Here's What Those Colored Boxes on Food Packaging Mean

·2 min read

Have you ever opened a box of cereal, started pouring it into your bowl, and had those printed multicolored spots on the box catch your eye? There are similar printed spots on bags of chips and breakfast pastries and many of the foods you pick up at your local grocery store. If you have ever wondered what those color strips could possibly mean, the internet has provided an answer.

Grocery Store Cereal Aisle
Grocery Store Cereal Aisle

Getty/Jeff Greenberg / Contributor

According to a video posted on TikTok by Sonya Gonzalez Mier, who says she works in food marketing, the explanation has nothing to do with food and a lot to do with packaging. "I work in food marketing, and we have these color patches on all our packaging," Gonzalez Mier says in the video. "No, they're not barcodes, no they're not a mysterious sign. They are color control patches, which we need because the colors that you see on the packaging are not actually the colors that we are printing."

When packages are being printed, the colors are layered on top of each other to create the logos, designs, patterns, and inviting food pictures we know and love on our favorite foods. According to Gonzalez Mier, if something goes awry in the printing process those color control patterns, known as printer's color blocks or process control patches, will look wonky. The people in charge of printing will know something went wrong and they can correct the tints and hues to perfect the packaging.

To confirm, Slate spoke with the PR manager for General Mills who verified that the color blocks are a tool used by printers to ensure consistency. They wrote: "The blocks provide very technical information about printing conditions that allow printers to quickly adjust. For example, if something looks too red, the color blocks can help to determine if it's the Yellow that is too weak or if it's the Magenta that is too heavy. This keeps printing quality high."

Next time you need to strike up conversation in the grocery store, trot this little fun fact out.