There is a natural movement well underway in the food industry. Many food companies have announced that they are removing the artificial colors in their products and are replacing them with naturally sourced ingredients. There is plenty of research that indicates consumers want healthier ingredients and are increasingly willing to pay for them (one report indicates that 88% of consumers will shell out more for products which are “GMO-free, have no artificial coloring/flavors and are deemed all natural.”). These results are not generational specific and, most importantly, create an opportunity for big-food to respond to consumer demand with natural products, that are also delicious and visual appealing. 

It’s a complex endeavor!

One complexity lies in how we humans use our sense of sight to make judgments and our expectations. What visual cues have we trained ourselves to look for in our favorite products and brands? And if the visual cue is changed does our expectation change? Imagine you go to your favorite diner and are given a beautiful ceramic cup that warms your hands when you touch it. You take a deep inhalation and find that rather than coffee, you’ve got a warm cup of turkey gravy. Certainly, your expectations are not met, regardless of how well the gravy is seasoned. Visuals certainly impact your product acceptance. What if the hue is slightly different? Or the chroma/brightness? What if it slightly grayer?

The Gray Conundrum. Over the years, we’ve have talked to many consumers about their immediate experience with many prototypes and products. Invariably appearance impacts the expectation. Especially when there are grayish tones. Grayish food tends to be thought of as old, not fresh or poor quality. And, therefore the expectation the food won’t taste right or will have a bad texture. To consumers: grayish facial tissue is not as soft; gray skin pallor means not healthy. A small visual cue like gray tones can have a large impact on how a consumer responds to your products. 

When you are in the grocery store? What visual cues are you looking for indications of freshness? Or when you open a cereal box? A package of meat? The visual design element is a difficult one within the biological system we know as food. So many parameters impact the color, chroma, shine, evenness, etc. Just removing one colorant and replacing it with another can lead to a slight difference in color and decrease in acceptance. What have you deemed unacceptable because it no longer looks the same?

Teasing out the impact of ingredient changes is a test objective that is often a challenge we face at Sensory Spectrum. While appearance may not be the only aspect we measure, it is often included in our test design. Or is accounted for in the test controls. If understanding how consumers describe their multi-sensory experience is your focus. Come listen with us. Teasing apart all the nuances within sensory descriptions is our passion.

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