Behavioral Sciences, Applied Psychology; packaging; beer; image mold; packaging weight; taste
People often say that beer tastes better from a bottle than from a can. However, one can ask whether this perceived difference is reliable across consumers; And, if so, whether it is purely a psychological phenomenon (associated with the influence of packaging on taste perception), or whether instead it reflects some more mundane physico-chemical interaction between the packaging material (or packing procedure/process) and the contents. We conducted two experiments in order to address these important questions. In the main experiment, 151 participants at the 2016 Edinburgh Science Festival were served a beer in a plastic cup. The beer was either poured from a bottle or can (i.e., a between-participants experimental design was used) and the participants were encouraged to pick up the packaging in order to inspect the label before tasting the beer. The participants rated the perceived taste, quality, and freshness of the beer, as well as their likelihood of purchase, and their estimate of the price. All of the beer came from the same batch (from Barney’s Brewery in Edinburgh). Nevertheless, those who evaluated the bottled beer rated it as tasting better than those who rated the beer that had been served from a can. Having demonstrated such a perceptual difference in terms of taste, we then went on to investigate whether people would prefer one packaging format over the other when the beer from bottle and can was served to a new group of participants blind (i.e., when the participants did not know the packaging material). The participants in this control study (N = 29) were asked which beer they preferred or else could state that the two samples tasted the same. No sign of preference was obtained under such conditions. Explanations for the psychological impact of the packaging format, in terms of differences in packaging weight (between tin and glass), and/or prior associations of quality with specific packaging materials/formats (what some have chosen to call ‘image molds’) are discussed.