Multisensory food packaging

01 : 12 : 2015 Packaging Design : Charles Spence : Synaesthetic Selling
still from Dove chocolate campaign by BBDO Beijing still from Dove chocolate campaign by BBDO Beijing

Is it possible to create taste experiences by stimulating other senses? And if so, why aren’t more brands experimenting with the tactile, sonic and visual qualities of packaging to communicate their products?

According to food researcher Charles Spence, our perception of flavour is influenced by a combination of our senses rather than taste alone and can be affected by diverse stimuli. Despite this, food and drink packaging is generally limited to relying on visual cues, such as a snappy label, with little thought going into the feel of the product or how it sounds. 

In the past few years, a growing fascination with the senses has emerged and with it branding and design inspired by related neurological phenomena, such as synaesthesia. Marketers and brand strategists have drawn on scientific explorations into the ‘hacking’ of the senses to create more appealing products and immersive events, such as Louis Vuitton’s Series 3 catwalk exhibition and Fragrant Supper Club and Waldorf Project’s experimental food and drink offerings. Such an approach could be combined with research into packaging to create multisensory, synaesthetic experiences. 

Chapter Two/Colour by the The Waldorf Project uses chromatic light stimulation to change how people perceive the flavour of each dish being served. The meals take the form of grey, textureless cuboids to remove the conventional sensory appeal of food. While food packaging has long relied on colour to generate desire, an imaginative next step might be to create a lexicon of flavour and colour pairings that stimulate taste through vision, and to elaborate on that spectrum by layering sound and touch stimuli.

Based on findings from a self-initiated study, Touch That Taste by Martyna Barbara Golik translates flavours into different textures and weights in a series of five playful objects, each representing one taste group. Using materials such as felt, foam and rubber, Golik creates experimental, trans-sensory products including Umami carpet and Bitter slippers. These playful innovations suggest that it’s time to move beyond foil wrappers and experiment with new materials that communicate flavour through texture and weight.

The sonic qualities of packaging are highlighted in the latest Dove chocolate campaign by BBDO Beijing for the Chinese market. The video features a young woman slowly unwrapping a chocolate bar and amplifies the crinkly sounds generated by the foil wrapper as she opens it. The soundscape was designed to stimulate the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) – a pleasurable physical sensation triggered by a variety of sonic stimuli including whispering, fingernails tapping on a plastic surface and packaging being scrunched up.

ASMR is a growing internet phenomenon that has exploded since the term was first coined in 2010. Although there are no official statistics on the number of people experiencing the sensation, the YouTube views are suggestive. One of the most popular ASMR channels, gentlewhispering, boasts over 160m views. The commercial potential of triggering ASMR experiences through branding, design and advertising has not yet been realised. This is perhaps due to the phenomenon’s erotic connotations, although the advertising industry is hardly a stranger to suggestive content.

Experimental examples such as those mentioned here show the potential for elevating everyday interactions with packaging into multisensory experiences. Capturing flavours through tactile, visual and sonic qualities might seem like an ambitious idea, but designers could draw on the present wave of experience-led learning to stimulate consumers’ trans-sensory desires.

To find out more about how packaging can elevate taste experiences, attend our Food and Drink network evening on Thursday 3 December at 6:00pm.