The Food-Package-Color Secret Decoder

Food packages are crammed with words designed to turn grocery store lookers into buyers; things like "low-fat," "no added sugar," or "new and improved." But package designs also give off subtler cues that you may only be picking up on subconsciously, says Consumer Reports in its June 2011 article "If That Box Could Talk."

Designers choose package colors based on a whole bunch of things: Who are they trying to sell to? (Men, women, teenagers, grandmas?) What flavor is the product inside? (Kinda weird to choose a gray package for a strawberry-flavored gummy candy.) And most importantly of all, what is the designer trying to convey about the food inside? With that in mind, colors are carefully chosen and their connotations considered. We broke down the Consumer Reports article and did some extra research to get to the bottom of what the colors really mean.

Color: Red
What it means: Red is the color of danger (blood) and warning (stop signs). This color attracts the eye like no other; therefore, you will find grocery store aisles slathered with every imaginable shade of crimson. Red is also said to be a color that stimulates the body and the appetite, so many food companies use red in their logo: Kraft and Duncan Hines spring to mind, as does one iconic soda company.

 

Color: Blue
What it means: Blue can mean sadness or tranquility; it also can connote loyalty (e.g., "true blue"). But in food packaging, it's most often used in counterpoint to the color red. If one brand of a particular product is red, its competitor will be blue, notes "expert in the cultural analysis of brands" Marcus Alfonsetti in the Consumer Reports story. Pepsi and Coke illustrate the red/blue battle.

 

Color: Green
What it means: Green packages are usually found on products trying to convey some sort of environmentally friendly image. Or minty stuff.

 

Color: Purple
What it means: Purple is thought of as rare and special, thus found on premium brands, as you will see with this Annie's macaroni and cheese box. It costs more than Kraft, and Annie's wants you to see it's worth it. Research on color and flavor (note: Link leads to a pdf file) has shown that consumers associate purple with tart/fruity tastes. Are we surprised then that Raisin Bran's packaging is a rich, grapey purple, quite a standout in the red/orange/yellow cereal aisle?

 

Color: Brown
What it means: Earthy, homey, and natural, brown is very popular with brands that are trying to give off a crunchy/handmade vibe. Nowhere is this better evoked than in Tostitos Artisan Recipes chips (you know, "just corn and salt") with a little see-through show-off window in the front, notes Alfonsetti in Consumer Reports.

 

Color: Gold
What it means: Gold conveys the idea that a product is premium and special, says Consumer Reports. Many brands will have a regular product in one color package, and a premium product in a package with a gold background, or gold lettering. Case in point: Bumble Bee's Prime Fillet Solid White Albacore, in a gold can so you can't miss the fact that this is no ordinary cat-food-style tuna.

Image sources: Flickr member blmurch under Creative Commons, cokeusa.com, pepsiproductfacts.com, morningstarfarms.com, annies.com, fritolay.com, bumblebee.com