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What's more important: standout packaging or standout flavor?

What's more important: standout packaging or standout flavor?
Like the conundrum of the chicken and the egg, determining whether to focus more on flavor or on packaging has stumped many natural food entrepreneurs and led to numerous unattractive or unfinished-looking products on store shelves. Which attribute is more important?

For food entrepreneurs entering the natural industry, one question reigns supreme: Do I hook my potential customer on packaging or on flavor?

The timely debate plays out in a new world of packaging where consumers not only care about design, but also about sustainability. In fact, three-quarters of Americans believe many consumer products are over-packaged according to NMI's annual U.S. LOHAS Consumer Trends Study.

A discussion on the Natural Product Expo LinkedIn Group that's 72 comments deep reveals mixed opinions from industry professionals. Keep the following in mind to determine your priority when launching a natural food product.

In favor of packaging

If it's a new product, one that no one knows about, the most important thing is packaging. No one will appreciate the flavor if they are not first enticed into picking up the product, purchasing it, taking it home and trying it. –Fred Zinos 

We thought standout flavor was more important but consumers make assumptions about flavor and quality from looking at the packaging. It's a bigger part of the equation then we realized initially. Melissa Scheiderer 

My vote goes to packaging. We have a great tasting popped quinoa mixed cereal that continues to sell more and more, but sales started improving with a better looking presentation in the package. –Jorge Camacho

If you're a new product, a well designed package can be the start to your success. Before you even get to the consumer, consider that store buyers and distributors will also make judgments whether or not to carry your product by its packaging. –Jonathan Selikoff 

You literally have 1 second to catch a customer's eye as they walk past a section or display. Only then are you able to begin communicating the attributes of your product that inspire purchase. But if the product does not meet the desired benefit, you have now lost that customer. –Vincent Garibaldi

The package is vitally important. Although, whenever I've brought in demo people to get a slow moving—but great tasting product off and running—it manages to take off. –LoRayne Haye

All though [sic] we all want to lean towards flavor initially it's the packaging that gets the consumers' attention. Unless you are sampling product in store the consumer will know nothing of the taste until they have purchased the product. This is why most new products fail. You must invest in your branding and design in order to be successful and without the taste you won't get repeat business. –Cristina Calvet-Harrold

As a sustainable packaging manufacturer, I naturally vote for packaging—as the famous ad legend David Ogilvy once said "perception is all there is" and with packaging you are creating a perception. However, a caution... the packaging material should fit the brand positioning. One thing that continues to surprise me is the high number of products marketed as "natural" or "organic" in non-compostable or non-recyclable packaging. To me that sends a mixed message to a consumer that is predisposed to seeking out the healthiest options for their diet only to be conflicted by the materials encasing these items. –Kellee Harris

From a buyer's perspective, it's all about the package... You eat with your eyes first.  Obviously, for repeat purchase, your product needs to taste good etc… That is critical for the long term. For the short term though, first impressions count. I would say the above holds true for over 90% of the products I manage whether in grocery, HABA or OTC. I can give examples to the contrary, but unfortunately they are few and far between. –Kenny Vannucci 

In favor of flavor

Taste is more important. Reviews by consumers will either bring in new clients or turn off people. Note that independent reviews are shown to be more important than marketing. –Celestino Corraliza

Go for the flavor. You can improve your packaging over time so more people notice you but after that first experience with a bad taste (or even just a 'normal' taste) they won't give you a second chance. People wouldn't have had Frank Lloyd Wright design the second house if his first had crumbled. –Joe Miller 

If it's a great product, people will eventually find it, and it will spread. If it's a bad product, no great packaging is going to help. –Andrew Buerger

Any food product to be launched will only be known by its flavor and not packaging. Although packaging plays an important role, very similar to a standout flavor, flavor is too important. –Yogesh Shah 

Flavor & packaging equally important

Both are equally important… but it's easier to get over "bad" packaging than bad taste. –Lewis Curtright

That's hard to answer! If you don't have an eye-catching design/package, you won't get folks to try without sampling. However, if you do get them to try it, if the product isn't flavor-filled, you won't get a second purchase. –Mary Jo Duerst Bergs

It starts with the packaging and ends with the product. Above all customer satisfaction and service also need to be looked into. If your customers are not satisfied, then no matter how well you produce and package it, there will be no repeat customers. –Greenearth Culture

This doesn't have to be mutually exclusive. Packaging and taste both have to be top notch. One person may stop for a glossy package while another stops for a flatter, matte style package, just as some consumers buy the most expensive product because they want the best, while others will buy the cheapest product to save money. The question is, who do you want to buy your product? –Alan Zipper

Packaging is your in-store marketing, getting consumers to buy your product. Taste and product quality are what gets consumers to buy your product again. Putting bad product in a Tiffany's box (or insert your favorite packaging here) won't help repurchase. –Jason Husk 

An eye-catching packaging might get consumers to stop and check it out, and a good flavor may get them to buy again—so both are very important. –Ori Amrami 

It is kind of like the chicken and egg story. Both packaging and flavor are key elements that attract and help retain customers, and should be considered carefully when developing products. However, I also feel that there is a third important key factor that contributes to product launch success—functionality. Successful products must deliver on their promises. –Paul (Paulo) Altaffer 

When done correctly a great product excels in taste, smell and is visually attractive to the consumer to start with. If you focus on just one part of the product, taste for example, you are one step closer to failure. –Jeremy Smith

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