual cues that drive appeal and expectations. Nearly half of consumers indicate they have tried a new type of beverage based on the way its container label and graphics look.
It’s also important to note the role that sound plays in beverage enjoyment. Consumers state that “cracking” a can signals transformation: “The crackling noise when opening a can … marks the start of a happy, pleasurable experience.” And, the can industry is currently exploring new can openings designed to deliver auditory signals that enhance drinking pleasure.
Another fundamental connection between packaging and taste occurs at the chemical level. Beverages like milk, fruit juices and beer are highly susceptible to the damaging effects of sunlight and oxygen. Drinks in containers that fail to completely block light or those that are permeable to air very rapidly develop “off” flavors and, in the case of milk and juice, lose key nutrients. Cans are one of the most effective packages for protecting beverages from both light and oxygen.
Whether it’s the cold sensation of drinking from the can, pleasurable visual and auditory cues, or fresh flavor and aromas, aluminum beverage containers really deliver on the sensory level – and offer unique advantages for product owners.
Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) is the national trade association of the metal can manufacturing industry and its suppliers in the United States. The can industry accounts for the annual domestic production of approximately 124 billion food, beverage and other metal cans. It employs more than 28,000 people with plants in 33 states, Puerto Rico and American Samoa, and generates about $17.8 billion in direct economic activity. Its members are committed to providing safe, nutritious and refreshing canned food and beverages to consumers.