Food and Color: What Does It All Mean?

Denis Storey
December 13, 2021

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Every December, the Pantone Color Institute picks a color that its experts think will best represent the new year. For 2022, the Pantone business unit chose Very Peri, “a dynamic periwinkle blue hue with a vivifying violet-red undertone.”

For more than 20 years, Pantone’s Color of the Year has influenced product development and buying decisions across several industries, including fashion, home furnishings, industrial design, product, packaging, and graphic design.

“As we move into a world of unprecedented change, the selection of Very Peri brings a novel perspective and vision of the trusted and beloved blue color family,” Pantone Color Institute Executive Director Leatrice Eiseman explained in a press release announcing the color selection. “Encompassing the qualities of the blues, yet at the same time possessing a violet-red undertone, Very Peri displays a spritely, joyous attitude and dynamic presence that encourages courageous creativity and imaginative expression.”

Should CPG Brands Consider Color of the Year?

With the exploding popularity of blue food in 2020 following Classic Blue’s selection as Pantone’s Color of the Year, it appears they should.

“The rise of blue food caught the cultural trendsetters off guard. Yet the ability of a little blue to turn the dullest food into an Instagram-able shot helps explain its surging popularity,” Professor Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford, revealed.

Food and beverage products need to deliver visually in the social media age. Millennials and Gen Zers opt for “Instagram-able” foods that offer as much visually as they do in taste. But not just any violet shade will do. Consumers also are demanding clean labels and natural foods. 

And it’s bigger than that. According to Meticulous Research, global sales for natural food colors are on track to increase 8.4%, compounded annually, by 2027, which projects the market value at $3.2 billion by the end of the forecast period.

Color Choices When It Comes to Food

Color plays a significant role in how we choose our food. It’s often the first element noticed in the appearance of a food product. Many studies suggest that visual taste perception begins in infancy and increases as we age. For example, if something is bright red, we might assume it will taste like cherry or cinnamon. If something is colored green, we might expect that food product to taste like lime or apple. And when it comes to fresh foods, like fruits and vegetables, we rely on color to determine the ripeness or freshness.

So, aside from expected taste, what else do colors mean when it comes to food?

  • Red – Appetizing: According to research, red is eye-catching and triggers appetite. It’s useful for packaging design; this is likely because the color indicates ripeness or sweetness when found in natural foods like berries.
  • Blue – Instagram-able: While blue is typically the first color to disappear from a child’s crayon box, it’s the last man standing in the M&M bowl. Why? Because edible blue foods are rare in nature. However, they exist, including blue butterfly pea flower, blue carrots, and concord blue grapes. It’s unclear why blue foods are rare, but some research has indicated that they’re appetite suppressants.
  • Yellow – Happiness: Consumers see yellow as the happiest color, and brands incorporate it in various products. As such, yellow tends to evoke optimism and general good feelings. However, there are speculations and disagreements regarding the artificial color of yellow in food products.
  • Green – Natural/Healthy: With sustainability and organic being at the top of mind for many consumers, green is making its way to becoming one of the more popular colors in the food supply chain (think green juice). The color green is now almost synonymous with health and well-being when it comes to food.
  • Orange – Satisfying/Energizing: Orange foods are typically associated with autumnal traditions in the west, including pumpkin products, squash, and candy corn. However, orange is vibrant, with orange and carrot juice linked to vitality year-round.

Color Choices When It Comes to Packaging

As mentioned above, color is one of the first things we notice. Visual factors influence more than 90% of purchase decisions, and 85% of shoppers say that color is the primary reason for buying a product. With that in mind, understanding how the color of packaging dictates purchasing behavior is vital to food manufacturers. While the colors above represent how consumers react to them, packaging colors of those food items elicit entirely different feelings. For example, seeing blue eggs on a plate vs. purchasing eggs in blue packaging can evoke different emotions.

Here’s how a few colors break down in terms of packaging:

  • Red: Red is a bold packaging choice and helps draw attention to your product. It is known to spark an appetite, but it’s also the color people notice first, which is why so much food packaging features red.
  • Blue: Blue packaging helps portray trust and dependability. However, darker blues are more serious and formal, whereas lighter blues help give the perception of softness and creativity.
  • Yellow: Yellow in packaging suggests something is original or innovative or that the product is less expensive or fun. With the optimistic energy of this color, it has a youthful, upbeat vibe that can help attract a younger demographic.
  • Green: In food coloring, consumers associate green packaging with healthy and organic products. With the increase in health-conscious consumers and people more focused on what goes into their bodies, green has grown in popularity in recent years.
  • Purple: Using purple in your packaging implies your product is unique or original; purple is also associated with spirituality and is a common choice for holistic products.
  • Orange: Orange is often used to portray value and affordability, and for food marketers, using orange on packaging helps give an item a more affordable quality.
  • Black: Black typically represents luxury, appearing more substantial and expensive, which transmits a higher perceived value. As a result, this color is often on higher-end items like premium ice creams and chip packages. And depending on what colors you choose to pair it with, black can convey many things.
  • Brown: Brown works for products that brands want to portray as natural, wholesome, or organic. In addition, earthy brown packaging promotes sustainability, and when a brand wants to communicate, the materials used to make the package are from recycled sources.
  • White: White is simple and straightforward, creating the impression of cleanliness, efficiency, or simplicity. And depending on the additional colors chosen to pair with white, packaging can be elevated or kept straightforward.

Color shapes consumers’ first impressions of products and influences buying behavior. So, when choosing packaging and food coloring, brands must pay close attention to the psychology behind color to attract and engage customers.

But there’s much more to bringing products to market than color selection. New product launches demand more efficiency and speed at every stage of development.

Daily Harvest has emerged as a poster child for fast, effective new product development. Over the last five years, the brand’s increased its SKUs from 27 to 108 while expanding its workforce by a factor of 10.

Check out our on-demand webinar, “Strategic Innovation to Accelerate Time to Market,” today to learn the secrets to Daily Harvest’s success.