Evaluating Color’s Impact in Food and Beverages
Brands Leveraging the Value of Color
Color has always been a factor in brand identity, flavor amplification, and consumer recognition. From iconic colored logos to bold hues indicating flavor, the rainbow can be a powerful tool for brands in the food and beverage industry. MTN DEW®, for example, recently launched a campaign including the tagline, “MTN DEW® doesn’t have to be green.” Recognizing and harnessing the power of one of the most emblematic greens in the industry, MTN DEW® is leveraging eye-catching new colors to emphasize the flavor range of their newest collection:
Color can be used successfully in both branding and in flavor reinforcement. From the bold red of cherry to the careful distinction between the pink of watermelon and that of raspberry lemonade, MTN DEW® is using the power of color to improve on-shelf recognition and flavor perception of their beverages. Research shows that this is a reliable tactic.
Research Shows Color’s Impact on Flavor, Preference, Purchase Intent
“Taste” is a multi-sensory perception constructed from taste buds, visual appearance, aroma, and mouthfeel. Flavor and color work hand-in-hand to create a product experience and win over consumers.
This phenomenon was evaluated in an academic study published in the Journal of Consumer Research using orange juice. Researchers tested consumer preference for orange juice while varying the shade using food dye or the sweetness level using added sugar. When comparing two glasses of juice, one with a brighter orange hue, consumers perceived the more colorful sample to be sweeter and more flavorful, although no actual sweetness difference existed. Conversely, when the researchers added sugar to one of two visually identical glasses of juice, those same consumers could not taste the difference.
To further this research, Sensient conducted broad consumer research of its own in order to evaluate and quantify the impact of color alone on purchase intent and flavor perception. Beginning with online-only testing of 600 consumers, a variety of products spanning the food and beverage industry were used to identify market-wide trends.
Each category user surveyed viewed a concept statement paired with a single image. The image showed either a colorful, vibrant product or the same product in a low-color or colorless version. The concept statements each included references to natural ingredients and remained identical regardless of the color shown in the image. They then responded to a series of attribute questions, rating their perception of the product’s sweetness, naturalness, flavor, health, and overall appeal. They also rated their likelihood of purchasing the product.
CONSUMERS SHOWED A PREFERENCE FOR THE HIGHER COLORED PRODUCT IN 86% OF PRODUCTS TESTED.
Sensient Consumer Research 2017
High color products were consistently perceived as more visually appealing. In side-by-side testing that more closely mimicked the in-store purchase experience, data showed that color impacts trial rates. Consumers in the study offered verbatims identifying the higher color products as appearing more flavorful, tastier, sweeter, and more representative of the touted flavor profiles. Lower color options received comments like “bland”, “tasteless”, and “not matching the description.” High color images outscored low color images because of their perceived association of better taste expectations.
How Could Color Impact the Bottom Line for Brands?
Not only did consumers like the more colorful products better, but they also indicated that they were more likely to purchase more colorful food and beverages.
For example, a colorless energy drink currently on the market generated $71.8 million in dollar sales for the 52 weeks ending 10/3/21. The same product could offer that brand an additional $4.23 million in dollar sales annually if a flavor-appropriate color was used. Don’t leave money on the table by skipping color.
Color Impacts Flavor Perception
Color can not only affect purchase intent and trial rates, but also flavor perception. Sensient’s research continued with a study evaluating the quantifiable impact of color on flavor perception with in-person sensory testing.
Sensory testing data aligned with the results of the online testing, with optimized color generating increased purchase intent and increased overall liking scores over low color alternatives. Most interestingly, while flavor remained constant and only the color changed between two otherwise identical products, optimized color increased flavor perception scores by an average +14.7% across categories.
For example, a raspberry flavored cookie baked with two different beet color solutions garnered substantially different flavor expectation scores. The cookie using standard beet juice lost much of its red hue in the baking process, while the same cookie baked with Sensient’s heat-stable beet technology, SupraRed™, remained a bold raspberry red shade. Although no actual taste difference existed, the more brightly colored cookie was rated 23% higher for flavor than its lower color companion by consumers tasting the product. This data shows the impact of color alone on consumer perception of taste matching the expected flavor.
Overall, color’s impact on purchase intent, flavor perception, and overall liking has consistently been found to be statistically significant. Brands looking to impress shoppers should not overlook this key component, as vibrantly colored products are better liked and more likely to be purchased by consumers.
One way to take action on this research with your next project is to consider color as early in the formulation process as possible, at least as early as the flavor is considered. Flavor and color work intertwined to determine a consumer’s overall experience.
It’s important not to underestimate how much color can influence consumer taste expectations, which motivate consumer liking more than any other attribute. Consumers believe that products with more vibrant color will taste better, have superior sweetness, and are more flavorful.