Plain food packaging for snack foods decreases purchase intention and brand perception but increases actual consumption among some consumers, according to French and Belgian researchers. Carolina O.C. Werle, et al., “Is plain food packaging plain wrong? Plain packaging increases unhealthy snack intake among males,” Food Quality and Preference, December 2015.

Billed as the first to examine “the impact of plain packaging on consumers’ perceptions and actual consumption of unhealthy food items,” the study used brand- and plain-packaged M&M’s® to explore the effects of plain packaging on (i) product and brand attitudes as well as the intention to consume an unhealthy snack, (ii) food intake once consumers have sampled the product, and (iii) food intake when plain packaging is combined with low-fat claims.

The results evidently indicate plain food packaging “negatively impacts product and brand attitudes as well as intention to consume an unhealthy snack when consumers only evaluate the packaging.” The researchers, however, note the loss of this effect once consumers actually tasted the product. In this scenario, plain packaging not only increased consumption among male participants, but plain packaging combined with a low-fat label increased consumption among both men and women.

“What is effective for preventing smoking may not necessarily be as effective for reducing food consumption,” conclude the study authors. “Even worse, the present findings suggest that, although plain food packaging may adversely impact purchase intentions, it may actually increase actual food consumption once the product [is] bought or offered (at least among males). We deem it critical that future research advances our understanding of whether plain food packaging represents a viable health prevention strategy for fighting overweight and obesity.”