The role of a visually appealing coffee packaging in attracting consumer attention

Ben James
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December 2, 2021
packaging research journal tanya nyblom

As the specialty coffee market grows increasingly saturated with new brands, it has become harder than ever to stand out on the shelf. Realising this, Tanya Nyblom set out to discover what coffee businesses could do to attract consumer attention, while ensuring they stayed true to their products.


Walk down the coffee aisle of almost any grocery store in the world and it’s likely you will encounter a vast array of options, from freeze-dried instant to specialty single origin beans.

Naturally, too much choice can be overwhelming. According to recent studies, consumers make a subconscious judgement about a product within 90 seconds of viewing it, which means they don’t have time to assess every coffee on the shelf.

As a result, it’s the roaster’s responsibility to ensure it is as easy as possible for consumers to make a quick decision. Additionally, they must ensure their coffee stands out among the competition. But how should they approach it?

Tanya Nyblom made finding an answer to this problem the subject of her Master’s thesis in International Business at Åbo Akademi University in Finland.

Specifically, she wanted to explore the impact visual communication and visuality of coffee packaging had in “awakening consumer attention”.

It’s estimated that up to 70% of decisions while shopping are made in store. Therefore, Tanya wanted to explore how businesses could persuade consumers to buy their products using packaging.

She tells me the idea first came to her while standing in a coffee aisle at her local grocery store.

“I was standing in front of a shelf full of coffees and realised I was having a major problem deciding what to buy,” she says. “I was surprised and wondered when all these different shapes, sizes, and colours had appeared.

“Also at the time, Finland was ranked as the number one coffee consuming country in the world. According to the research, Finns consumed approximately 12kg of coffee per capita. I thought that was an interesting aspect to add to the thesis.”

Tanya chose five participants for her study, all of whom were Finnish women from a similar age group. She explains that this helped to improve the consistency of results.

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Choosing packaging types

From side gusset bags to flat bottom pouches, coffee packaging is available in a range of shapes, sizes, colours, and materials.

Each combination has its own set of unique benefits, whether it’s versatility, eco-friendliness, or additional branding space.

Tanya’s research was based on exploring how different factors attract attention and influence consumer purchasing decisions. In particular, she wanted to know what made one bag of coffee stand out from the rest on a crowded shelf.

To maintain the focus of her study, Tanya chose seven different types with shapes and colours that represented the typical coffee packaging of micro roasters in Finland.

Namely, she made sure to select packaging that the participants had never seen before. This was to remove the risk of preconceived ideas influencing the outcome of the study.

“I decided to focus on coffee from Finnish micro roasters,” Tanya explains. “Partly because I wanted the packaging to be more equal with less focus on the brands, but also because I wanted them to be something the interviewees were not already familiar with.

“In this way, the focus would be more on the packaging itself and not on the big brands.

“Also, in Finland we are used to the half-kilo brick shape, which means people usually associate the coffee packaging with the brick shape. So I wanted to challenge the participants with different bag shapes.”

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Measuring the effects of shape, colour, and imagery

To better understand the packaging elements that effectively attract consumer attention, Tanya applied a qualitative research method to her study.

Key to this was an interview with each participant, consisting of the same 28 questions.

The aim was to gather immediate responses to the seven different types of packaging by asking questions such as their price estimate and the first packaging element to which they were drawn.

At the beginning of the interview, all the participants were also asked to draw coffee packaging. The purpose of this was to reveal whether the effects of visuality lie on a conscious or subconscious level.

“I asked the participants to draw a coffee bag that came to mind, including its colours,” Tanya explains. “Four of the five drew brick-shaped coffee packaging and they also included a coffee cup, which some of the bigger coffee brands in Finland use.

“This shows that despite the participants saying they don’t look at the packaging in stores, they do register some elements subconsciously.”

Based on a combination of the participants’ responses and their packaging drawings, Tanya was able to present some interesting findings.

Namely, she found shape and colour to have the most significant bearing on the shelf.

“Both shape and colour are considered the most noticeable features in the visuality of coffee packaging,” she says. “This was proved in the drawings. Shape can also ease the search in store, as some of the participants strongly associated certain shapes to product categories.”

Colour, meanwhile, was mentioned as a “pop out” property: the colour of the packaging was mentioned five times by the participants, which means it stood out as an important element.

“For the ones who said they are prepared to pay more for coffees, factors such as roast level were more important,” Tanya explains.

“They also said they liked coffee packaging with more colours because they think their coffee might be exotic or have some more flavours. In this sense, they were less ‘traditional’ regarding colours.”

Imagery was also important. Of the drawings, four out of five included an image of a steaming coffee cup. Based on this, Tanya says that brands may wish to include imagery that relates to the product itself.

“I believe that in order to persuade, coffee packaging has to have certain similarities with co-products,” she tells me. “It’s very important not to go completely with something else if you want customers to recognise the product category.

“In particular, this regards the choice of colour and shape, while any potential pictures should also be coffee related. For example, although the picture of the dancing couple was perceived as elegant, the interviewees found it challenging to associate it with coffee.

“Other elements will be more important for those who are really into coffee, such as roast level or fair trade. But if you want to be visible in a grocery store, it is proven that more positive attitudes arise when packaging includes product pictures.”

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At MTPak Coffee, we can help you design the perfect packaging for your coffee.

Using a range of sustainable materials, including kraft paper, PLA, and LDPE, our expert design team can ensure you showcase your coffee in its best light.

You can also choose from a range of additional components, from resealable zippers to recycling degassing valves.

If you are a micro roaster, we offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) on a number of options. 

For information on our low MOQ coffee bags, contact our team.

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The role of a visually appealing coffee packaging in attracting consumer attention

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