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Pass the blue butter?

Electric blue margarine, alligator green yogurt and funky purple ketchup? “Today” food editor Phil Lempert talks about this latest trend.
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Color is one of the main tools that package designers use to influence our buying decisions but now major marketers are using that same marketing tool on the product itself. You can see in your local supermarket shelves stocked with multi-color foods such as electric blue margarine, alligator green yogurt and funky purple ketchup. “Today” food editor Phil Lempert talks about this latest trend.

OUR REACTIONS TO colors are emotional rather than intellectual, which is why understanding the impact of color on shoppers is an important lesson.


Although 97 percent of kitchens in the United States contain ketchup, this condiment was taken for granted. With relatively flat category growth the marketers at Heinz took a chance — and with it changed their business. In an attempt to create excitement and boost sales and stock price, Heinz, the name synonymous with ketchup, announced in October of 2000 their plan to launch EZ Squirt Green Ketchup.

They knew their shopper and user. Children under the age of 13 consume 50 percent more ketchup than people of all other age groups, and this product was designed especially for a younger audience. The EZ Squirt features a bottle created for smaller hands and easier squeezing, and a new nozzle to provide a super-thin stream of ketchup, so kids can personalize their food in “Blastin Green” color.

Youth focus groups indicated that kids want colored ketchup and though Heinz initially considered blue, they chose green first, then added purple as another brand extension. Parents may have more hang-ups than children concerning the color, but they will appreciate the fact that this product has added Vitamin C, making it the first fortified ketchup product.

The EZ Squirt Ketchup sells for 20 cents more than its red counterpart. Both the green and purple colored product taste the same as the red variety, which remains virtually unchanged since the product’s introduction in 1876.

This success started a “color-revolution” in foodstuffs.


Move over purple ketchup and make room in the fridge for Electric Blue and Shocking Pink colored margarine! Parkay Fun Squeeze comes in 10 oz. flip-top bottles designed to be kid-friendly. And the colors — kids preferred the blue and pink over other colors tested — will add some pizzazz to pancakes, veggies, corn on the cob, grilled cheese and much more! Plus the margarine contains calcium and vitamins A, D and E and no cholesterol and zero trans fatty acids.


Pack some real fun in your child’s lunchbox with Dannon’s new “interactive” yogurts. Hate to say it, but this will be big. With Sprinkl’Ins Color Creations Color Changing Crystals, kids can watch their yogurt turn a variety of new colors by sprinkling blue crystals into the vanilla yogurt to get colors like Risky Red, Jelly Purple, Alligator Green and Sunrise Orange.


If you have a favorite color and don’t want all the others that come in the pack, go online and pick your color(s) and quantity and have them shipped to you! Great for special occasions, weddings, new baby, etc.


These “neon orange” Cheetos will turn your tongue either blue or green — the “mystery” is you never know what color until you put them in your mouth. The trick is a safe, FDA approved, water soluble additive that is activated by the moisture in our mouths.

There is no question that color has subliminal effects on shopping behavior. In general terms the most stimulating (think sales generating) colors are those in the warm range: red, orange and yellow. Red packaging (or brand names that are bold and large) makes our hearts beat faster and increases our adrenaline flow. The color communicates power and vitality and stimulates a desire to conquer. Red also conveys a sense of structure, sensibility, practicality, and dependability.

Orange is an inspirational color, evoking a sense of happiness and courage. Orange is the color of energy, vitality, and warmth which is why it is often found on the packages of products that promote vitamins and health, obviously building on its namesake fruit which is rich in Vitamin C.

Yellow is the most visible of all colors (which is why it is used on road signs) and makes packages (and people) actually appear larger than they really are. It’s also the color most associated with food products. When we see yellow, we think of the sun — warmth and happiness and often “newness.”

Yellow is also used to convey a cut-rate price image, and, if not used properly, can detract from the perceived quality of the product.

Blue implies cleanliness and purity and induces thoughts of sky and water. Often it conveys feelings of serenity, prestige, confidence, knowledge, and credibility (remember that the next time you have an important meeting — wear blue.)

Green is used often and represents natural and healthy. Shoppers see green and think of trees and fresh meadows. In the early 1970s packagers of “healthy” products used the color beige to imply natural but soon found that the color washed out on the shelves and couldn’t be easily seen. Beige was replaced with deep greens.

White makes us feel fresh and light and is often used on lower-fat and diet foods. It is associated with dairy products (milk) and hence implies the ultimate in freshness and purity. But as we already discussed in terms of understanding shoppers based on their lifestage and psychographics — not all cultures react the same way to a specific color. In Germany, white suggests “premium” quality; in England, white suggests “budget” quality.

Black is always elegant and sophisticated, and manufacturers use this color to imply a sense of class and quality for their products.

People who love black are drawn to luxury. The shopper who prefers black appreciates elegance and sophistication, and may look down on people who are not.

Using color and its emotionality to sell a product and relate to shoppers may seem to be extraordinary and unnecessary — but the truth is that it does make a huge difference in the way a shopper reacts to a product and a store.

Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru®, analyzes the food marketing industry to keep consumers up-to-date about cutting-edge marketing trends. He is a regular “Today” show contributor, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and host of Shopping Smart of the WOR Radio Network. For more food and health information, you can check out Phil’s Web site at: