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There has always been somewhat of a secret going on at the grocery store. When you look at any packaging, it often is there to entice you to make the purchase, but there may be other issues going on behind the scenes. Perhaps it has to do with recycling codes, nutritional information, or a special promotion that gives you more or allows you to pay less.

Photo: Unsplash/Viki Mohamad

You may not pay much attention to the secret codes, but it’s a good idea to understand what they mean. They aren’t simple circles and squares of color, they are there to give the manufacturer information and now you can have the information as well.

Meg Schiraldi, a printing engineer, explained the system to Readers Digest. She said: “Most printers only use four colors: cyan (blue-green), yellow, magenta, and black. But some printers have extra colors like orange, green, and violet. This helps them match challenging colors like Home Depot orange and FedEx purple. That’s why you may see more circles printed on some packages – they need to check each color of ink!”

Photo: Open Food Facts

When you see cyan, magenta, yellow, and key/black, known as CMYK colors, they are actually process colors. Those four colors are used in combination to create almost any color that you see on the packaging. There may also be various spot colors that are included as well. These are there to make sure that the consistency and any distinct colors come out properly.

As far as the color blocks are concerned, the PR manager for General Mills, Bridget Christensen, spoke to Slate on the subject. She said that those blocks are a tool that lets them know how the printer is printing. In her words: “The blocks provide very technical information about printing conditions that allow printers to quickly adjust.”

Photo: Open Food Facts

When you look at packaging more closely, you might see more of those circles and boxes. It’s not that they are trying to get something over on you, it’s just that they want the packaging to look as good as possible.

Then again, having the packaging look good makes it more likely for you to buy.