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It’s nice… can it be tasty?

AIC 2010 Color and Food, Mar del Plata, Argentina, 12-15 October 2010

Project Director Mabel Tassara - Faculty of Social Sciences UBA Argentina

Project Sponsoring Company Cicmas Strategy Group

Objectives Analytic Focus Methodology

I'm introducing some conclusions of an exploratory research on a consumer target. This research set as basic objectives to investigate, at first term, the impact of the color on the food perception of the consumers and, in second place, the importance of the color in the evaluation of that food.

Objectives of the Study


a- Color Impact in the perception of food.

b- Importance of color on the evaluation of food in terms of health/ nature, appetite appeal, esthetics.

This assessment was considered related to the transmission of the following values: Health/ Nature (fresh connotations, ingredients quality, production processes, etc.). Appetizing (drivers to intake connected to color). Esthetics (extent food color integrates in everyday life).

For sure, color perception leads to sensations, feelings, sense assignment and associations that are connected strongly with the individual's personal history, because of its close relationship with the territory of the primary emotion.

Analytic Focus 1

Cultural and social senses over food.

But if we detach from this perspective, only to be studied, in our view, from a psychoanalytic methodology (although the subject's personal history will never cease being present, since unconscious instances always emerge at the conscious level) we find out that this perception leagues strongly to cultural and social appreciations (like any other perception). So, this research has been set out from the beginning as an inquiry directed to understand cultural and social meanings of color, in this particular case, the color in foods.

It’s relevant to point out that crystallized meanings that throughout history have been assigned to colors are rejected. Even considering only western cultures, the individual has used and perceived color differently thorough societies and periods of time.

Analytic Focus 2 Color appreciation is always - - connected to the context - where it is inserted. This context is discursive and -it is studied by the Theory of - the Social Discourse.

But even by doing a time and space cut, stable meanings can’t be assigned to color without regarding the context in which they are found. We believe that this context is a discursive context, and is from the perspective of the social discourse that this study has been undertaken. Summarizing this approach, we will say that the processes of social semiosis (the production of meaning in all orders) acquires the form of a social discourse, where continuously exists discourse production and reception.

These discourses are sustained by very different supports (oral or written language, images, gestures, music, etc.) and its constituency allows the analysis. An analysis of discourse has the objective of a unitary discourse production, space-time cut of the endless social semiosis.

Analytic Focus 3



D Reading

Dpl Reading perspective

But it is important to remark that this cut does not forget that all discourses (D) are connected to previous discourses (Dcp) and they affect the production of specific sense of the new discourse. Also, when a discourse reads another there is a certain perspective on that reading, which is also socio-cultural and can be found in discourses that have influenced the receptor discourse (Dpl). Authors who are used in this chart are Charles Sanders Peirce and Eliseo Ver贸n on the lecture he made over Peirce.

Analytic Focus 4 We assume that color in food can only be perceived in discourses: a meal (as it produces a meaning for the one who is eating or seeing it, it’s a discourse, a fragment of the socio-cultural semiosis), a photograph, advertising or a pack.


D Food Color

Producción Plate of food Photography Advertisement Discourses Packaging - that condition the presentation Appreciation - of color. - of color

Dpl Discourses that impact - on the appreciation

In the discursive presentation of color there will be impact of the socio cultural discourses ( e.g.: plate disposition or packaging design). Appreciation will also be influenced by socio cultural perspectives (e.g.: connected to ideology knowledge of food or culinary habits).

During target segmentation the following variables were considered: A. Age Level- As a working hypothesis, three levels were included: Adults, between 25 and 40 years old because it’s the phase of family structure conformation and consolidation, operating as a key the birth and Older than 45 years old -Because the element health/ beauty takes up a place of privilege on food selection.

Sample Diagramming 1 Variable A- Age Level 25 to 30 years Older than 45 years 15 to 20 years Teenagers between 15 and 20 years old- Because it’s the period when sensuality acquire a polimorphological character so it’s a privilege moment to study different organoleptic drivers to food selection and to investigate trends on the period of young alimentation.

B. Socio-cultural Insertion- In spite of the fact that diffusion of mass media promotes homogenization in terms of semantic proposals interpretation and, globally, semiotics set out by social communication, the research goes into mass media speeches reception in depth prioritizing stylistic patterns over socioeconomic levels in the orientation of cultural consumption.

Sample Diagramming 2 Variable B- Sociocultural Insertion Stylistic patterns privilege Variable C- Genre C. Sex- Variable considered in terms of the different traditional insertion of both genres related to alimentary problematic resolution within the family. For sure, this difference is currently affected by changes produced in female and male roles assumption at home, but the research took it to support the criteria in which actual sexual roles sense needs historical perspective to be fully understood.

As I've said, the research aimed to detect appreciations and evaluations of food color in consumer profiles. This involved detecting meanings associated with color significances and, if possible, within the modest conditions of the study (with decided exploratory character), define constants in those associations.

Methodology 1 Socio-semiotic Perspective a. Previous semiotic analysis on stimulus materials b. Semiotic Analysis over the focus production c. Global Discourse Focus

The methodology adopted was of a socio-semiotic cut, regarding that: 1) an investigation was conducted in focus groups on public, but the group production was analyzed from a semiotic perspective and also used this approach to the preliminary analysis of material which acted as a stimulus, 2) it was used, globally, a semiotic perspective which responds to the discourse analysis approach, which, as it has been raised, always considers socio-cultural phenomenon inscription.

Methodology 2 Investigation was made over three spaces of color impact: the food itself, packaging and advertising communications.

Color Perception over: Food Food Packaging Generic Advertisement

Moreover, it considered food at the buying time and the consuming moment (distinguishing between daily consume and the gourmet/ at restaurant's one).

Methodology 3 The research was organized in three parts: In the first one, respondents were questioned over sensations, feelings, insights and reflections arising from the perception of color in food.

Investigation Phases: a- Spontaneous Association Color in food podium, dishes and product communications. Memories and anecdotes.

Here, connections were spontaneous and by free association. Moreover, these reactions were discriminated related to different instances of the vision of food: in the point of sale, on a dish that is prepared, in a restaurant, in the communication of products. Also memories were solicited and stories connected with the topic.

Methodology 4 Investigation Phases: In the second part, there were presented stimulation consisting of several series of photographs of food and drinks. Some food advertising was also included.

b- Guided Investigation over - previously selected stimulus Photography Advertisement c- Idem packs

In third phase, photos of different packs were tested among various food categories.

As you may be aware, it has been privileged the color appreciation in food by its representation. This decision obeyed the context in which the study was inserted and where the sponsoring company operates: the one of communication for consumption. From this decision, it is important to note that the color becomes part of the photographic sign, with its own characters: iconicity and indexicality

Metodhology 5

Food Communications Focus.

Color evaluation in food by the photographical representation..

Since this addition, the food tested is integrated to a "connoted system", whose level of expression is a "denoted system ", given by the real dish, from the perception analogy as the first system of significance present in the photograph. Mentioned authors at this section are: R.Barthes y C. Metz.

Methodology 6

This real dish is interwoven by a second meaning production, typical for the photographic record, where all resources of this language take place: form definition, composition, lighting values, etc.

Color in food is integrated to the “connoted system� of the photography. It is interwoven by expressive resources of the photography.

The inscription of food photography in advertising adds, surely, a new complexity to perception because it presents a new space of connotation.

For timing issues, I will only expose at this opportunity some of the results associated to the impact of color perception over plates of food evaluation, leaving aside the appreciation of packaging and communications of the industry.

Some conclusions

Some conclusions During the inquiry two attitudinal profiles were revealed. While it was noted that all respondents confer importance to color in foods, there was a profile that had already become aware of their perception and offered a more or less articulate discourse on the subject.

Psycho-attitudinal Profiles a. Is very aware of the color importance Articulated verbal discourse. Esthetics practices.

This profile, when cooking or serving food, tries to make it chromatically attractive. Also, evaluates with the same criteria a meal that is presented, for example, when eating in a restaurant. On other side, the second profile has expressed not having repaired on the relationship between food and color.

While there was a greater presence in the first profile of respondents more connected by their lifestyle and/ or their profession with universes of aesthetics in general, this relationship wasn’t exclusive; also appeared emergent people without connection to these universes and still paid attention to color in the presentation of the food.

Some conclusions Psycho-attitudinal Profiles b. Don't believe the color is important On group activities seems to - be equally perceptive.

But it is also true that although this last group’s lifestyle wasn’t connected with the aesthetic space, they still were sensitive to their values (e.g. in their houses decoration or in the appreciation of the natural world). The opposite trend was also presented: profiles whose lifestyle or profession universes were connected with aesthetics, but did not associate food to those territories.

Color evaluation was performed from an ideology which privileges the value of nature in food. The colors that are attributed to positive qualities in one way or another are generally the ones associated with natural colors.

Some conclusions First Appreciation Parameter Nutritional ideology that privileges natural things dominates. Cultural nature. Green Red Yellow/ Cream tones

However, this nature is related to a cultural nature, meaning here a vision of nature in the discourse of culture that talk about food. Thus, while nature provides highly varied chromatics, colors that talks more about it are green and red. In third place, yellow and its derivatives (cream tones). The mentioned colors are the most closely associated with foods and drinks that represents the ideal of current consumption in terms of duty, such as: the salads, the fruit juices.

Some conclusions But the colors are perceived in forms in which it is very difficult to separate. In food, when a color is highly associated with a form, the break of this partnership creates distance, and also rejection (even if it is, at first, a wellconceptualized color).

Second Appreciation Parameter Color are perceived in forms - that are familiar to people. Culinary familiar incidence.

This is one of the ways in which this report showed the relationship between expectations of appetite or health and cultural culinary knowledge.

Some conclusions Third Appreciation Parameter Colors are also associated to consistencies and textures, and this can be connected many times with more or less appeal.

Colors are associated to - textures and consistencies. Difficulty to distinguish - between the appreciation of - color over the texture or the consistency.

These belong to an association that can’t easily be rationalized; sometimes it may be stated to refuse a color but with a deeper inquiry arises that the rejection is over that color expressed in that texture.

Color is also appreciated in relation with other colors that appear on the dish. People like more than one color, monochrome meals are less attractive. Although it’s recognized that daily meals are eaten with this feature, they are far from the ideal of a well served dish.

Some conclusions Fourth Appreciation Parameter A color is perceived in the - relation with the chromatic - combination of the dish. The ideal is a mix of contrasted colors.

Over the two most regular color combinations, it is preferred the one that is by contrast. Tones combination within a color cast tends to be associated to a hybrid meal. The belief that different colors not only make a dish more attractive but also more nutritious, it’s also expressed. This assessment is often connected with a vague knowledge on nutrients associated to color in salad ingredients; by displacement, it is applied beyond vegetables.

Some conclusions But then, when colors are too many, the dish is not appealing. Lots of colors make them start to superimpose and chromatic excess is a new cause of distance.

Fifth Appreciation Parameter In food, inlimited - color distance and disturbs. Color excess on the plate - generates a perception of - -non-form or lack of limits.

It’s expected that a color is confined to a form but when forms evanescence and colors superimpose, there starts the rejection. In foods, a color contained in a form may reassure people but when it expands without limits it can generate worry.

Other aspects of importance in the evaluation are the degrees of saturation and lighting. Saturation has a peak, typically between the middle and the top (tolerance varies according to people). Mistrust and rejection toward the dish increase as the color saturation reaches black color.

Some conclusions Sixth Appreciation Parameter Saturation Level of the color

Optimum Level Hybridness


In contrast, when it drops below the optimal intensity, they tend to ascribe weak flavor (bland). Tolerance to saturation that exceeds average level decreases in a notorious way in not familiar dishes.

Some conclusions Also, in terms of brightness, there is an optimum ( cercano a un valor medio); everything below that level transmits tastelessness and excess of brightness does not seem to fit the representation of food: the presence of brightness refers to artificiality,

Seventh Appreciation Parameter Brightness Level


Optimum Level Artificial Not natural Non- Form

But in addition, if the light is excessive and blurs the outlines, that is another cause for the loss of a food form and slurring of colors, both reasons for refusal.

Over the impact of segmentation variables on conclusions it is raised that: a) Natural nutritional ideology is strongly presented in the research. It is presented also in female teenagers segment. In the sample it wasn't presented in male teenagers.

Some conclusions Segmentation differences -

a. Natural ideology is presented in most of the sample

It didn't show up in the - segment of male teenagers.

In older age segments it appeared in both genres, but meanwhile it was generalized in women, in men there were attitudinal different profiles, being more strong on some emergent and none in others. Its presence in men was more important in the segment of older than 45 years. As it is a qualitative research, the emergency level of the sample must be relative.

Some conclusions b) Another fine difference is that the natural alimentation discourse was presented in some cases on the specific form of healthcare (mostly in older that 45 years) and in other as an ideology/ lifestyle.

Differences by segmentation -

b. Two profiles in natural jerarquization

- Healthcare/ Fear Older than 45 years and parents - Lifestyle adhesion

c) In terms of relation between color and form, the trend was conservative. Rejection sensations showed off to not-known manifestations. However, a more flexible profile appeared also in a lower number connected to the opening to new culinary modes.

Some conclusions Differences by segmentation b. Reject trend to new color/ forms combinations


Minoritary Profile: more flexible Increases with age

Again, as the research in not quantitative, we can't presume the real social impact. In the sample, it was more important in older ages, being the teenagers the most inflexible segment.

Some conclusions Differences by segmentation In the rest of the exposed conclusions there weren't more trends founded by segmentation variables.

In other items, the differences were due to psycho-attitudinal profiles, without relationship to - segmentation variables.

The differences responded to attitudinal profiles.

End of the presentation

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Mabel Tassara (Argentina): It’s nice… can it be tasty?


Mabel Tassara (Argentina): It’s nice… can it be tasty?

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