The Color-Flavor Connection

Guest Blog Post by Jenn David Connolly
Creative Strategist at Jenn David Design

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I was recently discussing how color affects the brain when eating foods. As soon as I dove into how flavor, color, perception and taste are intricately linked, I knew I had the makings for an interesting article on the topic.

What we expect and what we see.

Taste and color are primarily ingrained in us as babies when we are introduced to foods for the first time, and our brain starts making connections between the two. These links in essence become deep-rooted within us and therefore are difficult to change. Broccoli is green, strawberries are red, lemons are yellow—fairly basic stuff.

When we encounter a food package that visually communicates the flavor, we call upon our ingrained links and associate with that flavor, because we recognize it and are familiar with it. We understand that a product with a purple label, especially when it has grapes on it, is going to be grape in flavor.

The slim window of opportunity.

A product has only 2–3 seconds to engage on a retail shelf, and the flavor expectation is one less thing the consumer has to decipher when the taste they can expect is visually communicated. This understanding is essential because there is a lot of information that the consumer needs to sort through when deciding to purchase a product. If the information is poorly displayed, they are not going to buy the product.

When the flavor is easy to process, we understand and relate to it. We subconsciously draw up past experience with the flavor and apply it in that moment to the food. The consumer can then move past this understanding to further connect with the product.

When flavor doesn’t connect.

If the flavor is not visually conveyed well on the package, we have to read the label, process the information and then understand what type of flavor or taste experience the product will create. When it takes more effort for the consumer to comprehend, the sale is less likely to happen.

Have you ever seen a line of products that all have the same exact look and design, but only the information is different? You have to spend time and effort reading each label to understand what it is. However if the product is visually communicated in addition to the text, the consumer can interpret and distinguish with ease by sight only, without the need to read the information.

Going further, if the color is not in sync the flavor, such as a purple color cue for an orange-flavored food, the disconnect can even deter the consumer away from the product. The clash creates a certain level of confusion, even if subconsciously, which can cause an aversion.

Learned color-flavor associations.

Consumers also learn other color-flavor connections by colors commonly seen on those flavor products. Consider this: the packaging color used to denote the flavor on many cookies-and-cream flavored foods (such as ice cream) is dark blue because consumers have learned—whether they realize it or not—to equate that color with the Oreo cookies package.

If such color-flavor associations in the retail environment are commonplace to the consumer, then other brands and products can utilize that norm to strengthen their product’s understanding with the consumer.

There are many flavors and flavor combinations that consumers have become used to seeing a certain color for—even if the connection is subconscious—so it’s important to do proper research before beginning a food product design to see what familiarity you can leverage.

The design should still wow.

While you want the taste of the product to visually meet expectations and be easy to comprehend, you still want the design of the product to be distinctive on the shelf. If the entire package design meets the expected image for that type of product, then the product becomes tiresome. The intersection of knowing which expectations to meet and when to go against the grain creates a winning package.

Of course there may be exceptions the rule, however most packaged food products will benefit from employing common color-flavor associations.

Packaging is the key link.

The product’s packaging is the gateway between the consumer and the product, and is an essential function of a successful food product. The more you can utilize existing conventions, the deeper the relationship with the consumer, and the more attracted the consumer is to the product.

When a product’s package supports the flavor visually—both consciously and subconsciously—we are better able to understand and process it, and even crave or salivate over its flavor, and therefore are more likely to purchase it when considering it in a retail environment.

Is your packaging employing the right strategies?

Jenn David Design partners with gourmet food and specialty brands to create powerful, distinct, cohesive design that commands attention and makes an impact. How can we take your brand where you want it to go?

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