Chocolate is produced and consumed all over the world, with almost half its total consumption taking place here in America. What makes us buy so much of it? A simple love of its melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness? Probably. A cultural association with romance? Perhaps.

The packaging it comes in? Almost certainly.

Using advanced state-of-the-art technology, our recent study at CUshop, a retail lab at Clemson University, found that adding metallic foils and laminates to premium chocolate packaging does attract consumer attention and drive purchase intent.

This Package InSight study offers brand owners and designers valuable insights into consumer preferences when purchasing premium goods. In addition, it provides brands with the knowledge required to create packs that truly stand out in what is an increasingly crowded and competitive market place. The study was sponsored by API, a manufacturer and distributor of foils, laminates and holographic materials for luxury consumer goods.

With many shoppers now viewing it as a luxury, chocolate has become the fastest-growing market segment. As such, there is no longer any room for generic chocolate products. As the results show, today’s chocolate packaging demands something special.

“The study builds on the exciting work they have previously done in eye tracking on customers within a store environment,” explains Richard Burhouse, commercial director at API. “They use cutting-edge technology to understand the subconscious decision processes going on in the consumer’s mind—a real holy grail for brand owners.

“Package InSight was an excellent fit to perform the study because of their experience and standing in the industry. They offer excellent academic rigor, with all their study findings subject to strict review through the process and methodology at Clemson.”

A Realistic Shopping Experience

In a simulated retail store environment in the CUshop Consumer Experience Laboratory at Clemson University, we examined the on-shelf impact of metallic materials on two different chocolate products.

The facility provided a representative shopping environment with 12-foot shopping aisles and frozen food, produce and refrigerated areas. Working with API, we presented typical chocolate planograms from local grocery stores.

There were 70 participants (64 percent female, 36 percent male). They ranged in age from 22 to 65 or older, with 36 percent of respondents between the ages of 30-39.

The participants, or “shoppers,” wore calibrated, eye-tracking glasses while selecting products from a list. The glasses—which allowed us to track a consumer’s eye movements up to 50 times per second, delivering comprehensive analysis in just a few days—then revealed to us the “nonconscious” signals that caused them to select certain chocolate offerings. (See Figure 1)

Time To Fixation

During the quantitative eye-tracking study, we showed participants two chocolate controls without and two chocolate stimuli with embellishments—one foil stamped and one in a laminate carton. To avoid beauty contests between the stimuli and control, we placed control and stimuli products on the shelf at different times and they were each viewed by 35 study participants.

Eye movement metrics helped us understand why consumers chose the stimuli over the control or vice versa.

The heat map, drawn from the entire participant pool, demonstrates the participants’ aggregate total fixation duration (TFD). Green indicates participants observed the area. Yellow indicates participants viewed certain product areas longer, with red areas viewed the longest (control left, stimuli right).

The graph shows the time, in seconds, from where the chocolate product (either stimuli or control depending on rotation of products) first entered a participant’s field of vision until the person fixated on it. The lower the number, the better the package performed.

Our results indicate that participants noticed the control and stimuli for both the Swiss chocolate (foil) and Belgian collection (laminate) at approximately the same time. Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to sufficient evidence to determine that control was quicker than the stimuli for either chocolate offering.

Fixation Count

Next, we measured the number of times the participant scanned the chocolate planogram (i.e., how often the participant fixated on the product in question). The higher the number, the better the package performed.

When comparing the control for both the Belgian collection chocolate and Swiss chocolate stimuli, we found that participants looked at the stimuli significantly more often than the control packs. For the Swiss chocolate, participants looked at the foil stimuli 196 times compared to 134 for the non-foil control. For the Belgian chocolate, participants looked at the laminate stimuli 196 times compared to 134 for the non-laminate control. We therefore concluded that there was sufficient evidence to determine that both foil and laminate stimuli were fixated on more times than the control.

Total Fixation Duration

This metric—one of the most important in any consumer study—involves the time, in seconds, the participant fixates on a specific item. The higher the number, the better the package performed. When comparing the control to the stimuli for the Swiss chocolate, our findings indicate that participants looked at the foil stimuli significantly longer than the control. Participants looked at the stimuli 1.46 times longer than the control.

Likewise, when comparing the control to the stimuli for the Belgian chocolate, we found that participants looked at the stimuli 1.36 longer, significantly longer than the Therefore, we concluded that there is sufficient evidence to determine that the stimuli for both chocolate products was looked at longer than the control.

In addition, we also found a strong correlation between total fixation duration and product selection: As the participant’s fixation duration increased, so did the consumer’s likelihood of purchasing the product fixated upon.

Following suit, our post-survey results indicate that 61 percent of study participants prefer the foil stamped Swiss chocolate and 87 percent prefer the metallic carton of the Belgian chocolate when compared side by side. When we asked the participants if they would be more inclined to purchase a chocolate offering that was foil stamped, 69 percent said yes. These remarkably high percentages show a substantial preference toward the enhanced versions of each chocolate product.

Purchase Decision

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the next part of our study measured how many participants chose to buy the items in question. The higher the number, the better the package performed.

Our results indicated that the foil stimuli packs did have an effect on consumers’ purchase decision, with the Swiss chocolate stimuli being purchased 23 percent more than the control. Though the results for the Belgian collection were less striking, they still favored the stimuli, with it being purchased 6 percent more than the control.

Our results for the Swiss chocolate also showed that, amidst a competitive array of products, the control came second to the stimuli. This led us to conclude that, for the Swiss chocolate, the addition of foil stamping boosted the likelihood that the product would stand out in the context of a crowded and competitive shelf.

Purchase decisions, therefore, can be seen to increase with the addition of foil or laminate stimuli to the pack, indicating a high preference toward the enhanced versions of each chocolate product.

Foil’s Impact Confirmed

After participants selected a product for each item on the shopping list, they transitioned to a debriefing area where they answered a post-experiment questionnaire that gathered qualitative data regarding the packages they had viewed.

During this qualitative evaluation, participants clearly indicated they preferred the enhanced versions of both the Swiss chocolate and Belgian collection offerings. Self-reports indicated that participants felt that the metallic foils and laminates added a premium feel to the chocolate that represented a higher-quality product. A sampling of responses follow:

  • “The foil makes it look fancier.”
  • “The foil samples look higher quality.”
  • “The foil-stamped version looks more elegant and expensive.”
  • “The gold foil portrays a more high-end product.”
  • “For chocolate, the foil stamp does give an image of higher quality if little is known about the brands.”
  • “It just says ‘fancier.’ If I am looking for fancier chocolates, I look for fancier packaging.”
  • “It gives it a more premium look and shows their attention to detail.”
  • “The foil stamp gives it the appearance of being sealed, which is correlated with freshness.”

As API’s Burhouse comments: “It is clear from these results that foil can significantly boost the chances of luxury chocolate products in a store environment. Also interesting is the participants’ tendency to associate decorative foil with higher-end goods—this suggests foil may not be suited to all products, and indeed could be counter-productive in some cases.

“But there’s no doubt that, correctly applied, it boosts interest and sales,” he says. “Determining whether a product is right for foil is a matter of knowing the brand. At API, for example, we work closely with brand teams throughout the design process to develop a profound understanding of the brand’s essence.”

Shelf impact of decorated products is a major concern for brand owners—especially in a crowded marketplace with savvy consumers. An eye-catching pack can make all the difference. Unseen is unsold.

This eye-tracking study clearly showcases the head-turning impact of foil stamping in helping various types of chocolate packaging stand out. For chocolate lovers out there: Taste does matter, but so does attractive packaging.

Overall, the purchase decisions, eye-tracking results and survey results of this study indicate that chocolate (Swiss and Belgian) is an ideal product to be foil stamped because it communicates elegance, high quality and a premium feel.

For chocolate—and, by extension, other luxury items—it is crucial to give packages personality. 70 percent of all purchasing decisions are made in the store once the consumer is confronted by the shelf. Foil stamping is a highly effective way to stand out from the crowd.