Judging a Product by Its Cover: Using Color Analysis for Sensory Testing in Foods

The food production world knows that color analysis is necessary for developing a product that sells. Let’s face it, consumers cannot taste or smell many of the prepackaged foods on the market today, so they must rely on visual perception when making purchasing choices. That is why sensory testing and color analysis have quickly become an important part of helping manufactures develop products that appeal to consumer perceptions and quality expectations.

smelling color analysis
Our senses tell us a lot about the world around us, but when it comes to food options color perception and sight play the most significant role in consumer choice.
Image Source: Flickr user Dennis Wong

Color Perception and Consumer Choice

Color analysis has played an important role in food production for many years. In fact, color and consumer choice are so closely related that entire product lines have either found success or failure based on color alone. For example, in the early 1990s Pepsi Cola© released a new line of clear colored cola products1 that boasted less artificial coloring and no caffeine. Despite the increased buyer hype over an all-natural alternative, this new product bombed miserably as consumers simply could not disassociate their taste expectations from the signature brown cola color.

club soda color analysis
Taste test results have shown that consumer expectation of color plays a significant role in taste perception and product acceptance.
Image Source: Flickr user Gail Frederick

Color perception and taste often go hand-in-hand, but most consumers do not even recognize the subliminal signals that are generated by the brain. These brain-color relations are often product specific and develop over time with brand recognition and consistency. Many scientists believe that this is in direct relation to our natural judgement instincts which are used to determine the quality or safety of our food products.2 For example, brown or discolored meat products are typically associated with spoilage and are rejected by the consumer based on color factor alone. Major food manufacturers invest their resources color analysis instrumentation to increase consumer acceptance and overall quality perception of their product.

Instrumental Analysis

Advanced color analysis requires the use of specialized analytical tools which quantify color for accuracy and repeatability. Spectrophotometers are commonly used in food production to monitor color consistency from batch-to-batch, ensuring that the visual appeal of the product meets consumer standards.3 The standards are often subjective to preconditioned color expectations that are brought about by industry fads and interpretations of color that have been engrained on society as a “correct” association with that food product. Baked goods and what may be perceived as a healthier food choice is often associated with more natural brown and earthy tones, whereas bright hues are often expected with sugar-based or candy-like product selections.

bright candies color analysis
Brightly colored candies have been strategically marketed to meet consumer expectations and increase sales. Keeping colors bright and consistent requires specialized analytical instrumentation to ensure quality.
Image Source: Flickr user Luci Correia

Choosing the right color combinations which best address consumer expectations will result in the highest level of product acceptance and marketability. Thus, color analysis is important for developing precise color matching standards and ensuring repeatability throughout the production line. This is particularly important for name-brand recognition, reliability, and quality control.

Spectrophotometric Applications for Food Analysis

Spectrophotometers offer the most advanced method of color analysis in food products. The analytical tools offer a wealth of evaluative information that can be used to determine the quality and safety of food products and ensure consistency and consumer color acceptance. HunterLab is a leading name in color technology and spectrophotometric applications, and has been a major presence in the food industry for the past 60 years. Working together with leading food manufacturers, we have developed our products to meet the needs and challenges of this industry. To learn more about the benefits of using color analysis to meet sensory expectations or for more information on instrumentation options, please contact HunterLab today.

  1. “Pepsi’s Crystal Fiasco,” March 7, 2012, http://www.casestudyinc.com/pepsi-crystal-fiasco
  2. “We eat with our eyes: Flavor perception strongly influenced by food color, says DDW,” March 27, 2013, http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/R-D/We-eat-with-our-eyes-Flavor-perception-strongly-influenced-by-food-color-says-DDW
  3. “A Look at Sensory Coloring,” October 2006, http://vertassets.blob.core.windows.net/download/1f5eb1ce/1f5eb1ce-0328-41ea-9de7-ba6b79130c3e/prepfoodscolorart.pdf

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