Color theory – specifically the color wheel – can be used to display fruits and vegetables in different ways.

by Courtney Llewellyn

If you sell anything, you may intuitively know the basics of marketing: branding your product, articulating why people should buy from you, having appropriate pricing, knowing your target customer and figuring out how they will find out about your farm.

To make things more streamlined, there are also the “four Ps of marketing” – product design, placement, pricing and promotion. Together they create a fifth P: presentation. All these things put together put a positive focus on not only your goods but also the best version of you and your business. There are ways to achieve those goals both up close and from afar, and one unique way to do so is to utilize color theory.

Color theory cues

“Color Matters” author Jill Morton breaks down the basics of color theory on her website, starting with the three basic categories of color theory: the color wheel, color harmony and the context of how colors are used.

Morton explains that color theories create a logical structure for color. “For example, if we have an assortment of fruits and vegetables, we can organize them by color and place them on a circle that shows the colors in relation to each other,” she wrote.

The primary colors are red, yellow and blue. All other colors come from these three hues. Secondary colors are green, orange and purple (which are formed by mixing the primary colors). The next level of mixed hues are the tertiary colors, and together, they form the color wheel. Colors opposite each other on the wheel are considered complementary.

Color harmony is pleasing to the eye, engaging to the viewer and creates an inner sense of order and balance. According to Morton, when something is not harmonious, it’s either boring or chaotic. If it’s too bland, the human brain will reject that under-stimulating information. On the other hand, the human brain will reject what it cannot organize. Therefore, color harmony promotes visual interest and a sense of order.

There are some tried and true formulas for color harmony which can be applied to fruit and vegetable arrangement. The first is to use analogous colors (any three colors side by side on a 12-part color wheel, such as yellow-green, yellow and yellow-orange). The second is to use complementary colors (any two colors directly opposite each other, like red and green and red-purple and yellow-green), creating maximum contrast and maximum stability. The final formula is based on nature. For example, red, yellow and green tend to be harmonious. Think about how bell peppers are usually displayed – and about traffic lights. Which leads us to our next color order suggestion…

The upside-down traffic light

From an early age, we’re taught what traffic light colors signify: green means go, red means stop. However, that color-coding runs opposite to what our brains tell us about food. Like an upside-down traffic signal, color helps us decide whether or not to eat something. A study at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) noted that vision is the main sense we use in food choices.

“According to some theories, our visual system evolved to easily identify particularly nutritious berries, fruits and vegetables from jungle foliage,” said Raffaella Rumiati, SISSA neuroscientist.

Humans see trichromatically, meaning there are three classes of photoreceptors (cones) in the retina tuned into three parts of the visible spectrum – and that means we can see a large number of colors. “We are particularly efficient at distinguishing red from green,” Rumiati explained. “It is mainly the color of food that guides us.”

In food, we look for calorie-dense content and high protein. “In natural foods, color is a good predictor of calories,” said Francesco Foroni, SISSA researcher. “The redder an unprocessed food is, the more likely it is to be nutritious, while green foods tend to be low in calories.”

That’s not to say green foods are not as good for us; they’re simply not as dense in calories. Placing goods with redder hues in a prominent place may help lead more people to your produce stand, based on our biology. Placement can be critically important.

Since the human eye is drawn to red foods, placing red-hued produce front and center may help draw more potential customers to your goods.

Placement presentation

A study from the UK found that moving fresh fruit and vegetables closer to the entrance of a grocery store increased their sales, with no additional advertising or messaging to customers needed. This suggested that a simple “nudge” can encourage increased fruit and vegetable consumption without any conscious action by the consumer. This nudge could also be used at farmers markets, keeping fresh produce nearer the entrance and other goods farther down the line.

After the layout changes at the store, there was an increase in the percentage of the store’s total sales that were fruit and vegetables, both in terms of items sold and by value of total sales. Shoppers bought approximately 15% more fruit and vegetables than they had before the change, and researchers found that the increase in produce sales following their relocation was maintained over time.

Putting vegetables and fruits front and center has been proven to increase their sales, but food often isn’t the only thing presented at markets…

Partnering up for promotion

Farmers markets (and those who sell at them) are always looking for varied consumers, and a growing national trend is for the markets to partner with medical centers to present complete, patient-centered care and community health via fresh produce. Of the more than 7,000 known farmers markets in the country, more than 100 are located on medical center campuses.

In Hershey, PA, there is community wellness programming through medical professional-led activities that promote public health education at their farmers market.

“The key differentiating point for a farmers market located on a medical center campus is the proximity of experts in areas such as medicine, public health, nutrition, kinesiology and psychology, which enables the market to serve as a credible community venue for powerful public health promotion,” said Daniel George, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Humanities, Penn State.

One of the most important parts of wellness is stress relief. More and more markets are adding activities for people (especially parents) so they can enjoy the markets, not just spend money at them.

“The real key to any event – not just farmers markets – is to make them family friendly,” said Sue Kennedy of the Kennedy Ranch and main organizer of the Lamoille Farmers Market in Nevada. “Families make choices about how they’re going to spend their time based on what they can do with the kids, and kids get bored looking at vegetables pretty quickly. If you can give them things to look at and interact with at the market, you’ll have a better shot at getting people to not only attend, but to stay longer once they’re there.”

The Lamoille Farmers Market offers a small petting zoo as well as occasional entertainment. They also host farm-to-fork dinners that feature all of the market’s vendors.

“There is so much competition for people’s attention and time that you really have to make your event stand out, and that’s what we’ve done with ours,” Kennedy said. “We limit our vendors to local agricultural products only so we are laser-focused on our mission. This means that we can only grow as quickly as the local ag economic sector grows, but we are growing and it’s been a joy to see.”

So, from the colors people see first to what they can do to entice their children to the farmers market with them, presentation is key. For more information on how to market effectively, check out our monthly column from Melissa Piper Nelson, “Today’s Marketing Objective.”