Humans have a real appetite for color. The colors that surround us can actually impact our hunger cues by either activating or deflating them. As you can imagine, that’s important news for restaurants, food brands, fast-food chains and advertisers.
Which hues cause hunger to spike? Which palettes inspire us to push our plates away? Let’s examine the impact of colors on appetite and eating habits.
The Hunger Hues: Colors That Make Us Want to Eat
When it comes to revving up our appetites, no color is quite as effective as red. Yes, there’s a method behind why popular chains like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Chipotle, Dairy Queen, Burger King, Moe’s, Carl’s Junior, Domino’s, KFC and Wendy’s all use red in their logos. Red makes us feel impulsive and hungry. The body’s biological response to red raises heart rate and blood pressure to cause us to want to tear through burgers, fries and more just a little faster.
Eateries don’t just capitalize on using red by enticing us to order more. For sit-down restaurants, using red décor can cause guests to eat faster. That means faster turnaround times that allow restaurants to serve more customers per day.
In a time when healthy eating is at the forefront, green is a color with lots of power for food brands. Seeing green on a logo instantly makes consumers think of natural ingredients. In addition, the mind associates green with abundance and health. There is simply no easier way to create a “snap” judgment that aligns a product with thoughts of organic goodness than by using green branding.
Using green also allows marketers to tap into the “ancient” brains of humans. Throughout history, humans have looked for green foods because green foods in nature are largely nutritious and nonpoisonous. There’s no question about why major brands like Whole Foods, Tropicana and Starbucks have all used green logos with great success.
Yellow’s power to stimulate the appetite may have more to do with its ability to put us in a good mood. Yellow is known as the color of sunshine. It turns out that the cheerfulness of yellow can stimulate our desire to eat out of joy. What’s more, we may have happy, jubilant memories from eating in the presence of yellow that cause us to want to return to a restaurant. Brands like Sonic, Del Taco, Subway, Lay’s, Cheetos, Ortega and Hardee’s all use yellow in their logos.
Color Lesson: The “Ketchup and Mustard” Theory
Have you heard of one of the most fascinating marketing theories of modern times? It has to do with what happens when you combine red and yellow in a logo for a restaurant or food brand. As you may have noticed, many of the logos covered under the “red” and “yellow” categories above actually overlap slightly. It’s owed to something called the “Ketchup and Mustard” theory that marketers use quite frequently.
Under the “Ketchup and Mustard” theory, brands awaken the appetite using red before exciting us with yellow. Combining the two colors is an effective way to get us to stop to grab a bite to eat because it elicits both the desire and action needed to get us through a door or drive-up window. If you need proof that marketing executives believe in the “Ketchup and Mustard” theory, look no further than red-and-yellow logos from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, El Polo Loco, Popeyes, Sonic and more.
Appetite Losers: Colors That Don’t Make Us Hungry
There are many colors that can be categorized as real appetite killers. Generally, colors that are dark, murky or curiously unnatural shut down our appetites. As a result, food brands and marketers tend to stay away from these unappetizing hues. Take a look at the colors that food advertisers won’t touch with a 10-foot fork.
Blue is the top color not to use in a food logo. It turns out that blue is the only color on the spectrum that’s actually been proven to suppress the appetite.
The case against blue in restaurant marketing gets even stronger once you realize that many weight-loss programs and diet companies actually use blue in their branding. That includes both Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig.
Of course, an argument could be made that food brands and restaurants that serve up seafood could make blue work. Blue instantly makes the mind think of fresh water. In turn, thoughts of fresh water make us think of fresh catches. That might be why Long John Silver’s is one of the rare fast-food chains to have a blue logo.
Pink won’t stimulate your appetite and the reason is that it’s somewhat of an unnatural color. It often makes people think of artificial preservatives or raw meat, according to Kari Hartel, RD, LD. That’s one of the reasons why you rarely see pink used in food logos. Adults making buying decisions simply make a snap judgment about pink being artificial.
Gray isn’t exactly a color that gets mouths watering. First, gray isn’t a color that’s generally found growing in a garden. What’s more, most people associate the dullness of gray with old, spoiled food.
Brown is a tricky color. Any company that uses brown in a logo runs the risk of bringing up thoughts of burnt, overdone food. The exception would be brands that offer baked goods or chocolates because the mind will make the association between brown and yummy desserts.
Final Thoughts to Chew On
Once you understand how color impacts appetite, it becomes obvious why so many food brands are using the same color combinations over and over again. Ultimately, red and yellow seem to be the winners among restaurants that are trying to get customers to make quick, impulsive food decisions. Brands trying to lure customers in with the appearance of healthy, whole options strike gold with green. The bottom line is that what we see with our eyes ultimately impacts how our stomachs feel.