Part 2 - How Color Affects Food Sales

By Mona Hollums
Published on June 13th, 2016

Part 2 of a 6-part series

A Visual Feast

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

Don’t get me 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.

85% of the reason you buy something is because of its color

That’s a fact1.; 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.

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.

What’s more:

  • Red






    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 my morning glass of OJ is just a snack that tides me over ‘til lunchtime. True story!)

  • 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



    . 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... there you go.  You’re welcome!) 

According to color professor J.L. Morton:

“Blue food is a rare occurrence in nature. There are no leafy blue vegetables (blue lettuce?), no blue meats (blueburger, well-done please!), and aside from blueberries and a few blue-purple potatoes from remote spots on the globe, 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. A million years ago, when our earliest ancestors were foraging for food, blues, purples, and black were "color warning signs" of potentially lethal food.” 2

Pretty, but I’ll pass, thanks. 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 - though more are being marketed for children these days. [...].” 3

So by the way, chances are that the glorious, expensive, high-powered sports car I 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, well... ‘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 6-part series, where we’ll discuss the growing demand for clean-label and natural food colorings, which is projected to grow to be worth more than $1.7 billion per year by 2020:

  1. Hemphill, Michael. "A note on adults' color–emotion associations." The Journal of Genetic Psychology 157.3 (1996): 275-280