The hidden messages behind your Halloween candy

Carlos Velasco

Did you believe the font, colour and packaging material of your favourite treats were chosen at random? “Think again”, says BI’s Associate Professor Carlos Velasco.

With Halloween fast approaching, candy lovers unite to celebrate the sweetest weekend of the year. Just in the United States alone, consumers are projected to spend more than $8 billion on Halloween items including candy, fizzy drinks and other treats, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual spending survey.

As consumers, we are easy prey. The allure of the candy aisle and its abundance of tempting offers can be difficult to resist. As it turns out, that is exactly how companies intended it to be.

“You could definitely say there are more tricks to your treats than you may have imagined”, says BI Associate Professor Carlos Velasco.

Sweet and sour typefaces

In a recent interview with the American news outlet The Counter, Velasco describes how “seemingly inconsequential features” of candy, soda and drink packaging may influence how we expect and perceive products and their taste.

Ever noticed how sodas often have a thinner typeface for words like “diet”, “light” or “no sugar”? According to Velasco, a slimmer font may enforce the idea that the beverage is healthy for us.

That thick and almost bubbly font used for your favourite Haribo candy or marshmallow treats? As humans, we instinctively think “sweet”.  The same goes for sour candy, where a sharper or more crooked typeface can be used to convey intense flavour.

“Research has shown that typeface is important for consumers. For instance, angular and asymmetrical fonts make us expect food as sour, while round and symmetrical fonts are associated with sweet flavours”, he explains.

Subtle cues in advertising

Velasco has spent years studying the field of multisensory marketing, identifying the “secret” techniques and sensory cues that companies can use to influence how we perceive different products.

“At first glance, some of these things can be hard to spot. If you look more closely, and compare one product packaging to another, you will eventually realize how companies use subtle cues in their products to conjure up different tastes, emotions, and brand propositions”, Velasco says.

However, these tweaks can sometimes have undesired effects. When Cadbury introduced a rounder packaging for their chocolate bars in the UK, customers actually complained about the new flavour being “too sweet”, even though the recipe remained unchanged.

Enhancing the brand experience

The same communication techniques applies to more adult treats as well, like wine or beer. In his interview with The Counter, Velasco recalls collaborating with a brewery that wanted to distinguish their sour beer from other brands, by creating a new label “that had ‘sour’ implicitly communicated”.

“’Look, I want this typeface to emphasize this specific aroma’. They come up with kind of wishlist of things”, Velasco explained in the interview.

In recent years, food and drink producers have increasingly begun to take a more scientific approach to how they design their products’ packaging, according to Velasco.

“Several companies are now exploring packaging changes to differentiate their brand from others, and perhaps even more importantly, to enhance the experience of their brand”.


“Explore the subliminal messaging on your Halloween candy’s label”, published on The Counter 27.10.20.

Velasco, C., Hyndman, S., & Spence, C. (2018). The role of typeface curvilinearity on taste expectations and perception. International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science, 11, 63-74.

Velasco, C. & Obrist, M. (2020). Multisensory Experiences: Where the senses meet technology: Oxford University Press.

Velasco, C. & Spence, C (Eds). (2019). Multisensory packaging: Designing new product experiences. Cham: Palgrave MacMillan.

Published 30. October 2020

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