Does packaging transparency affect how much people eat?

Apparently, people eat less cookies from transparent packages than they do from opaque ones, when they’re snacking away in front of the TV. But, on the flip side, they actually eat more M&M’S as they channel surf, if the colorful candies are in clear packaging. 

The difference? Well, the cookies are a large snack, while the M&M’S are small. So, to increase sales, retailers should offer small foods (like M&M’S) in transparent packages and large foods (like cookies) in opaque containers.

That’s according to professors Xiaoyan Deng, of Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, and Raji Srinivasan, of McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin. In short, the researchers found that clear bags make it easier to be tempted by tasty-looking foods, but they also reveal how much you’re about to eat. The study placed experimental subjects in a common snacking environment: in front of the television (where 70 percent of all snacks are consumed). Researchers told the subjects that they would be evaluating advertisements that ran during episodes of the popular sitcom The Office. Participants were provided with snack foods including nuts, cookies, M&M’S, Cheerios and Froot Loops to munch on while they watched TV. Some foods were offered in transparent bags, while others in opaque bags.

Of course, the focus of the study was on the food, not the commercials. The authors weighed and counted the contents of the bags before handing them out. When the “ad evaluation” was done, containers were collected and labeled with each subject’s identifying number. Professor Deng notes “We measured food consumption. We didn’t [just] get people’s attitudes.”

The researchers found that the transparency of food packaging influences snacking habits in different ways depending on the size, visual appeal and healthiness of the food it contains. Participants ate less large, visually appealing snack foods (such as cookies) from transparent packages than they did from opaque ones. However, researchers also found that small foods like M&M’S were more appealing in clear packaging — participants ate 58 percent more M&M’S from the transparent bags than they did from the opaque bag.

The authors also examined what happened when healthy foods — in this case, baby carrots — were offered in transparent and opaque bags. The unexpected outcome: People ate fewer carrots from transparent packages than opaque ones.