Did KIND® Misunderstand the Impact of Color?

Citing a ‘retail failure’, the enormously successful Kind Healthy Snacks Company withdrew its fruit bites product from retail shelves last fall. The company was clearly frustrated at the use of synthetic colors in a number of popular brands in the category, and sponsored an event in New York City to highlight the issue. KIND® believes that the artificial colors used by competitive brands were “enticing children into eating them and parents into buying them”.

Did KIND® get it right?

At Sensient, we believe that KIND® may have missed the mark slightly. Firstly, the FDA has reviewed the effects of certified colors on both children’s behavior and human health overall and determined they are safe. Having said that, we recognize that many consumers are avoiding synthetic colors to be sure and the food industry needs to adapt and meet consumer demand.

KIND® is probably right that there is an excellent opportunity in the kid-targeted fruit snack for innovative new products that do not use certified colors. However, that does not mean they should eschew color entirely. Let me explain.

When you first enter your favorite grocery store, what section does the grocer have you see first? In most cases, the produce aisle with all its brilliance will greet you. Research on food shopper attitudes indicates the produce aisle, with its healthy image and vivid colors, is consumer’s favorite part of the store.

This does not surprise me at all. We have done a number of consumer studies that conclude color has a powerful effect on how consumers perceive the quality of food.

Color Has a Powerful Impact on Consumer Perception of Food Quality

In 2017, we conducted an in-depth online study with 1,632 U.S. consumers and repeated the same study in Europe in 2018. We compared the effect of using “high color” images on consumer purchase intent and liking scores using identical concepts. All of our concepts used colors from natural sources.

One of the most interesting findings to me was that even though consumers were reacting only to written concept statements, an expected increase in flavor intensity was a main driver for the higher liking and purchase intent scores. That led us to wonder whether color intensity influences how consumers think food tastes.

Late last quarter, we conducted detailed sensory testing with consumers across seven different categories. Holding constant all variables such as flavor, aroma, and texture, our team adjusted only the natural color. We measured liking, purchase intent, and JAR (just about right) scores for each concept.

The results were enlightening. In almost every case, color optimization had a significant effect on how consumers rated each concept. Some of the highlights:

icon1Color vibrancy is associated with higher liking and purchase intent

icon2The color had a profound impact on whether consumers think the flavor is “just about right” or too light

icon3There was a very strong correlation between liking and purchase intent

It is important to note that higher color load is not always preferred. For example, consumers rated our protein bar prototype without color more favorably than the bright yellow colored version. What is clear, however, is that color must be evaluated early on in the product development process, since the shade and vibrancy will have a meaningful and direct impact on overall taste perception. Manufacturers who leave color consideration until later in the development process need to rethink their approach.

“the shade and vibrancy of a product will have a meaningful and direct impact on overall taste perception”

Consumers Do Not Want to See Color Sacrificed

If we look at the KIND® fruit bite example, we can see from the package design that the company clearly recognized the power of color at the ‘first moment of truth’. The package design uses bright colors with appealing illustrations that drive taste appeal. However, in formulating the product they chose not to incorporate natural colors that might have created a connection for consumers back to the appeal of the produce aisle.

Our color innovation team and application experts continue to work to optimize the performance and cost-in-use for natural food colors. As Sensient CEO Paul Manning likes to say, we believe that consumers don’t want to sacrifice and that through better agronomy, extraction techniques, and purification technologies, food manufacturers can deliver the ‘no sacrifice’ experience.

If you want to learn more about our latest innovations or our consumer research, please reach out to me. We love to share our color knowledge!

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