Ai Hisano

Harvard-Newcomen Fellow

Ai Hisano is the Harvard-Newcomen Fellow in Business History. She received a BA and MA in American Studies from the University of Tokyo, Japan, and a PhD in History from the University of Delaware. Hisano’s research interests include business history, the history of capitalism, the history of technology, and environmental history. Her dissertation, "'Eye Appeal Is Buy Appeal': Business Creates the Color of Foods, 1870-1970," was awarded the university’s best humanities dissertation prize. Hisano has published on gender politics in food marketing and on food policies.

Ai Hisano is the Harvard-Newcomen Fellow in Business History. She received a BA and MA in American Studies from the University of Tokyo, Japan, and a PhD in History from the University of Delaware. Hisano’s research interests include business history, the history of capitalism, the history of technology, and environmental history. Her dissertation, "'Eye Appeal Is Buy Appeal': Business Creates the Color Foods, 1870-1970," was awarded the university’s best humanities dissertation prize. Hisano has published on gender politics in food marketing and on food policies.

Hisano's dissertation examined the American food industry’s persistent attention to color from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. In the late nineteenth century, producers, retailers, and intermediate suppliers began devoting enormous resources to determine and create the "right" color of foods, which many consumers would recognize and in time take for granted. This initiative to manipulate the color of foods involved large sectors of the U.S. economy, creating new business partners and networks among different industries. The management of food color also transformed merchandising systems and the ways products were presented to consumers. The dissertation illustrated these complex – and colorful – processes, implemented by various agents, including dye makers, food processors, farmers, grocers, advertising agents, and government agencies. While firms influenced and propagated public perception about the "natural" color of foods, consumers’ strong, sometimes stubborn, notions about how food should look in turn affected corporate activities. Government policies on food safety stimulated the integration of color manipulation into food businesses by regulating, and encouraging, the industry’s color control practices. Producers’ desire to create sustained profits and streamline production and changing consumer expectations about food color created the “natural” color of foods as the hybrid of nature and technology, constructing naturalness as a complex characteristic of foods.

Hisano's project has been supported by various institutions, including the Fulbright Program, the Smithsonian Institution, the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society, the Hagley Museum and Library, the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History, and the Delaware Public Humanities Institute.

Journal Articles

  1. The Rise of Synthetic Colors in the American Food Industry, 1870–1940

    Ai Hisano

    This article examines how, starting in the 1870s, food manufacturers in the United States began to use standardized color, achieved by synthetic dyes, as part of their marketing strategies. The emergence of the synthetic dye industry paralleled the growth of mass production and mass marketing in the American food industry. It provided food manufacturers with an economical means to standardize their products and helped establish brand identities through consistent appearance. By 1938, food dyes had achieved such widespread use, and had raised such public concern, that the federal government amended the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act to implement more stringent measures to regulate the industry.

    Keywords: Safety; Food; Health; Brands and Branding; Manufacturing Industry; Food and Beverage Industry; United States;

    Citation:

    Hisano, Ai. "The Rise of Synthetic Colors in the American Food Industry, 1870–1940." Special Issue on Food and Agriculture. Business History Review 90, no. 3 (October 2016): 483–504. View Details

Book Component

  1. Food Culture

    Ai Hisano

    Citation:

    Hisano, Ai. "Food Culture." In Amerika bunka jiten [Encyclopedia of American culture], edited by Yuko Matsumoto. Tokyo: Maruzen, forthcoming, Japanese ed. View Details

Working Papers

  1. Standardized Color in the Food Industry: The Co-Creation of the Food Coloring Business in the United States, 1870–1940

    Ai Hisano

    This working paper examines how, starting in the 1870s, food manufacturers in the United States began to use standardized color, achieved by synthetic dyes, as part of their marketing strategies. Food manufacturers along with dye makers and regulators co-created the food-coloring business. Synthetic food dyes provided the food manufacturers with new tools for shaping and standardizing the color of foods, which had previously been colored with dyes extracted from natural plants and organic minerals, helping them to achieve mass production and mass marketing. Color was easier to control, reproduce, and commoditize than other sensory factors such as smell and texture. The federal Food and Drug Act of 1906 further assisted the management of product color in the food business by regulating and endorsing the industry's color control practices. By 1938, food dyes had achieved such widespread use, and had raised such public concern, that the federal government amended the 1906 Act to implement more stringent measures to regulate the industry.

    Keywords: Food; Supply and Industry; Manufacturing Industry; Food and Beverage Industry; United States;

Cases and Teaching Materials

Presentations

  1. The Color of Taste: Selling Food in Clear Packages in the Early-Twentieth-Century United States

    Ai Hisano

    This paper examines the role of color in the marketing and retailing of food products by focusing on the increasingly popular presentation of food in clear packages in the early-twentieth-century United States. In the 1910s, a candy company began using cellophane to package their products. During the following decades when an American chemical company, Du Pont, introduced moisture-proof cellophane, the packaging material became popular among many food manufacturers. Clear packages ostensibly showed consumers the inside of the package. Yet transparency did not necessarily mean that consumers could better understand food quality. At a super market where meat had been already cut and bread packaged and where consumers rarely had a chance to actually eat, smell, or touch pre-packaged food products, they needed to rely mostly on visual information, especially color, in selecting food. Moreover, with the industrialization and commercialization of food and the expansion of the national market, controlling and standardizing the color of agricultural products, as well as processed foods, became essential for the food business. By exploring the use of cellophane packaging, this paper analyzes how producers manipulated food color to meet consumer expectations and how consumers developed their perceptions of naturalness and freshness. In doing so, I aim to show the formation and transformation of a dominant worldview concerning food, nature, and society in the United States. The color of food cannot be understood solely as an indicator of abundant variations or consumer choices. Food, specifically its appearance, held a different role than other consumer products for which color was a crucial element of brand identity and variety. Food color was a visual communication that not only appealed to the eyes of consumers but also stimulated gustatory, olfactory, and tactile sensation. Color conveyed sensory knowledge that consumers understood, and helped them imagine the taste, smell, and texture of a product. Due to changes in retailing and purchasing patterns, including the expansion of self-service stores, consumers learned to discern the various traits of food by looking at its appearance. Color became a barometer for consumers to evaluate the product quality and a set of cultural norms, determining the acceptability of food.

    Keywords: Food; Product Marketing; Food and Beverage Industry;

    Citation:

    Hisano, Ai. "The Color of Taste: Selling Food in Clear Packages in the Early-Twentieth-Century United States." Paper presented at the CHORD Conference, Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution (CHORD), Leeds, UK, September 5, 2013. View Details
  2. Taste Contested: The Construction of American Wine Culture, 1967-1976

    Ai Hisano

    This paper examines the role of taste in American consumer society by analyzing how wine came to symbolize sophistication during the 1960s and 1970s.

    Keywords: Consumer Behavior; Attitudes; Food and Beverage Industry; United States;

    Citation:

    Hisano, Ai. "Taste Contested: The Construction of American Wine Culture, 1967-1976." Paper presented at the International Conference on Food Studies, Food Studies Knowledge Community, Las Vegas, NV, December 9–10, 2011. View Details
  3. The Romanticization of Home-cooking: Betty Crocker and Ideal Womanhood in the Early Twentieth-century United States

    Ai Hisano

    Citation:

    Hisano, Ai. "The Romanticization of Home-cooking: Betty Crocker and Ideal Womanhood in the Early Twentieth-century United States." Paper presented at the Food and Drink: Their Social, Political, Cultural Histories, University of Central Lancashire, Lancashire, UK, June 16–18, 2011. View Details