Color is a major factor that attracts consumers to brands, packages and products. It's fairly well known among packaging designers that a significant percentage of consumers associate vibrant and warm colors with attractiveness. Meanwhile, cool colors on food packaging often associate with healthiness. Here's a look at how a consumer formulates color associations that inevitably affect purchasing decisions.
Perception Studies on Color and Associations
The notion that consumers base purchasing decisions partly on color has been known for decades, but researchers have only scratched the surface on understanding how consumers associate colors with ideas, feelings, and objects. Various consumer surveys, such as the 2015 Huang & Lu study, found that consumers associate less vibrant colors such as light blue and light green with healthiness. It's not clear, however, the degree to which consumers make these connections on a conscious level.
Associations between colors and concepts develop over the course of a lifetime but generally are established at an early age. One of the first aspects of an object that an infant identifies with is color. By grade school kids often learn to draw pictures of their basic environment, including blue skies and green trees. So it's easy to see how any person can develop basic color associations with elements of their surroundings. The equation that defines this dynamic is: colors + experiences + emotions = associations linked with products.
By the time an individual becomes an adult they've likely sampled a wide range of food products to know what they prefer to purchase without much thought. At the same time many consumers are impulsive shoppers who buy whatever looks good at the moment. Impulsive shoppers are more likely to try new foods based on attractive packaging without regard to ingredients. The more health-conscious consumer usually cares more about nutritional value rather than flashy colors.
Why Colors in Health Food Packaging Matter
Targeting consumers of health food requires a more subtle approach to packaging than what works for conventional food. Softer colors equate with less hype to many people who have learned to tune out the thousands of aggressive marketing visuals they encounter on a daily basis. People who care about nutritional foods tend to integrate more with nature, which is why green is such an essential color association with healthiness.
Health food consumers who stay away from conventional foods typically have done extensive research on nutrition as well as foods that take a toll on good health. They are often aware of marketing techniques designed to get their attention and try to remain aloof about them. This market segment has grown comfortable with softer colors as the antithesis of glitzy fanfare. The same concept is applied in other industries to emphasize more eco-friendly products as reflective of healthiness.
It's possible for package designers to connect with health-conscious consumers using vibrant colors, particularly if the product relates to physical fitness. Designers do not necessarily need to restrict brighter colors on packaging for healthier foods. But they do need to understand social norms and expectations that go along with specific market segments.
Understanding that each consumer has their own unique set of associations with colors is essential. Designers need to remember that the common association between soft colors and healthiness often comes from both implicit and explicit responses in consumer tests. But for many people eating habits are second nature and they aren't always able to clearly articulate how they evaluate food, colors and associations.
[ 1 ] Colouring perception : emphasising attractiveness through packaging (January 2018), by Irene Tijssen
[ 2 ] Healthy by design, but only when in focus: Communicating non-verbal health cues through symbolic meaning in packaging (2016), by Nadine Karnal, Casparus J.A.Machiels, Ulrich R. Orth and RobertMai