Food porn is everywhere.

On the 7 November 2016,  Lindsay Bennett wrote a powerful article in AdNews discussing the growth of Food Porn.  In the article she writes:The dinner plate is the new battleground and it’s not only publishers chasing the tail of the food porn phenomenon, but advertisers too”
Food Porn  has arrived on our supermarket shelves, our TV screens and across our social platforms. Food porn is a massive and still growing phenomena that FMCG companies must take on board or get left behind in the shuffle for retail shelf space.

Aussies really love their cooking shows.

AdNews analysis of the top 50 Australian TV programs for 2016 clearly demonstrated that Aussies really love their reality TV. More specifically they’re enamored with cooking shows. According to the numbers 50% of the reality programs watched are cooking formats shows.

Cooking has become a spectator sport

So why are we spending increasingly less time in the kitchen and more time just watching cooking shows? Well, the more time poor we become so we have become increasingly dependent on convenience foods. The ease of ordering takeout online or stopping at a drive thru, or simply grabbing something from the fresh counter in our supermarkets, has meant that cooking has become somewhat of a spectator sport.

4 main reasons why we love to watch cooking shows

We watch cooking shows because….

  1. We are mesmerized by food porn. According to Wikipedia, food porn is a “glamourised spectacular visual presentation of cooking or eating in advertisements, infomercials, blogs, cooking shows or other visual media”. We love to watch great cooks, pros and amateurs alike take a whole lot of ingredients and create something that looks amazingly appetizing. Oscar Wilde once said, “A sentimentalist is simply one who wants to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.” This is somewhat akin to food porn. Food porn is like eating without the calories.
  2. We tune in looking for inspiration. We look for menu suggestions, cooking tips, (Nice to know if you add cauliflower into mash potatoes you can get kids to eat it.) or baking tips. Or just some new ideas for making our own meals. We love to see how chefs use a whole host of unusual and exotic ingredients, proteins, herbs, and spices. We enjoy seeing our favorite chefs putting a new spin on an old dish.
  3. We want instruction, whether it is different ways to use a knife, or how to use the latest kitchen toys, gadgets and equipment.
  4. We like watching the host or the competition of supporting one of the contestants.

Food Porn obsession

If you’ve been out to eat with a teenager lately you’ll notice their obsession with taking photos of what they are eating or drinking and posting them on Instagram. Instagram has become the home for visual storytelling for everyone from celebrities, newsrooms and brands, to teens, musicians and anyone with a creative passion. When it comes to food, interestingly, over 100 new photos hashtagged #foodporn images are uploaded every minute on Instagram with give or take 200K hashtags related to food porn every day. That, by the way, doesn’t include the over 100K image per day tagged as food. On Pinterest, a content sharing platform allowing it’s members to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their own personal ‘pinboard’ and share them with their own network. On Pinterest food is the top category of content with 57% of its user base sharing food-related content. (There are other food related hashtags like #instafood (43 million), #foodgasm (11 million) and many others.)

Ok so food is obviously a major trend both online and off. So how is this food porn trend translating on the supermarket shelf? How are packaging designers translating this “food obsession” on to packaging?

The food porn effect

Food brands are investing more and more in food porn visual imagery onto their product packaging. The ‘food porn effect’ refers to powerful photos of delicious looking food and the emotion that it sparks among the people you share it with. These yumilicious images heavily influence our food choices. As it turns out, even just looking at well-crafted food images of highly palatable food, chronically activates one’s desire to eat. (BTW this is even in the absence of true physiological hunger. Why? Because beyond eating simply to satisfy our nutritional requirements, we eat for pleasure.)

Brands post images of their food displayed on the supermarket shelf onto online platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest etc. to generate a sense ‘needing’ or ‘wanting’ their particular product. This emotional connection turn, drives cravings and engagement with the consumer driving them into the store in search of satiating their craving.

Great so does this mean all we as brand marketers and designers need to to is design sumptuous, mouth-watering food photography on our packaging boxes too create more sales from the shelf?

Yes…But are you misleading the consumer?

The problem with creating packs with “misleading” succulent food porn images is that the market mindset has shifted to a place where authenticity and naked and natural is best. Consumers are looking for distinctive, relevant and believable.  So yes whist it’s easy to “render” and photo stage an average product and make it look  sensational on pack, often when the “normal” product is taken out of a beautiful box, anticipation is then tempered by an anti-climax. We look at the product and compare it with that on the box and wonder how this uninspired version of a “pizza” ever came close to resembling the food porn image on the packaging. This unpacking experience leaves us with undesirable and unacceptable negative emotions towards the brand. We feel duped.