While many people spend time cooking and eating within their own households, eating fast food is something everyone does at some point in their lives. In fact, according to DoSomething.org, “at least 1 in 4 people eat some type of fast food every day” (DoSomething.org). We all know the saying, “you are what you eat,” but there is actually a lot more that goes into the decision making process than deciding what kind of food one wants to eat. The fast food industry uses many marketing techniques to appeal to customers consciously and subconsciously in a nation that is growing their fast food consumption every year. Colors in fast food industry advertising induce different connotations of healthy versus non-healthy food options to customers and this can be observed in the comparison between different fast food chains.
Color evokes emotions, and when paired with food choices, it can affect the emotional connection to taste. According to Jenn David Design, red and yellow are the main colors that awaken the taste buds and appetite in fast food industry. Because orange is a blend of these two, it is another appetizing color in the food industry. Green elicits the idea of eco-friendliness and health because it makes the consumer think of vegetables. Blue and purple are unappetizing, because they are cool tones and cool tones do not stimulate appetite. White conveys cleanliness and purity, but it can also appear sterile and plain, which is a reason why white is another color that is not seen often in fast food logos. Black signifies elegance, sleekness, and an expensive product. Browns and earth tones signify natural products, warmth, and wholesomeness. Bright colors signify pops of flavor, while subdued, muted colors signify rich and complex flavors. According to the report, Color Sells: How the Psychology of Color Influences Consumers, “Color sells products. It is a powerful marketing tool that significantly influences consumer purchases, so much so that it accounts for 85% of the reason why someone decides to purchase a product” (Tornetta, Fox, and Blackbrid 2). Color can even identify a brand. Fast food companies use color as a marketing tool to establish brand recognition with consumers. The perfect example is McDonald’s and their signature Golden Arches. Color is a tool that is used by fast food companies to conjure up different emotions and perceptions of the brand, including differentiating healthy and unhealthy food.
The two best-known burger fast food restaurants are McDonald’s and Burger King. Both companies use red and yellow in their logos to arouse the appetite. Both companies offer cheap food options, including options starting at just one dollar. Out of everything on their menus, 75% or more is fried food, leaving little choices for healthy options. The few salads that the restaurants offer are also on the more expensive side of the scale. Another well-known fast food chain that bases its theme colors around red and yellow is Wendy’s. Wendy’s features various hamburgers and fried chicken sandwich products that are a far cry from anything that could be considered “healthy”. Another example of an unhealthy fast food chain that utilizes these colors is Rally’s. Rally’s is an American fast food chain that features a menu that consists of hamburgers, hotdogs, hot wings, and milkshakes. Not one salad or healthy item can be found on the menu. Next, one can evaluate Sonic. Sonic is a drive-in fast food restaurant that features a similar menu to all of the other fast food restaurants- unhealthy, deep-fried, and rich in saturated fat food for a cheap price. This is a reoccurring theme in the fast food restaurants that feature red and yellow in their logos and menus. Lastly, one can look at Popeye’s, a fried chicken restaurant that features an entire logo and brand color theme made up of yellow and red. Popeye’s menu features deep fried chicken and sides such as biscuits, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. The red and yellow used throughout the logos and menus stimulate not only hunger, but also feelings of excitement and optimism says Brian Honingman in his article, “The Psychology of Color in Logo Design (INFOGRAPHIC).” The colors used are deliberate and meant to cause a feeling of hunger and not a connotation with healthy food, because most of the foods on the menus are not healthy. They also are meant to cause excitement to the consumer to go purchase the food and eat it. These are vastly different agendas from the healthier fast food chains.
Subway and Quiznos are still members of the fast food industry, but differ greatly from their unhealthy fast food franchise counterparts. They not only differ in menu options, but in color schemes as well. Both of these sandwich restaurants boast the color green as an integral part of their companies. Subway incorporates green with yellow so they still have an appetite inducing color, while Quiznos incorporates green with red. The colors yellow and red are the only thing they have in common with the burger franchises, because everything else is based around health and freshness. Subway and Quiznos do not offer any fried food; instead their menus are consisted mostly of vegetables and meat. The sandwich restaurants also allow the customer to customize their sandwich, meaning they can make it as healthy or unhealthy as they please, something the burger restaurants do not offer. While more expensive than the burger restaurants, the sandwich restaurants are still moderately priced on the larger fast food industry scale. Subway and Quiznos are centered on their dedication to healthy fast food and it is reflected in their color schemes to subconsciously call forth ideas of health from their consumers. Another restaurant whose colors reflect the health quality of their food is Panera Bread. Panera Bread’s logo and menu features the colors green, yellow, and brown. This is an accurate reflection of their food as well because they offer healthy, appetizing, and often very earthy food. With items such as kale, quinoa, and grilled chicken, Panera Bread offers an obviously healthy menu with little to no fried food options. Another fast food chain to examine is Au Bon Pain. Au Bon Pain is an franchise located all over the country and features vegan, gluten free, vegetarian, and low fat food options. Their logo and menu features the colors green and yellow. Additionally, one can observe the fast food chain Pita Pit, which displays a red and green logo. Pita Pit’s slogan is, “Fresh thinking, healthy eating,” clearly signifying their mission to offer healthy fast food options. They offer vegetarian options, as well as meat options that contain lean meats and a plethora of vegetables. Lastly, one can analyze the ultimate example of the correlation between marketing colors and the quality of the food, which is the fast food chain Sweetgreen. Sweetgreen features a logo and menu consisting solely of the color green and the same can be said of their food. Sweetgreen is a chain that offers a wide variety of salads. They use seasonal ingredients that are locally farmed and offer delicious and healthy options for those who love salads and want a healthy choice for fast food. They offer more than just vegetables too however, they also offer lean meat options that customers can add to their salads such as salmon or grilled chicken. The one common underlying factor in all of these fast food chains is that they all offer healthy food and they all feature the color green in their logos and menus. This is no small coincidence.
It is an evident fact that colors are used strategically by marketing professionals within the fast food industry to elicit different responses and associations with food. Unhealthy restaurants such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Rally’s, Sonic, and Popeye’s are more focused on inducing hunger and excitement for their food, while healthier restaurants such as Subway, Quiznos, Panera Bread, Au Bon Pain, Pita Pit, and Sweetgreen are more focused on promoting health and nutrition. The unhealthy restaurants use red and yellow color schemes. In contrast, the healthy restaurants focus more on green color schemes with brown, red and yellow being secondary colors to the overwhelming amount of green. The unhealthy restaurants contain mostly fried food such as french fries, fried chicken, and burgers which are considered to be unhealthy. The healthy restaurants however, consist of vegetables, healthy grains, and lean meats. Furthermore, the unhealthy restaurants are much cheaper than the healthy restaurants because the quality of food and amount of fresh vegetables is higher within the healthy restaurants.
While the two categories of fast food restaurants have many differences, they also share some similarities. For example, both categories of restaurant feature yellow, red, or both colors. Also, both categories of restaurant offer soda and water to drink. They both offer indoor dining spaces. Lastly, both categories of restaurants use colors to bring out a certain emotion and idea they want to be associated with their restaurant.
Color is not simply an afterthought in the food industry. It is a well thought out and deliberate choice based on the type of restaurant. It is a marketing tool used to attract customers and to elicit a desired reaction and feeling. It can also establish a brand trademark that helps consumers associate a restaurant with a certain color, thus creating a sense of recognition and loyalty. Fast food restaurant color schemes vary, but red and yellow have proved to be ubiquitous with the industry. They are included in almost every fast food restaurant in some way or another. Our subconscious thoughts that are connected to colors also determine whether we see a restaurant as having healthy or unhealthy food. In conclusion, humans associate colors with feelings and those reactions are used to subconsciously attract customers to purchase a product.