What Those Colored Circles on Food Packages Actually Mean

You can tell a lot from the design and color of food packaging. For example, the color of a packet of M&Ms will tell you whether they’re peanut, regular, crispy, or caramel. There’s something else printed on the back of most food packaging: several brightly-colored circles or squares that look like some sort of secret language. However, these shapes aren’t an indication of flavors, vitamins, or minerals. They’re really not there for the consumer, but rather for the printing engineers. Those colored shapes are called “process control patches” and they allow printers to use the circles to check that the printing ink is the correct color. They compare the color to boxes printed around the world to ensure consistent brand colors. That means you can reach for a yellow packet of M&Ms in Shanghai, Sarajevo, or Sydney and know you’ll be getting peanuts.