Coke's failed white can due to the color red being associated with sweetness

‘The characteristics of packaging is crucial in consumers liking a product or not’

By Maria Mascaraque

- Last updated on GMT

Coke's failed white can due to the color red seen as 'sweet'
‘There are two reasons why businesses change their packaging: as a strategy to increase sales or to try and cut costs. 

However, experts in multisensory integration claim the type of packaging and its colour or heaviness is key in the perception of the taste of food.

While food science and technology has mostly focused on changing the sensory attributes of the food itself, the characteristics of the packaging could be crucial in consumers liking a product or not, which means it could ultimately have an important influence on its sales.

Falsely sweeter and creamier yoghurt

It is difficult to find the exact formula why a product is purchased and repurchased. There are many external reasons that could have an influence on the decision-making process, such as the brand reputation, price, label claims, fat content or package size.

However, it is not that well known that changing the colour of the yoghurt cup could change the perception of its flavour or that changing the cup's weight could influence how we perceive the thickness or creaminess of the yoghurt or how filling it is.

An experiment conducted by Betina Piqueras-Fiszma and colleagues - leading researchers in multisensory integration - showed yoghurt sampled from a heavier bowl was rated as being 13% more intense, 25% denser and 25% more expensive as well as being liked 13% more than the yoghurt sampled from a lighter bowl.

Another experiment showed strawberry-flavoured mousse served from a white plate was perceived as 15% more intense and 10% sweeter as well as being 10% more liked than exactly the same dessert when served on a black plate.

Link between sweetness and the colour red

An experiment carried out by the University of Oxford entitled "There's more to taste in a coloured bowl", revealed sweet and salty popcorn could taste different depending on the colour of the bowl in which they are served.

In this case, for salty popcorn, which did not contain any sugar, a perception of sweetness appeared when served in a red bowl (3.7% sweeter in comparison to the same popcorn served in a white bowl).

In the case of sweet popcorn, which did not contain any salt, 4% more saltiness was perceived when served in a blue bowl compared to when it was served in a white bowl.

This has been explained by some experts via specific colour/flavour associations, such as blue for ocean water/salty or red for ripe fruit/sweet.

Major products in the chocolate confectionery field, such as Kit Kat or Lindor, with growth of 30% and 47%, respectively, during the 2010-2015 review period, or Maltesers with an even more impressive sales increase of 63% during the same period, are good examples of red packaging associated with sweet flavour. 

Experiments have repeatedly shown red, the usual colour of a can of Coke, is associated with sweetness, and this could explain Coke's failed white can.

It was designed as part of a fundraising effort for endangered polar bears but it was discontinued when people complained that Coke didn't taste as good in it, which was just a perception, as the content was exactly the same as the regular product.

This is just one example of how important choosing the right colour is and how it could explain why other brands' sales are declining.

Euromonitor International's health and wellness data show Diet Pepsi Twist, which also comes in a white can, has experienced a decrease in its sales from US$21m in 2010 to US$3m in 2015, and this may be one of the reasons.

Package design could be extremely valuable in the "snackification" era

Nowadays, the population is deriving a sizeable proportion of its daily intake from food and drinks that are consumed directly from the package.

Our packaged food data show 35% global growth in retail sales of snacks* during the review period (2010- 2015), which is expected to continue to grow over 2015-2020 at a rate of 15% globally, even reaching 28% in Asia Pacific.

The inclusion of all kinds of cognitive insights in the packaging design should be taken into account by companies, as it could help them increase sales in tandem with the "snackification" of the consumer diet.

However, these findings could also be very useful for health and wellness products, as they could help to develop "sweeter" reduced-sugar products or "saltier" reduced-salt foods, which could increase acceptance of them.’

* (snack is defined as the sum of bread substitutes, packaged cakes, packaged pastries, biscuits, snack bars, confectionery, yoghurt and milk products, ice cream, sweet and savoury snacks)

Maria Mascaraque, is associate health and wellness expert at Euromonitor International.​ 

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