bowl of fruit loops

A Visual Feast – Part 2 – How Color Affects Food Sales

There’s a reason you don’t see many beige Ferraris...

Don’t get us  wrong, they probably exist, but it’s definitely NOT the paint job most people would picture if asked to imagine a glorious, expensive, high-powered sports car, and there’s some psychology behind that, as we’ll see in just a minute.

As we outlined in Part 1 of this series, people are practically wired to associate colors with meaning, and a thorough understanding of these associations can have a huge impact on your products’ sales. While there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules, researchers have uncovered general guidelines based on what’s referred to as ‘associative learning’, which in this particular context is the relationship between color and emotion. The colors you choose to use for your products can make or break your bottom line. Here’s how: 

Bright colors ‘pop’: think fruits, sweets, and desserts. Combining colors in interesting ways can make fun foods like candies even more exciting.

fruits and vegetables at a market

Subdued, muted colors are seen as deep, rich, and complex. These tones make you think of savory flavors (but are also suitable for rich, sweet flavors like chocolate). Browns and earth tones are seen as warm, appetizing, wholesome, and natural.

bagels on a table

What’s more:

  • Red and yellow are colors that grab your attention and stimulate the appetite for more. That’s why fast food joints (and likely your local gym, as well!) laid claim to this combination; it’s for a good reason - because it works.
  • Orange, a blend of red and yellow, also naturally lends itself to food as another energizing color. Breakfast without a morning glass of OJ is just a snack that tides you over ‘til lunchtime. 
  • Green makes people think ‘lush, natural, and healthy’, like a plate full of veggies. A mug of green tea doesn’t scream ‘Relaxation!’, it whispers it softly, over and over, until finally you understand, and believe.
  • Purple is a cool color tone, and cool tones aren’t considered stimulating in general, usually evoking a sense of calmness, comfort, and security which makes a pleasant pour of port the perfect postprandial potable!
  • White is associated with purity, cleanness, and simplicity. A simple scoop of ice cream becomes a special treat if there’s a blop of whipped cream on top.

And then there’s blue. 

There aren’t many naturally-occurring, widely-grown blue foods, and it’s because of this fact that we, as a species, tend to instinctively shy away from blue foods. We just haven’t developed an appetite response to it.  Some research even suggests that the color blue has the least appealing contrast to most foods, and so acts as an appetite suppressant!  So if you need an excuse to buy those cobalt paper plates for pizza night, well... call it another tool in your healthy lifestyle. 

blue bananas

According to color professor J.L. Morton:

“Blue food is a rare occurrence in nature. Aside from blueberries and a few blue-purple potatoes from remote areas, blue just doesn't exist in any significant quantity as a natural food color. Consequently, we don't have an automatic appetite response to blue. Furthermore, our primal nature avoids food that are poisonous. When our earliest ancestors were foraging for food, blues, purples, and black were "color warning signs" of potentially lethal food.” 1

Gary Blumenthal, of International Food Strategies, has this to add:

”... the eyes are the first place that must be convinced before a food is even tried. This means that some food products fail in the marketplace, not because of bad taste, texture, or smell, but because the consumer never got that far. Colors are significant, and almost universally, it is difficult to get a consumer to try a blue-colored food. [...].” 2

Hey, by the way, chances are that the glorious, expensive, high-powered sports car we asked you to imagine at the beginning of this post, was probably painted red in your mind’s eye, wasn’t it? 

That’s because it’s the color we’re conditioned to associate most with excitement and energy.  Beige (and browns in general) on the other hand, are thought to connote seriousness, earthiness, ruggedness, and reliability, so unless and until Ferarri decides to come out with a high-performance station wagon, beige is not likely to be a standard paint option.

Color Speaks, We Can’t Help But Listen

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding about how color influences what people gravitate towards (and away from) when it comes to foods.  Check back soon for our next installment of this 3-part series, where we’ll discuss the growing demand for clean-label and natural food colorings. 

Read Part 1

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