Gamification as a tool for developing snacks products
The Co-creative Snacks project involved an interdisciplinary team of consumer researchers from the University of Vaasa, sensory and gaming scholars from the University of Turku, and leading food and packaging companies. The team used several scientific perspectives and methodologies to generate consumer insights.
Members of our Marketing and Consumption Research group used gamification to encourage consumers to make better snack choices. The common associations related to digital gaming were flipped around and the tools and motivations of game playing were taken as a starting point to develop ideas for healthy and attractive snacking products.
– We developed and studied gamified food packages, for example. Besides functional, hedonic and social benefits, consumers saw them as a means to educate on more sustainable or healthy food choices in a fun and practical way. Consumers’ engagement with brands was also enhanced, says Adjunct Professor Henna Syrjälä.
The project team conducted large surveys in Finland and Sweden, netnographic online consumer communities, and tested games and prototypes of food products. One of the key co-creation arenas for the interest groups was a 4-month-long consumer community that was carried out on a digital platform.
– Consumers shared their food diaries, discussed topics covering food, gaming and social media as well as took part in the development of games and actual products designed by partner companies, explains Syrjälä.
The project identified various gamer types, snack-related lifestyles, and the relative importance of snacking preferences. The team also explored gamer-consumers' responses to health ads that use different persuasive strategies. They introduced new concepts of place-based consumption moments, labelled snackscapes and gamescapes. This helped businesses see segmentation in a new light. Furthermore, the project sought to assess whether snacking while gaming can be nudged toward healthier options.
Snacking culture and the gamer lifestyle
Snacks are an important part of daily food intake and eating practices. However, studies of children and teenagers have found that high-fat and high-sugar snacks are contributing to poor diets and obesity.
– As food is used to foster connections, show agency, and manage relationships, it is important to understand the societal processes involved, says Syrjälä.
Snacking can be beneficial in moderation, but modern food environments can lead to unhealthy eating habits. Similarly, gaming culture and too much gaming, in particular, have been associated with an unhealthy lifestyle. Despite the growing impact of gaming on daily life, the negative image persists.
In this project, gamification was used to lure consumers toward healthier eating habits and simultaneously enhance the growth of the food industry.
– One of our key messages was to improve the overall image of game playing and gamification and highlight the potential for advancing societal good, says Syrjälä.
The findings indicate how the consumption of snacks is situation-based and intersects with other mundane practices, like playing games. From the viewpoint of consumer research, the main results included the identification of various gamer types (socialisers, immersive players, achievers, and casual players), snack-related lifestyles (health-oriented quality-seekers, brand-conscious trend-followers and ordinary price-conscious consumers) and relative importance of snacking preferences.
– These findings offer highly actionable insights for food companies to tailor their marketing actions for distinct gamer-consumer segments, highlights Professor Harri Luomala.
Business insights tailored to partners' needs
Collaboration with the partner companies took place throughout and after the project. Co-creative workshops and one-to-one meetings with companies were regularly arranged, using consumer-generated insights as inputs for product and game development.
– The research nicely identified and described different snacking situations and enhanced our understanding of consumer needs. We used the descriptions as a tool to develop new snack products and marketing in packages, says Research and Development Director Anu Saranpää from Atria.
The project findings inspired the partner company Fazer to link gaming and healthy snacking together in their Brainfood campaign.
The Co-creative Snacks project also sought to aid other companies working in food, game or packaging sectors by actively presenting the findings on social media platforms and media outlets, giving public talks, and visiting companies, for example, to consult a start-up game company.
In collaboration with business partners and consumers, the project developed a location-based mobile game called Aarrejahti (the treasure hunt). The game supported consumers moving around and consuming healthy snacks, with the real snack products used as in-game animations and rewards for wins in the game. Consumers gave insights after test periods, helping to improve the game and the products used.
Next: how to get consumers to adopt reusable packaging?
The Co-Creative Snacks project highlights the impact of combining two controversial phenomena for a healthier society. Gamification was used as a tool to encourage healthy snacking practices among consumers, paving the way for the development of healthy and attractive snacking products. The findings help businesses understand consumer segmentation, responses to health ads, and snacking preferences. The project has the potential to support the growth of the food industry and to promote public health.
Another mission possible is already underway. A new project – in which the lessons from the Co-creative Snacks will be considered – is the 4EverPack project funded by Business Finland. This project aims at finding ways to accelerate both companies and consumers in adopting more sustainable reusable packaging solutions.
– The strength of this project is its multidisciplinary approach, and the consortium that cuts through the value chain. We aim to produce data that can be utilised by Finnish companies to help them act as market pioneers in the re-use of packages. To this end, the project will also extensively survey the views of European consumers and their interest in the re-use of packages, while evaluating the applicability of various business models in different markets, says Professor Hannu Makkonen.
The Co-creative Snacks project 2015–2017
The Co-creative Snacks project was carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Vaasa and the University of Turku in collaboration with leading companies from the food sector and innovative forerunners from the packaging industry. The project was funded by Business Finland and the participating companies (Atria Finland, Fazer Bakeries, Kenzen, PackageMedia, Raisio, Saarioinen, Vaasan/Lantmännen, Arkea).
The societal impact of the project extends beyond the food, packaging and gaming industries to public policy and consumers. The principal investigator of the project, Professor Harri Luomala explains that the project generated insights into eating habits and the impact of gaming on daily life and helped to identify different types of gamers and snacking preferences, paving the way for the development of healthy and attractive snacking products.