Stay Tuned/Green Means Healthy

From Eccentric Flower


stay tuned

Green Means Healthy
3 March 1997

You may or may not have noticed this, but if you buy a food that is predominantly trying to sell itself on a "health" appeal, there is almost certainly going to be one prevalent color on the label. Green.

As near as I can tell by searching my dusty memory banks, this was popularized by the Snackwell's line of low-fat cookies from Nabisco. (I am reminded that the Healthy Choice line was there first, but as far as I can tell Snackwell's was the first to go full-scale media.)

Why is green "healthy?" Green for "natural" I can understand; grass is green, trees are green, all that. But I thought pink meant healthy. Of course, pink looks really nasty on labels sometimes. Green lends itself better to four-color process, I suppose.

Just as a thought exercise, go to your grocery store and count how many of these healthy green packages there are. Foods which were already using mostly green packages (i.e. canned vegetables) don't count. It has to have that "healthy" pitch.

It's already well beyond ridiculous. As noted elsewhere, I think low-fat junk food is like low-alcohol beer; it's much more sensible to eat fewer cookies than to be able to pig out on ersatz goodies. And don't get me started on non-food additives like Olestra. I haven't seen the Olestra chips, but I bet there's a big green banner on the label somewhere.

I'm no healthy eater. Well, I don't eat a whole lot of meat these days; that's my concession. But I eat a lot of junk. And I'd still rather sin my own sins than have corporate America help indulge my bad habits.

But I was talking about colors. It's amazing how early the color connections get wired into your brain. If I held up a large, school-bus yellow box of cereal, you'd know it was Cheerios. A half-red, half-white can is clearly Campbell's soup. And a white loaf with red, blue, and yellow dots has gotta be Wonder Bread.

There are only four emphasis colors in packaging: red, blue, yellow, and green - and woe betide the manufacturer whose competitors have already claimed them all. Nobody in the soup business will make their cans blue, because Progresso owns it; Campbell's owns red; yellow must be used with care, and green means people will think it's a can of vegetables.

The easiest products to package are foods being marketed to children. You can get away with the weirdest colors there. Dayglo pinks and purples are the norm; stripes and splats and who knows what else. Makes you wonder - do the advertisers think we all get boring as we get older? Surely they don't think we stop buying products on the basis of eye appeal.

Because if they thought that, nearly everything would be packaged in gray.

[27 February 1998] Since writing this, I have commented further elsewhere on the psychology of package colors, including citing a book called The Total Package by Thomas Hine, required reading if you're interested in that sort of thing.

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