Monthly Archives: June 2014

The psychology of color. How to make it work for your food branding and packaging design.

When it comes to the question of how to use color in branding and packaging design, there are no right or wrong answers. It’s really a matter of understanding the psychological effects of specific colors and matching those effects through the selection of color to achieve branding and marketing objectives. Simply put, there is science to help guide the selection of color in branding and packaging design.

The response to color has been widely studied in humans and there is empirical data on the common human responses to specific colors.  Here are eight colors, including black and white which are not technically colors, and how they have been used in food branding and packaging design.

RED:  This is the show-stopper of color and the most emotive one. Red attracts human attention more than any other color, and elicits both positive and negative emotions, ranging from  passion and love to danger and aggression. It is widely used in branding and packaging design, primarily to attract attention in visually cluttered retail environments and within crowded product categories. Red is a popular color among foodservice brands (McDonalds, Pizza Hut among many others) and within the crowded product categories such as beverages  (Coca-Cola for example).

GREEN:  The emotional associations are clear here…fresh, natural, wholesome. Green is a common theme throughout the branding and packaging of products marketed as organic and natural, as well as branded  produce products. The fresh aspect of green has been used in foodservice branding (Subway, Soup Plantation for example) where the marketing pitch is focused on fresh ingredients and freshly made. It is no surprise that the branding of  Whole Foods markets is wrapped in green.

YELLOW:  Interestingly, of all the colors, yellow is the one that the human eye processes first, making it the most visible color in the spectrum. In recent years, emergency vehicles have adopted yellow over red because the eye recognizes yellow faster. This, no doubt, explains the prevalent use of yellow in QSR branding, as so many roadside foodservice brands vie for the attention of passing motorists. Yellow has been widely used in food packaging design, but very often as an accent color…just enough to grab attention away from competitors. Yellow is also associated with sunshine and elicits the emotion of happiness, which explains why it is widely used on snack food packaging.

ORANGE:  Orange is very close to yellow on the color spectrum and  is also one of the first colors the eye recognizes. In addition, it is a bright color, so it shares some of the attention getting properties of red. The emotions most commonly associated with orange are action, adventure, and vitality. Brands that use orange want to position themselves as friendly, engaging, and adventurous, as evident in its use in foodservice (Hooters, for example) and some high profile non-food brands (Harley-Davidson).

BLUE:  Blue is the color most often cited as “my favorite color” in surveys. It is an earth tone associated with water and sky, both calming and peaceful earth elements. For this reason, blue is a particularly popular color in the branding of many non-food products and services (insurance companies like Allstate, Metlife, and financial institutions such as American Express and Bank of America). Blue is a commonly used color in the branding and packaging of fish/seafood products, but that color association is probably more environmental than emotional.

BROWN:  Brown is another earth tone and not a particularly popular color. However, its subtle messages of dependable, trustworthy, practical, and natural can be very useful in food branding and packaging design. Brown has been used frequently with green in marketing products with organic and natural product claims. When used sparingly, it can reinforce the notion of healthy goodness (several whole wheat pasta brands incorporate brown into their packaging design, and as do a variety of other grain and cereal products).

BLACK:  The color black, technically the absorption of all of the colors of the spectrum, is most often used in branding and packaging design as a contrast to other colors to make them “pop”. Black does have some important associations, in terms of branding and packaging, including formality, tradition, simplicity, and elegance. Upscale food brands and packaging have used black as a predominate color, but even using small amounts of black accents can achieve the same messaging objectives of elegance and upscale.

WHITE:   White is technically the reflection of all of the colors of the spectrum and has strong symbolic significance in many cultures. It is the “color” of purity, equality, goodness, and perfection. In graphic design, white is thought of  less as a color and more as open or white space to be filled with other colors and graphic elements. Making effective use of white space can emphasize brand elements and create a simplistic, uncluttered feel to logos and packaging design. In an era of heightened consumer interest in”clean” labels and product formulations, more white space is appearing on product packaging in many food and beverage categories.

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Why do food products fail? Here’s the big five.

Food and beverage products, like products in any other consumer product category, can be enormous successes or monumental flops. The product category really doesn’t matter so much, but what does matter are the commonalities…the reasons for the failures. A recent article in Forbes is an excellent overview of “The Five Biggest Reasons Why Consumer Products Fail”, written by Barbara Thau and based on the experiences of Bob Shelton, a Safeway merchandising executive with 40 years of retail experience and currently with Shelton Professional Consulting. We have re-posted a portion of the article here because we think the fundamentals presented are important in the branding, packaging, and marketing of food products.

The Five Biggest Reasons Why Consumer Products Fail

Bob Shelton, a 40-year retail veteran and lifelong Safeway SWY -0.09% merchandising executive who now runs Shelton Professional Consulting, spoke with Forbes about the biggest reasons why consumer product launches fail.

1. A Myopic Growth Strategy

Brands that do well in a vacuum generally don’t have staying power.

When sales of  a new product, say brand X yogurt, surge, but there’s no halo effect on other yogurt brands, the result is that it “just trades volume from the existing brands to the new brand with the effect of the category being flat or no growth, which is not very profitable for retailers,” Shelton said.

By contrast, “New items that build their own brand sales and increase category volume and growth are highly profitable to retailers and what retailers need to grow share of wallet with their customers.”


Greek yogurt makers have milked the success of the Chobani brand. (Photo credit: messycupcakes)

Examples of brands that have done just that include Arizona Ice Tea, Sobe, Vitamin Water, Chobani Greek Yogurt and Fresh Express EXPR +0.94% Package Salads, he said.

2. Marketing Support That Peters Out

Another product-launch pitfall: “Underestimating the cost of generating new customers and keeping them engaged through a lack of resources or inadequate capital,” Shelton said.

Indeed, skimping on the capital and/or marketing support that’s necessary post launch — usually two or three years into a product’s debut, “can be catastrophic,” he said. “Many failed candy, breakfast cereal, and hair care brands too numerous to name” have seen this fate, he said.

3. A Half-Hearted Retail Partner

A retail partner that fails to provide a brand with timely feedback to maximize product potential sets it up for underperformance.  “Some brand managers tend to have blinders on when preparing go-to-market plans for new products,” Shelton said.

Conversely, “a trusted retailer source can provide excellent and early advice because they can be closest to the customer, avoiding many potential pitfalls.”

As for stores that usually get it right, “Walmart, Target TGT +0.31%, Kroger KR +0.1% and Costco are best in class for retailer-manufacturer partnerships,” he said.

4. Moving Too Fast

The retail record books are filled with products and store concepts that lunged out of the starting gate only to crash and burn.

“Sometimes going slow to go fast can help you make adjustments to strategy and marketing on the fly by establishing well measured, goal oriented check points in time,” Shelton said.

Webvan is the classic case for failure where Amazon has succeeded.”

5. Dubious Brand Relaunches, Makeovers

“Relaunching a brand for the sake of relaunching a brand [can have] unintended consequences. In other words, ignoring why the brand failed in the first place,” Shelton said.

“It is a form of brand arrogance when the brand owner/manager stops listening to their customers or their partners and becomes inflexible and unwilling to test ideas or concepts that are not of their own. People trust the experience a brand represents, not the actual brand,” he said. “Before you make changes, make sure you are not damaging your customer and retail partner relationships in the process.”

Examples of companies that have fallen into that trap:  J.C. Penney, Ford’s Lincoln division and Hostess Cakes, he said.

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