Tasting colours and shapes: Signalling taste through packaging

Nina Veflen, Hilde Kraggerud, Carlos Velasco

The shape and colour of a product’s packaging signal what our favourite cheese may taste like – long before we have had time to take a single bite.

The concept of edible packaging has been around for some time. Examples include coffee cups made of cookie dough and water containers of algae film. While this is a novel and sustainable way to reduce packaging waste, the concept is not something that is widely used and/or easy to accept by the consumer.

However, all food packaging, edible or not, may signal sensations that indicate taste and flavour properties.

Take, for example, the two shapes below. Which one would you associate with a sweet taste?


We eat first with our eyes

Most people, regardless of their geographical and cultural background, would associate the right shape with sweet tastes and the left shape with sour and/or bitter tastes, instead.

Something similar happens with colour, whereby many people appear to, for example, associate red with sweetness and green with sourness.

Importantly, however, more variation can be found in the associations between tastes and colours.

Although the aforesaid associations might seem somewhat surprising, we eat first with our eyes and visual features are highly diagnostic of foods.

Cheesy implications

It appears that we get an idea of the taste and flavour of a product based on its visual (but also other sensory) aspects, such as colour and shape. We can taste the packaging of a product. Or at least, we can infer the taste of a product by looking at its packaging.

But what does this mean for specific brands and product categories?

The Centre for Multisensory Marketing and TINE recently conducted a collaboration to evaluate this in the context of cheese.

Our first study was designed to assess how different cheeses varying in their taste mildness / sharpness were associated by consumers to shape and colour properties. In a second study, we capitalized on the findings of the first, and designed packages of cheese varying in colour brightness/saturation and curvature, to evaluate their influence on taste expectations.


Mild taste, round shape

Overall, we found that there is nothing random about what shapes and colours are associated with specific flavours.

On the one hand, mild cheeses are associated with round shapes, high colour brightness, and low colour saturation,. On the other, sharp cheeses are associated with an angular shape, lower level of colour brightness and higher level of colour saturation.

Notably, packaging shape and colour did not just influence taste associations, they also enhanced taste expectations and expected liking.

Go shopping and test it yourself

Our findings demonstrate that multiple sensory elements of a product’s packaging can enhance respondents’ taste expectations. As such, evaluating how specific visual cues are associate with specific tastes and flavours can provide guidance to managers seeking to design packaging that communicate them.

So next time you go to the supermarket and see a new food or drink product ask yourself the question: What does this product taste like?


Spence, C., Wan, X., Woods, A., Velasco, C., Deng, J., Youssef, J., & Deroy, O. (2015). On tasty colours and colourful tastes? Assessing, explaining, and utilizing crossmodal correspondences between colours and basic tastes. Flavour, 4(1), 1-17.

Veflen, N., Velasco, C., & Kraggerud, H. (2023). Signalling taste through packaging: The effects of shape and colour on consumers’ perceptions of cheeses. Food Quality and Preference, 104, 104742.

Velasco, C., Woods, A. T., Petit, O., Cheok, A. D., & Spence, C. (2016). Crossmodal correspondences between taste and shape, and their implications for product packaging: A review. Food Quality and Preference, 52, 17-26.

Velasco, C., Woods, A. T., Wan, X., Salgado-Montejo, A., Bernal-Torres, C., Cheok, A. D., & Spence, C. (2018). The taste of typefaces in different countries and languages. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 12(2), 236.

Published 16. February 2023

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