Last month, John Kalkowski, editor in chief of Food Online, published an interview with Dr. Andrew Hurley. We decided to share a few of the key insights from the interview with you in our post. For the full article: Click Here

Eye Tracking Gains Purchase in Packaging Design

John Kalkowski met with Dr. Andrew Hurley to discuss his research at Clemson University and methodology focused on optimizing packaging design by integrating eye tracking technology. Below are a few key exchanges about Dr. Hurley and his role in development and operation of Package InSight. 

Food Online: Eye tracking can tell you where the eye is drawn to based on the graphics and messaging, but does it tell you anything about the structure, the shape, and the substrate of the packaging?

Hurley: Eye tracking is a tool that can be used to measure the perceptibility, or the ability to garner attention, of an area of interest. When used with a scientific methodology, eye tracking can provide a wealth of information on any attribute of the area interest. When considering that “unseen is unsold” for fast-moving consumer goods in retail, attention is top priority. Structures, shapes, and substrates that attract more attention are, for the most part, more valuable. These attributes can be tested against a control, or compared against other substrates, to determine what variables encourage more attention.


Andrew Hurley, assistant professor for the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics at Clemson University

Andrew Hurley, assistant professor for the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics at Clemson University

Food Online: How confident can you be that biometric data will accurately predict the success of a packaging design?

Hurley: Of all the FMCG products launched in 2013, 93 percent were failures. In that same vein, 90 percent of new business startups fail. Eye tracking is a tool, not a cure-all. With two-thirds of any given category in a store unseen, the chances of selling in that block are zero.

There are many factors that affect a packaged product’s success. I recently did a store intercept for spray paint at a large, national, home improvement store. We asked shoppers in the paint aisle to participate in a study where they were to purchase spray paint for an interior or exterior project (whichever they came to the store for). Many customers exceeded nine minutes trying to select a product that costs about the same as a custom coffee drink from Starbucks. Though you did not need eye tracking to understand how long people take to find a can of paint for their application, it provided the insights to what people were looking at, how they were comparing products, which colors and information spiked the greatest interest, and where their eyes naturally drawn. This information can provide brand owners valuable information on how to reduce this time, command a sale, and efficiently give consumers what they want.


Food Online: Clemson has developed a pseudo-store to test designs in a grocery environment. Would it not be better to use an actual store to show how consumers react to packaging in different retail channels?

Hurley: Not necessarily. There are pros and cons to all environments. At CUshop, we can control everything — lighting, competitive array, product positioning, etc. We can also control the participants, timing, and many other factors. Compared to an in-store or customer intercept test, CUshop provides an unparalleled quality for the price. Because the goal of eye-tracking is its use as an R&D tool — many of the products we are testing are secret. CUshop allows for a controlled disclosure of designs to be tested.

We have access to many real stores all over the world, we conduct in-store tests, and customer intercepts quite frequently. However, many brand owners like the fact that CUshop is controlled. There is not a real disclosure of pre-market products to the world. We have data that shows results from CUshop are similar to “real” stores, as well as actual customer intercepts. Real store intercepts are ideal, but the cost per participant for this type of testing is two to five times the cost of CUshop.


Food Online: Tell us a bit about Package InSight, how it works, and how industry is using this resource.

Hurley: In 2013, Clemson University’s Sonoco Institute advisory board recommended that we create a company to better utilize the efforts of CUshop. As faculty at a university, it is challenging catering to industry requirements and timelines. Thus, it made sense to create an independent company that could lease the space and provide business development and analytical services that are out of scope from an academic research perspective. It has been a real journey making this happen, but these services are needed. Package InSight provides revenue back to Clemson to keep our focus on research rather than B2B services. Clemson is focused on pioneering research methods, and we just debuted our latest technology involving emotional response at the point of sale. Bottom line: service companies are based on relationships, and it takes considerable time to not only understand the customer’s pain, but to develop a custom plan to mitigate that pain.

The company was formed and now (two years later), over 165 projects have been executed with tremendous learnings. Package InSight helps us keep CUshop up and running. Another interesting point is that Clemson’s business college incubated Package InSight, providing resources and space for its first year. After showing initial success, the company grew into the “accelerator” space and is now branching out into the community. This created jobs that did not exist before. I’d say this was a big win for our programs and institute at Clemson.


We hope you enjoyed a few of these key questions from the interview about Dr. Hurley and Package InSight. Please go read the entire interview at FoodOnline


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