It’s a common theory that we eat with our eyes first, which is why, perhaps second to beverage packaging, the color or appearance of a beverage can be one of the most important factors in whether a consumer picks up a drink from the shelf.
The hue of a beverage, whether it’s opaque or transparent—as well as intensity, tint and warmth—triggers consumers to anticipate the drink’s flavor.
In fact, studies have shown that color can alter consumers’ perception of taste.
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that consumers given two cups of the same orange juice, with one darkened with food coloring, perceived the brighter orange hued drink as sweeter than the other one.
So, beverage marketers must decide what particular hue—whether bright cherry red or a darker cranberry red—best matches their product and what that color will ultimately say to consumers.
From a formulation point of view, there are many factors that go into choosing a beverage color.
According to Rajesh Cherian, manager of application support for ROHA Food Colors, product formulators must understand the product parameters, such as whether to use certified colors or colors exempt from certification, which include pigments derived from natural sources, and the processing conditions, shelf life and packaging for the finished product.
“Synthetic colors are very stable towards heat, light and reactivity within a beverage system. With the exempt color category, the package becomes very important,” Cherian says. “The critical parameters to be looked at are pack sizes, packaging type (opaque or transparent), possibility of secondary packaging and UV protection barriers. Color stability can be improved by providing secondary packaging or a UV protection barrier.”
As natural colors are susceptible to degradation by heat and light, beverage manufacturers often will use sleeve wraps on beverage containers to protect the natural colors from light exposure.
Naturally-derived colors, which include colors sourced from fruits and vegetables, are increasingly popular, especially in natural functional beverages as many ingredients double as both natural sources for color and can boost the health profile of the drink.
For instance, anthocyanins have proven antioxidant activity and beta carotene can provide a natural orange color and be a good source of Vitamin A.
David Luks, CEO of Honeydrop, a line of natural honey-infused teas and juices, says the company uses natural juices to achieve slightly different hues for its line of healthy juices and teas. For instance, the Blood Orange variety of Honeydrop gets its appealing pinkish-orange hue from actual blood orange juice and carrot juice, while the Blueberry variety contains, along with blueberry juice, elderberry juice and purple carrot juice.
“The juices have functional benefits and help with the longevity of the color,” he says. “Color plays a huge role. People often refer to the particular variety they drink by color. They’ll say, ‘I buy the orange one.’
According to color supplier D. D. Williamson, research into the most popular natural hues for beverages found uncolored tops the list, which is reflected in the number of all-natural enhanced waters, followed by red, yellow and brown hues. Natural red hues reflect the continued popularity of berry-type fruits and flavors, says Jody Renner-Nantz, application scientist with color supplier D.D. Williamson.
“Red often suggests berry flavors, which are appetizing and connote health,” she says. “With different shades of red, there’s blue/red or a more tomato red, and those can cue the mind into thinking about a particular flavor.”
According to Campbell Barnes, vice president, brand and market development at D.D. Williamson, this year in particular, with the ongoing down economy, consumers are gravitating toward safe, stable and reliable products and this extends to fruit and vegetable hues in food and beverage products.
Campbell says D.D. Williamson has identified pumpkin bisque, which is an orange hue with brown earth tones, and cranberry red, which represents a shift toward a cooler, more saturated red hue, as both popular colors for food and beverage products this year.
The intended target market plays a big role in beverage color choice, notes Cherian.
“Kids, for example, are attracted to bright, vibrant colors and appreciate over-coloring,” he says.
There is an obvious trend toward clear or subtle colors for all-natural drinks or drinks with a healthy positioning. For instance, Jones Soda, which carved out a place in the beverage market selling brightly-colored soft drinks such as Blue Bubblegum and Green Apple flavored sodas, went in a different direction for its Au Naturel line of sparkling water. The line contains flavor essences of green apple, orange mango and lemon lime combined with carbonated water to create a beverage that connotes healthy refreshment with its clear, bubbly appearance.
At the same time, bright, bold colors also are unquestionably popular with sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade ION4, which comes in a bright blue Berry and Tropical flavor as well as bright red Cherry and a yellow hued Orange flavor. Developed by sports scientists, Powerade ION4 contains a combination of four minerals (sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium) and carbohydrates designed to help active adults rehydrate and replenish the fuel the body loses during exercise. Often, a specific color hue, such as a bright blue, can enhance brand recognition.
To this point, despite the growing trend toward natural colors, sports and energy drinks with bright, bold colors continue to do well in the market.
According to SymphonyIRI, Powerade ION4 topped it’s list of New Product Pacesetters in 2010 with $190.5 million in sales.
This speaks to the power of color to enhance a particular brand image—subtle colors and dark juice colors can connote health while the bright, bold colors of sports drinks often connote energy and play up the performance enhancing effects of the ingredients.