Video transcript: Gavin Northey on how colour influences food texture

21 March 2017

Dr Gavin Northey is a Lecturer in the University of Auckland Business School's Department of Marketing. His co-researchers in the food texture project were Dr Daniela Spanjaard and Professor Louise Young of Western Sydney University, and Dr Mathew Chylinski and Associate Professor Liem Ngo of the University of New South Wales.

Essentially, whenever anyone is asked to describe food, or they ask a question of someone else about the food that they happen to be eating, you will almost always hear them talk about the taste – whether it is the saltiness, the sweetness, the bitterness, et cetera. It might be something about the smell or the beautiful bouquet of the food that they are eating. Or sometimes they talk about the texture in their mouth as well. Very rarely, though, will people talk about the actual visual aspects, and particularly the colour.

There is some research that looks at the influence of colour on smell. However, we found that there was almost nothing that had looked at the influence of colour on the perceived texture in your mouth. So, when we started this research we used a range of products and we found that colour also influences the texture of the food – in particular the creaminess and crunchiness – when you consume a product. We then took that to the next dimension and said maybe we get the same effects if we change the colour of the products in an advertising context. And we had similar results in that colour was found to influence the expected texture of the food product, just by looking at the advertisement.

We used a whole range of products, including yoghurt, custard, sour cream, and mayonnaise to ensure that it wasn't necessarily the product that was causing the effect, it was the actual colour. In the advertisements we had a similar situation, although the thing that we manipulated was the appearance. So, whether it was a crunchier looking product or a creamier. A creamier potato salad, maybe, as opposed to an advertisement of a crunchier cookie. What we found as that the red product would skew toward the expected creaminess and the blue filters over the product made people more predisposed to thinking that it was a crunchier product.

To look at the influence of colour when people are actually consuming the product, we had a whole range of experiments where we manipulated the colour of the different food products as well as the texture. So, some of the products were definitely crunchier and some were constructed to be creamier because we wanted to see if there was an interaction between the colour and the actual texture of the product in determining the person's experience.

There is an international standard for flavour which says that flavour consists of the taste that comes through your mouth, the smell that comes through your nose and then the texture that you experience inside your mouth. It may be that colour, or vision, is the fourth dimension of flavour that no one has really considered just because it is so intuitive and obvious.

Having identified the effect, it would now be up to the brand managers and food scientists who work with them to find the sweet spot for their particular product and the product attributes that they are trying to communicate. This goes right through the line. So, if a brand manager and a team of food scientists have a product in mind and they want to position it in the market as having particular product attributes, the colour of the product that they are developing from the get go needs to be congruent with the product attributes they are trying to communicate. What you would also then think about is packaging, point of sale material in the shopping centres or supermarkets, you may want them to be a certain look. And then all of the communications you have in the marketing collateral that you provide – as we have seen, the colour of the advertisements will distinctly influence consumer expectations. What we also found in our research is that the language you use to describe it also has an influence on the effect of the colour, based on a finding called Stroop Interference, where the colour and the language interact to influence you perception.

Watch video of Gavin Northey on how colour influences food texture (5:28)