Top Tips for Pack Testing

Published Jun 10, 2021

Debbie Senior, VP, Product Automation

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Pack testing is just one of the new product development solutions Toluna offers.

Typically pack testing happens later in the product lifecycle as it determines how a product is optimized in terms of the mix of design, colors, features, messaging, logo placement, claim, etc.

It’s an important stage to get right given packaging is the ultimate touchpoint with consumers, it needs to stand out in a crowded market and persuade a consumer to buy, it has to remain relevant to changing consumer needs and trends and be a good fit with your brand, and it’s the culmination of a lot of time, money, and effort.

Whilst pack testing has an obvious application within CPG/FMCG and retail categories, it is also relevant for media, entertainment, and technology companies who need to assess their retail and digital packs and artwork.

Here are our top tips for conducting online pack testing surveys.


  1. Packaging needs to comply with strategic, brand, and legal guidelines, and internal teams need to work together to create the best designs.  However, getting consumer perspective about packaging is also important, not only to obtain validation, but also to reduce the level of risk at such an important product lifecycle phase, and uncover new insight that enables your product to be more successful.

  3. The survey audience that you target will vary depending on your objective.  If the packaging change is an existing product update, then you’re likely to be interested in reaching current users of the brand/product.  However, if it is for a new product or a packaging innovation to expand market reach then your audience is likely to be broader or include multiple segment groups to check it has consistent appeal. For this flexibility of reach online you need a sufficiently large representative panel.

  5. You also need to choose an approach that ensures your target audience is evenly represented across each of the packs in the survey.  if one pack reaches a greater number of higher frequent buyers and another pack a greater number of infrequent buyers, you’ll end up with a sample bias that skews the results, and it may be impossible to trust the data.  This is an element that Toluna has spent a lot of time developing and we enable you to quota/cell balance on demographics, profiling questions, and your custom targets so you get the highest quality and most accurate outcome.

  7. A pack test isn’t always about a new radical change/innovation.  Often packaging is being adjusted on existing products to keep up with changing requirements or trends.  Recently, we’ve worked with clients who have successful products but needed to update to tap into health and environmental trends to remain relevant to their regular buyers. In these cases, it is wise to include existing packs in the same survey as the revised options for benchmarking purposes.

  9. Our recommendation is to test packaging monadically.  This is to avoid influence/bias given the respondent is only seeing/rating one pack but also enables more detailed insight to be captured per pack and provides a better understanding of how consumers would react if it was the final positioning.  Monadic testing also helps if packs are similar to one another to avoid any confusion.  However, there are cases where sequential monadic may be preferable e.g. when testing pack variations or a pack range and in these cases, you want to make sure your packs are randomized in the survey. 

  11. The order of the survey needs consideration.  We suggest gaining immediate/top of mind feedback first, before asking KPIs, and then digging into the detail as it is a logical sequence for the respondent and is likely to result in stronger insights.

  13. An important dimension of pack testing is to replicate how consumers make decisions.  We know that most everyday decisions are fast, automatic, and subconscious so packaging plays a key role in enabling your product to quickly connect and/or stand out from the crowd, especially on a shelf with numerous choices. We suggest a couple of techniques.  One is to place your pack in a shelf visual alongside competitor options, so the respondent views it in a more realistic context before answering follow-up questions.  Another is to start with a timed exposure where the pack, shown within the shelf or individually, is flashed on the screen for a limited number of seconds before respondents are asked about immediate brand/product/feature/message recall.  If your pack doesn’t instantly make a connection with your brand/product then its chances of success are very limited. 

  15. There are other key metrics to include in a pack test.  In our view Purchase Intent (priced and/or unpriced) is essential as a key purpose of packaging is to drive purchase/sales.  The level of differentiation/uniqueness is also key given the need to stand out, as is the connection/fit with the brand.   We typically also ask a few open-ended questions to find out why the respondent likes or doesn’t like the pack. 

  17. We would also recommend using a heatmap tool within your survey.  Here you ask the respondent to click on the areas of the pack that immediately stand out, that they like, dislike, find confusing, or aren’t credible. This gives a clear direction of any problem areas.  If you need to change the placement of elements within the pack, you can then re-test them cost-effectively and efficiently.

  19. Pack testing involves visual stimulus which needs to be as high-quality resolution as possible to reflect how it will look in reality on a shelf.  Each pack should also have consistent image quality and size to give each item an equal chance of being rated fairly and to avoid biasing the outcome. 

  21. Once the immediate reaction assessment of the pack has been captured, we suggest allowing the pack stimulus to be viewed again by the respondent at any KPI question as needed. We typically deploy a thumbnail image at the top of each question that can be opened up/zoomed into for a reminder view. It’s particularly important if a detailed pack is being assessed so a respondent can fully digest the information on it. 

  23. The results of your survey will indicate which pack(s) and which elements of different packs resonate the best. If there isn’t a clear winner then online qualitative discussion forums are a useful route to find out why and fine-tune further. If pricing comes out as an issue, then there are other mechanisms such as Van Westendorp or Gabor Granger price testing to optimize this element.
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