The Current

Decoding subliminal messaging designed into food packaging

There are fewer red Smarties in the package these days. Even though the Smarties box is actually bigger. It is all part of grand design to seduce you with packaging. Today, By Design, takes away the sugar coating to examine the psychology and marketing behind the packaging of our food.
Sometimes small things come in big packages. Nestle Canada has revamped the Smarties package, to help Canadians eat fewer of the candies. (Canadian Press)

When it comes to food packaging, the Smarties box, with its explosion of colours, and flip-open tab -- has to rank highly in terms of iconic designs... at least for anyone who grew up as a candy-loving Canadian kid.

But, something happened to the Smarties box lately.  It got bigger. But look inside, and you'll find fewer Smarties than before.  

The Smarties shake up got us thinking about the world of food packaging. Because it's often what's on the outside, as much as on the inside, that makes us decide what to put into our shopping carts. 

And so our project By Design decided to go shopping.

First met Simon Fraser University marketing professor Judy Zaichkowski at Stongs Market in Vancouver, to walk us through the aisles, and point out some similar packaging changes in other foods.

"What happens in cereal over time is the box gets narrower.  So you can offer less but the shelf facing is the same.- Judy Zaichkowski, Marketing Professor

Clearly, every last square inch of the grocery store aisles has been carefully calculated, and deliberately designed.  

To continue our shopping trip, and explain some of the most up-to-date strategies used in the world of food packaging, we were joined by:         

  • Candace Ellicott is the co-author of the book, "Packaging Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Creating Packages," and  a part-time professor at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.  She was in Halifax.
  • Martin Lindstrom is the author of "Brand Sense" and joined us from New York City.

What do you look for when you walk down the grocery aisle? Have you purchased products based on tempting packaging? 

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This segment was produced by The Current's Leif Zapf-Gilje.