Do labels and packaging really affect what we taste?

How much do labels and food packaging affect what we taste when we eat a product?

It’s a question that Christopher T Simons, Associate Professor in Sensory Science at The Ohio State University, has given a lot of thought to.

In his latest study, he presented people with three plates of identical biscuits, one labelled “customer complaint”, one labelled “factory typical”, and another labelled “new and improved”.

“People perceived them totally differently” he tells Stefan Gates in this episode of the Table Talk podcast.

But why is that? And how can the food industry use studies like this to make their products more attractive to consumers?

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Professor Simons says there are important lessons to be learned, and many ways the findings can be applied, not least in new product development and marketing.

And if labels and packaging, descriptions and pre-conceived ideas are so important, could they be used to help people switch to a healthier, more sustainable diet?

Christopher T Simons, Associate Professor in Sensory Science, CFAES Department of Food Science & Technology, The Ohio State University

Christopher Simons earned his undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Oregon, his M.S. degree in Physiology from Portland State University, and his Ph.D. in Sensory Science from the University of California, Davis. 

Subsequently, Chris completed post-doctoral fellowships in the Laboratoire de Neurobiologie Sensorielle [Sensory Neurobiology Laboratory] at the Ecole Pratiques des Hautes Etudes in Massy, France and the Unités de Formation et Recherche de la Odontologie [Dental School] at the Universite Paris 7

From 2004 through 2012 Chris led the Sensory Research function at Givaudan Flavors Corp. and joined the faculty in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the Ohio State University in 2013.

Chris’ research interests use a multidisciplinary approach to understand the perception of foods and how they are processed to influence reward and ultimately behaviour. 

One outcome of this research is to identify the neural and physiological correlates associated with perception, liking, and food choice through the use of a variety of methodologies including human sensory testing or psychophysics, electrophysiology and behavioural measurements. Another outcome is to leverage the knowledge gained from these types of investigations into the development of new methodologies that assist in the creation of better foods.

Human tongue

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Do labels and packaging really affect what we taste?