LED Lighting Stirs Debate Over Food Presentation

Sep 01, 2011
Tom Ryan

Department stores use flattering lighting for dressing rooms and jewelers carefully illuminate their display cases. But are such lighting techniques appropriate for food?

Nualight, an Irish firm that makes display lights for supermarkets and has recently been targeting the U.S. market, is introducing LED lights that are largely designed to save energy in the long run. LED lights also emit no infrared or ultraviolet light, which minimizes heat and, consequently, the spoiling of fruits and vegetables.
But another selling point for LED lights at supermarkets is that they can make food look brighter and more colorful.

“We can turn fruit into diamonds,” Paul Kelly, a VP at Nualight, said in the September issue of Food Network Magazine.

Speaking to Discovery News, affiliated with The Discovery Channel, Mr. Kelly said he can almost replicate the color of the sun’s illumination using digital LED lighting. LED bulbs can be programmed to accent individual colors on food, such as reds for meat or yellows and greens for produce.

“It really makes the food pop compared to a fluorescent light,” Liam Flanagan, store director at The Star Market in Chestnut Hill, MA, told Discovery News. The store went all-LED in October 2009. He added, “A few customers commented saying the fruit looks more colorful than other stores.”

However, the Discovery News article noted that several states have adopted a rule promulgated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that limits certain kind of lighting as deceptive. The rule states that “food or color additives, colored overwraps, or lights may not be used to misrepresent the true appearance, color, or quality of a food.” Whether LED lights violate the rule appears up to debate. LED light suppliers contend they only enhance the looks of produce and other foods but do not change the appearance of it.

Showing their own wariness to the idea, Food Network Magazine’s editors entitled their article, “Supermarket shoppers should beware of tricky lighting” while pointing its readers to the rules in some states over deceptive lighting. But Mr. Kelly defended the practice, “You create a nice mood when you’re eating dinner. The same should be true when you’re shopping for those ingredients.”

Discussion Questions: Do you see atmospheric lighting as enhancing or misrepresenting food presentation?

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3 Comments on "LED Lighting Stirs Debate Over Food Presentation"

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Doron Levy
Doron Levy
9 years 8 months ago

C’mon, you can’t take away the merchant’s best tool for selling stuff! Images of a gray and drab 1984ish food vending station comes to mind. I think the FDA may be over-scrutinizing this one.

Ralph Jacobson
9 years 8 months ago

This is a benefit for both the retailer and the consumer. I remember working in the supermarkets and literally watching the fluorescent lights burn the fresh foods: meat, produce, everything. I cannot believe those lights are still in stores. They cost more to run, they evaporate the water in the fresh food which reduces the weight of the variable-weight-priced product that in turn reduces margin for the store. Also, it shortens the shelf life for the retailer and the consumer.

LEDs are the way to go. Every retailer: Specialty Apparel, Car Dealers, Home Theaters, and food, use lighting to highlight the appearance of their products. If the food is not fresh when the consumer gets it home, they will not frequent that store any longer. The government need not interfere here.

Lee Peterson
9 years 8 months ago

It’s interesting that lighting is just now becoming important to food retailers. I believe this is because the industry has been stagnant for so long, it’s been hard to imagine food as fashion — until now. Of course, Harrod’s has been doing it for decades, but here in the U.S., no one really seemed to noticed.

However, it’s time to thank your lucky retail stars for Whole Foods and before that, Dean & Delucca’s. Brands that now treat food as something special vs. a commodity that you shove in your mouth. These front-runners in the ‘food as fashion’ field will win out in the long run and teach us all more about how to create a premium experience at retail.


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