We eat first with our (digital) eyes

Olivia Petit, Ana Javornik, Carlos Velasco

The future of dining is virtual.

In the last decade, we have witnessed a rise in the use of digital technologies for modifying or creating new products and services. One noteworthy example is with food and beverages, where our first impression – what our eyes tell us – is highly important.

For this reason, visualization technologies are increasingly used by marketers in the food industry.

Using 3D and augmented reality (AR) technology, we wanted to find out what type of food (served vs. packaged) evokes the best simulation of the eating experience.

And perhaps even more interestingly, what technology increases our willingness to buy?  

Exciting opportunities

3D and AR technologies are interesting because they allow for more immersive presentations of products, helping people simulate consumption experiences, which in turn may influence their intention to purchase.

3D visualizations present products against a neutral background and let consumers rotate them and zoom in/out, for a more careful inspection of the items.

AR gives consumers a range of options, by showing products virtually overlaid into their physical environment. Popular examples of AR include virtual product try-on, AR filters in social media, and apps or in-browser features that visualize products or experiences overlaid onto customer’s own space. For this research we collaborated with a New York based company QReal that develops cutting-edge visualizations for a range of sectors, including food and fashion.

Differences between visualization modes

Throughout three studies, we documented when and why different visually enabling technology may be more or less effective in facilitating imagery and purchase intent.

We found that served food presented in AR, as opposed to only in 3D, leads to higher (and better) simulation of the eating process, which increases customers’ intention to buy the product.   

People are also more likely to pay more for served food when presented in AR relative to packaged food. However, the opposite was true when served and packaged food was presented in 3D. We also observed that packaged food in 3D is perceived as more interactive, resulting in a more immersive experience and enhanced mental simulation of the eating process.

Finally, we found that the use of transparent packaging, compared to opaque, enhances customers’ willingness to buy a product because it stimulates the eating outcome. Interestingly, these effects were only seen in 3D, but not in AR.

Creating the best customer value

For restaurants or fresh food providers, AR can be used to enhance the stimulation of the eating process and customers’ resulting purchasing decision.

Conversely, 3D is more suited for the evaluation of a product’s instrumental properties (such as size and appearance), which is particularly appropriate when customers are shopping in online supermarkets and examining packaged foods.

Our research demonstrates that marketers should not rely solely on the effects of advanced visualization technologies. The highest customer value is rather created when companies consider the combination of visualization types and product formats.


Petit, O., Javornik, A., & Velasco, C. (in press). We eat first with our (digital) eyes: Enhancing simulation of eating through visual-enabling technologies. Journal of Retailing.

Javornik, A., Marder, B., Pizzetti, M., & Warlop, L. (2021). Augmented self - The effects of virtual face augmentation on consumers' self-concept. Journal of Business Research, 130, 170-187.

Spence, C., Okajima, K., Cheok, A. D., Petit, O., & Michel, C. (2016). Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation. Brain and Cognition, 110, 53-63.

Velasco, C. & Obrist, O. (2020). Multisensory experiences: Where the senses meet technology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Published 17. August 2021

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