It is a well-known fact that packaging communicates a great deal of information about a product. Research has indicated that this is particularly true for food packaging which has led regulation agencies efforts towards improving the way that product information is presented on food packages. Recent studies have suggested that nutrition labels and the abundant verbal information about food ingredients on the back of the package might not be the most effective way to inform consumers. Most people do not take the time to regularly read these labels and if and when they do, the majority of people do not understand them.
In Europe, attempts were made to improve the way information is presented on food packaging with the use of colors. Specifically, a traffic light color coding system was developed that would indicate with the colors green, yellow and red the extent of calories, nutrition value, sugar content, etc. This approach might be successful as it simplifies the way nutritional information is communicated, ultimately making it easier and faster for consumers to understand what they are buying. Although the wide application of this system is still challenged, it promises to have success as part of a broader campaign against obesity.
Using color to communicate information sounds like the most logical and effective way; after all, we see it in nature and in modern society. Importantly, the lack of color also seems like a good way to communicate information. For instance, in some countries regulators have passed new cigarette pack requirements according to which cigarette packs will be stripped of all marketing information including color. Packs will be either white or in dull color in order to appear less attractive.
These are all great ideas that if consistently incorporated and effectively communicated to consumers, promise to be very effective.
Thinking of plain or white color (as in cigarette packs) made me think about other products where a lack of color can be effectively used. For instance, recent claims have emerged that sugar could be one very toxic and unhealthy ingredient in foods, and a major reason behind obesity. Many images have appeared online that illustrate the content of sugar in some not so healthy food products like sweet drinks. The visualization is quite powerful. If research keeps accumulating evidence that sugar is indeed a danger to our health then maybe it is important that sugar content information should be more effectively communicated on packaging. Perhaps food products that contain large amounts of sugar should be treated as highly risky products dangerous to health that require special packaging. Maybe the more sugar that a drink contains the whiter its package should be. It might sound extreme but just think about how long it took us to realize cigarettes are deadly and that their packaging needs to be regulated. Sugar might very well be the new cigarettes that are killing us. Too bad that white color is actually a “good color” in terms of the general associations it evokes.