Food and Color: What Does It All Mean?

Posted by Annie Wissner on April 20, 2020 at 9:16 AM

Food and Color: What Does It All Mean?The Pantone Color Institute has named Classic Blue the Color of the Year for 2020. Pantone began as a commercial printing company in the 1950s, and emerged as a bonafide color expert, picking its top color annually since 2000. The Color of the Year has influenced product development and purchasing decisions in multiple industries, including fashion, home furnishings, and industrial design, as well as product, packaging, and graphic design.

"We're living in a time that requires trust and faith. It is this kind of constancy and confidence that is expressed by PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue, a solid and dependable blue hue we can always rely on. Imbued with a deep resonance, Classic Blue provides an anchoring foundation. A boundless blue evocative of the vast and infinite evening sky, Classic Blue encourages us to look beyond the obvious to expand our thinking, challenging us to think more deeply, increase our perspective and open the flow of communication," said Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of Pantone.

Do color trends translate to the food, beverage, and supplement industries? 

Should Food and Supplement Makers Consider Color of the Year?

With the growing popularity of blue food, it appears that they should. “The rise of blue food has 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,” said Professor Charles Spence, an Experimental Psychologist at the University of Oxford.

In the era of social media, food needs to deliver on a visual level. Millennials and Gen Z-ers opt for “Instagram-able” foods that offer as much visually as they do in taste. But not just any blue food will do. Consumers are also demanding clean labels and natural foods. A recent New York Times article noted the trend stating that “blue and its moody sibling, indigo, are expected to color more food this year.” Butterfly pea powder tea (the new matcha!) is showing up in smoothies, drinks, and deserts. 

The industry is echoing the trend. TraceGains customer Sensient has developed a Natural Blue, the industry’s first stable natural blue, filling a significant gap in the natural color spectrum. Natural Blue is an appealing alternative to certified colors and is useful across all applications. The bright blue can also be used to create additional natural colors such as green and intense purple shades. Still not convinced? Right now, recipe app Yummly has more than 10,000 recipes dedicated to ‘blue food.’

And it's bigger than that. Global sales for natural food colors are expected to increase 8.4 percent, compounded annually, by 2027, according to Meticulous Research, which projects the market value at $3.2 billion at 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. Numerous 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 the 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, the color red is not only eye-catching but also triggers appetite and is useful for packaging design; this is likely because the color, when found in natural foods like berries, indicates ripeness or sweetness.

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 do exist, including the aforementioned blue butterfly pea flower, blue carrots, and concord blue grapes. It’s unclear why blue foods are so rare, but some research has indicated it’s an appetite suppressant. 

Yellow – Happiness

Yellow is perceived as the happiest color and is used widely in various food products. As such, yellow tends to evoke optimism and general good feelings. There are, however, speculations and disagreements when it comes to the artificial color of yellow in food products.

Green – Natural/Healthy

With sustainability and organic being at the top of mind for a large number of 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. Orange is a vibrant color with orange and carrot juice linked to vitality year-round.

Color Choices When It Comes to Packaging

As mentioned above, color is the one of the first things we notice. In fact, more than 90 percent of purchase decisions are influenced by visual factors, and 85 percent of shoppers say that color is the primary reason for buying a product. With that in mind, understanding how color on packages dictates purchasing behavior is important to food manufacturers. While the descriptions of colors above represent how we feel towards food items, the colors on the packaging of those food items elicit completely different feelings. For example, seeing blue eggs on a plate versus purchasing eggs in blue packaging will evoke different emotions. Here’s how a few colors break down in terms of packaging:

Red – Energy

Red is a bold packaging choice and helps draw attention to your product. Not only is it known to spark appetite, but it’s also the color people notice first, which is why so much food packaging sports the color red. 

Blue – Trust

Blue packaging helps portray trust and dependability. It should be noted, however, that darker blues are considered more professional and serious, whereas lighter blues help to give the perception of softness and creativity. 

Yellow – Optimistic

Yellow in packaging is very similar to yellow in food coloring. It suggests something is original or innovative, or that the product is less expensive or fun. With the positive energy of this color, it has a youthful upbeat vibe that can help attract a younger demographic.

Green – Healthy

As it is in food coloring, green in packaging is also associated 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 – Uniqueness

Using purple in your packaging implies your product is unique or original, and with purple being attributed to spirituality, it’s often found in holistic products. 

Orange – Affordability

Orange is often used to portray value and affordability, and for food marketers, using orange on packaging helps to give an item a more affordable feel. 

Black – Luxury

Black typically represents luxury, appearing heavier and more expensive, which transmits a higher perceived value. This color is often found 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 – Earthy

Brown tends to be used in products that want to portray a natural, wholesome or organic feel, as well as comfort and simplicity. Brown packaging in products can be used to promote sustainability and when a brand wants to communicate that the materials used to make the package were from recycled sources.

White – Simple

White is viewed as simple and pure, so it’s a good choice when attempting to create the impression of cleanliness, efficiency, or simplicity. And depending on the additional colors chosen to pair with white, packaging can be elevated or kept plain.

Color influences first impressions for consumer preferences and buying behavior. So when deciding on packaging or even food coloring, it’s essential to pay close attention to the psychology behind color to better attract and engage customers.

While an important factor, bringing products to market involves much more than choosing colors. Innovation demands more efficiency and speed at every stage of new product development. TraceGains can help by providing a single location for all supply chain information and documentation, so teams can work smarter. Learn more about our New Product Development solutions here. 

Tags: Food Trends, manufacturing, new product development