Imagine a world without color. Now think about how a sunny, blue sky motivates while a gloomy gray day may make you yawn. Consumers identify with colors every day, with many having learned responses and expectations to specific hues.

When it comes to beverages, consumers typically associate specific colors with flavor expectations. Lime should be green, while lemon is yellow. Orange is orange, or maybe not. A blood orange beverage will have a reddish shade while mandarin skews yellow.

Color influences not only the perception of taste, but quality and preference, too. Color psychology plays a role in an individual’s instinctual response to a product. For example, the color yellow is associated with increasing energy, while white, such as milk, may have a calming effect. Such clear beverages as water suggest a cool, refreshing experience. This is why it is paramount for beverage manufacturers to consider color as much as they deliberate flavor and nutrition platforms when developing new products.

“In many ways, color is more important than the actual flavor with beverages,” said Emina Goodman, beverage and dairy technical service manager, Sensient Colors, a division of Sensient Technologies, and based in St. Louis. “Our research indicates consumer preference for natural beverages, in particular, is highly influenced by color with bolder purples, reds and oranges really holding a lot of appeal. This is most likely because consumers connect these specific colors with those found in nature or their local grocer’s produce section.”

Strategies for adding color

Beverage formulators add color for many reasons. For one, color adds authenticity, which is why many naturally flavored waters have slight hints of color. Without the color, consumers may question the source of flavor and discredit its naturalness, even though flavor and color ingredients are independent of each other.

“Colored waters are a big growth area, largely due to the expected naturalness and cleansing positioning of that category,” said Christiane Lippert, head of marketing — food, Lycored, Aylesford, the United Kingdom. “Health and naturalness are particularly powerful influencers of choice in the beverage category. Milk drinks, for example, are recognized by consumers as both natural and healthy, so it’s important not only that they contain natural ingredients, but also — given that color sends powerful visual cues about nutritional value — that they look natural.

“Across the world, consumers are sending a powerful message to manufacturers that they want the colors in their food and drink products to be natural. The trend is expected to continue well into the future, with more and more manufacturers keeping pace with customer preference by swapping artificial colors for natural alternatives.”

A consumer’s perception of natural is important, as is quality, and for many consumers, color is an assessment of quality, with consistent color helping to ensure brand integrity. For others, color appeals to emotions.

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