Food and Color: What Does It All Mean?

Food and Color: What Does It All Mean?

Denis Storey
May 5, 2021

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On-Demand Webinar: “TraceGains Networked Product Development Suite”

TraceGains CEO Gary Nowacki and Sales Engineer Ruben Galbraith share how Networked Product Development drives collaboration, innovation, and faster time to market.

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Each year, the Pantone Color Institute forecasts the color that best represents the year ahead. In a bold move that reflects our times’ complexity, the color authority chose not one but two hues for its Color of the Year: the neutral Ultimate Gray and the vibrant yellow Illuminating.

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, industrial design, product, packaging, and graphic design. It’s the first time they have chosen an achromatic shade (gray), and the second time they chose two colors. In 2016, the pale pink and blue hues, Rose Quartz and Serenity, broke the norm when presented as a gradient.

Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of The Pantone Color Institute, said, “The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock-solid, but together warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit.”

Should Food and Supplement Makers 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 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 Zers opt for “Instagram-able” foods that offer as much visually as they do in taste. But not just any blue food will do. Consumers also are 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!) shows up in smoothies, drinks, and deserts. 

The industry is echoing the trend. TraceGains’ customer Sensient developed Natural Blue, the industry’s first stable natural blue food coloring, filling a 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 create additional natural colors like green and intense purple shades. Still not convinced? Right now, the 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 on track to increase 8.4%, compounded annually, by 2027, according to Meticulous Research, 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, the color red is eye-catching and triggers appetite. It’s 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 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 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. 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. 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 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 descriptions of colors above represent how we feel toward food items, the colors on the packaging of those food items elicit entirely different feelings. For example, seeing blue eggs on a plate vs. purchasing eggs in blue packaging will evoke other 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. It is known to spark an appetite, but it’s also the color people notice first, which is why so much food packaging features the color red. 

Blue – Trust

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 – Optimistic

Yellow in packaging 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; purple is also associated with spirituality and is a common choice for holistic products. 

Orange – Affordability

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 – Luxury

Black typically represents luxury, appearing more substantial and more expensive, which transmits a higher perceived value. 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 – Earthy

Brown is useful for products that want to portray a natural, wholesome, or organic feel and comfort and simplicity. Brown packaging in products can promote sustainability, and when a brand wants to communicate, the materials used to make the package are from recycled sources.

White – Simple

White is pure and straightforward, so it creates 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 influences first impressions for consumer preferences and buying behavior. So when selecting packaging and food coloring, it’s essential to pay close attention to the psychology behind color to 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. 

With the launch of Formula Management, the TraceGains Networked Product Development Suite is now complete. The combined solution allows teams to go from manual processes to automated results by digitizing and streamlining new product development for better, faster innovation. Networked means companies no longer have to chase down suppliers for documentation because it’s already available.

Our recent on-demand product spotlight webinar features TraceGains CEO Gary Nowacki and Sales Engineer Ruben Galbraith share how Networked Product Development drives collaboration, innovation, and faster time to market. Download the recording and slides here.