Picture the scene – you arrive home after a long day, hungry and ready for your favourite pasta dinner. You prepare your pots and pans, go to pour your favourite sauce, only to realise… you can’t open it. A source of frustration for many. However, as life expectancies continue to grow, may such incidents lead to greater difficulties for older people?

Prior research has shown how normal changes to an individual’s physiology as they grow older can inhibit their abilities to perform certain physical tasks, such as opening packaging. What is understood less is how these difficulties affect quality-of-life. Characterised by some as ‘wrap rage’, our research reveals how ageing may lead difficulties with fast-moving consumer goods packaging to act as a source of consumer vulnerability.

By exploring consumption experiences from the supermarket shelf to the disposal of the packaging, our findings reveal that by focusing only on ‘openability’ we risk overlooking a variety of other packaging interactions that may affect quality-of-life. 

From indecipherable product information, to inappropriate portion sizes, negative experiences can be encountered across the entire consumption process. While seemingly innocuous when considered in isolation, the iterative and accumulative nature of these issues can elevate feelings of frustration to sustained feelings of powerlessness.

Our study also highlights the importance of viewing ageing through a ‘multidimensional’ lens; not only considering the effects of biological changes as we age, but also psychological and social changes. Just as changes to one’s physiology can affect packaging interactions, changes to social circumstances and perceptions of ageing can also significantly impact consumption experiences. For example, difficulties with packaging may trigger negative associations with ageing, such as inappropriate portion sizes (and subsequent food wastage) acting as a reminder of increased isolation for those having suffered bereavement.

While our study offers several practical implications for packaging development in an ageing society, we also recognise challenges faced by firms. For example, the challenge of developing packaging which adds value and reduces vulnerability among older people whilst not stigmatising these very consumers firms wish to serve. A balance is required between the inclusion of packaging features which add value for older consumers (and potentially consumers at large), making these features visible, while maintaining a ‘mass market’ appeal.

Read the original research article: Ford, N., Trott, P. & Simms, C. (2016). Exploring the impact of packaging interactions on quality of life among older consumers. Journal of Marketing Management 32(3-4), 275-312. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2015.1123758

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Nicholas Ford

Nicholas Ford

Nicholas Ford is a Senior Lecturer of New Product Development at Portsmouth Business School, where he is a member of the Product Innovation Research Group and the University of Portsmouth Ageing Network. His research explores the development of new products in an ageing society, with a particular interest in the fast-moving consumer goods industry.

Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this posting are the views of the Author(s), and are not necessarily the views of the JMM Editors, Westburn Publishers Ltd. or Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.