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Love the label! How colour boosts sales

Added: Saturday, April 12th 2014

Andrew barnett

An experiment into the taste perception of beer conducted at Edinburgh International Science Festival has found that visual stimuli can significantly affect how we perceive flavour. The Science Festival teamed up with local Edinburgh microbrewery Barney’s Beer (founder Andrew Barnett pictured above), along with psychologists from Mountainview Learning and Professor Charles Spence from Oxford University, to study how festival-goers tastes were influenced when shown two specially created beer labels—Genius Loki and Liquid Hop Chemistry. The tasters were unaware that the contents of the bottles were the same. The experiment was conducted at two events –  the Science Festival Lates’ evening at the City Arts Centre and at the scientific farmers market, SciMart.

Overall, drinkers gave Liquid Hop Chemistry, with its vibrant green and yellow coloured label, a better overall taste rating. They also found it to be 30% more “citrussy and fruity” tasting than Genius Loki, which had a warmer coloured label, showing that the label on the bottle exerted a significant influence on people’s rating of the beer. In particular, the green and yellow label also led to significantly higher ratings in terms of taste quality and willingness to purchase, though interestingly the label had no impact on price estimate.

While previous studies have looked either at the impact of label and packaging colour, or at the impact of descriptive label, this is the first study to combine the two. The idea for the experiment and the beer used was brewed specially for the Festival by Barney’s owner Andrew Barnett. This gold and malty shape-shifter evolved from Barney’s best-selling Volcano IPA and is a single hop beer featuring the only commercial use of Keyworth hops in Scotland.

Dr Gorkan Ahmetoglu,  a lecturer and Director of Consumer Behavioir and management and Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths University, said: “We tend to believe that we are fully aware and in control of the machinations behind our senses -- but in actual fact even something as basic as taste can be influenced by hidden psychological persuaders. The subconscious brain plays a much bigger role in our perception of the world than most people tend to believe. When people are given chocolate yoghurt to eat in the dark and told it’s strawberry, the majority will say it has a good strawberry taste! The subtlest cues can influence our perceptions of the taste and quality of the products we buy, and have a significant effect on our health by nudging our behaviours in the world of food and drink.

“The experiment by Barney’s Beer at the Edinburgh Science Festival is another example of how psychology can nudge even our taste buds. Behavioural science offers a fantastic tool for brands to create a premium, quality product without changing any tangible part of it.”  Andrew Barnett, owner of Barney’s Beer and brewer of Genius Loki said, “Science is at the heart of brewing and collaborating with the Edinburgh International Science Festival  has allowed me to indulge in some excellent beer-science geekery. The experiment has shown how strong the associations between certain colours and visual cues can be, and the influence this can have on enjoyment of beer. There are clear implications for brewers to get their packaging, as well as their beer right.”

Edinburgh Science Fest

Beer and Science

In 2013, Edinburgh International Science Festival collaborated with Barney’s to produce Culture #1, a beer fermented using the first yeast isolated in 1883 by Emil Hansen at the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen. The strain was supplied from the national yeast archive for the occasion. Building on this first collaboration, this experiment was designed for the 2014 Festival. Genius Loki is the official Science Festival beer, which – in a nod to the experiment it was created for – is named for the fiery, trickster god of Norse mythology, and also the most powerful volcano in the solar system, found on Jupiter’s moon Io. Loki is a single hop beer featuring the only commercial use ofKeyworth hops in Scotland. Keyworth were a result of a breeding programme culminating in the 1950s using open pollination of American Neo Mexicana hops. The variety was abandoned by brewers in the 1950s as too citrussy. However, the flavour profile is ideal for today’s tastes.

Barney’s Beer 

Andrew Barnett (Barney) is the son of a brewery worker who got his first taste of brewery and maltings work aged 16. A degree in Brewing & Distilling Science drew him to Edinburgh in the late 1980s and number of positions in brewing and distilling followed, including time at the Fountainbridge Brewery, Edinburgh, Whitbread, Brugal Rum and The Macallan. Barney’s was established in 2010. Barney’s is available throughout Scotland and nationally through If you want to know more and keep up to speed on Barney’s latest creations visit or follow Barney’s blog on Facebook.

The next Edinburgh International Science Festival will take place 5 – 20 April 2014. Visit to join our mailing list, receive e-news and be the first to hear about the new festival programme.