KANSAS CITY — During the past two years portion control has become a mainstay amongst annual industry trend reports. The concept is not new, however. Nutrition bar and yogurt manufacturers have capitalized on the demand for single-serve snack sizes for years, but the concept did not ascend to trend status until Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., launched its 100 Calorie Packs in 2004.
In a presentation at the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore this past October, Phil Lempert, a food trends editor of Supermarketguru.com, cited a SupermarketGuru.com quick poll conducted that said the No. 1 action consumers believe food companies can take to help address weight management concerns is portion control packaging. According to the poll, 29% identified portion control packaging as the most important action, followed by 25% who said nutrition labeling on packaging and 13% who said lower calorie products.
It appears food manufacturers are responding to the trend. Since the introduction of Kraft’s 100 Calorie Packs, the market has since seen the introduction of 100-, 90- and 75-calorie products as well as bite-size bits of ice cream and spray-on salad dressings.
"The portion-controlled packaging trend continued to gain steam throughout the past year," said Sheila McCusker, editor of Information Resources, Inc.’s Times & Trends publication. "The 100-calorie pack dollar sales increased 47% in 2006 vs. 2005 across snack categories in food, drug, mass channels, excluding Wal-Mart."
Kraft’s 100 Calorie Packs line has grown and spawned numerous competitive products. The initial launch by Kraft included Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, Wheat Thins and Cheese Nips, but since then the company has expanded the line to include its Lorna Doone, Teddy Graham, Planters and Nutter Butter brands as well as specialty coffees like cappuccino in 100-calorie packs.
This past March, Plano, Texasbased Frito-Lay, a PepsiCo Inc. subsidiary, introduced its 100 Calorie Mini Bites line that featured the company’s Cheetos and Doritos brands. A few months later, in June, Quaker Snacks, also a PepsiCo subsidiary, introduced 90 Calorie Chewy Granola Bars.
"The more established cookie and cracker 100-calorie packs continued to post double-digit growth," Ms. McCusker said. "New entrants in the salty snack category have also been embraced by consumers who value the ability to grab a package of their favorite snacks without worrying about calories."
Packaged Facts, a division of Marketresearch.com and based in New York, said in 2005 consumers spent approximately $61.4 billion on snack foods and that they spent a growing percentage of it on healthier products. In the research firm’s report "Snack Foods Trends in the U.S.," it said carefree snacking is over as evidenced by plummeting sales in certain segments. Cookies and bakery snacks have suffered the most with sales down $334 million from 2001-2005. The crackers and popcorn/rice cakes segments each experienced losses of $45 million.
"In the last 5 years, snacking overall has increased by 1.5% as the trend for meals being replaced by snacks continues to grow," said Don Montouri, the publisher of Packaged Facts. "Consumers are serious about these ‘meals’ being healthy. Simultaneously, manufacturers are serious about meeting consumer, watchdog and government demands to make snacks more nutritious — particularly those aimed at kids. These factors are driving a fundamental industry shift that should expand it while making snacking healthier."
The trend toward healthier snacking has moved into other categories as well, with both The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, and PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y., introducing 100-calorie beverages, Ms. McCusker said.
"We are beginning to see the extension of this concept into other categories, as well, including yogurt and carbonated beverages as 100 calories becomes recognized by consumers as a unit of consumption that is easy to track and okay to enjoy without sabotaging diets," she said.
Packaged Facts also issued a report that said portion control may have a significant impact on the cultured dairy product segment. The research firm noted in 2006 that cultured fluids, such as drinkable yogurts, smoothies, shots, and kefir will witness a rapid rise in sales over the next four years.
"In the last five years, yogurt production has increased 49% and sales have benefited most from the increased marketing of health benefits, such as digestive and immune strengthening," Mr. Montuori said. "While the market has reached a certain level of maturity, there is still great potential for growth with the expectation U.S. consumption rates will approach those of Europe, which are currently four to five times higher."
In its report "Cultured Dairy Products in the U.S.," Packaged Facts reported that while probiotic shots are a relatively small component of the market, which is dominated by other drinkable and non-drinkable yogurts, such convenient products will be a future driver for the market segment. The research firm estimated cultured dairy sales totaled $9.6 billion in 2005 and that $4.8 billion came from portion-controlled single and multi-pack cup and tube yogurts.
F.D.A. recognizes portion control
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration, responding to a petition submitted by the Nestle Prepared Food Co. in 2004, amended its food labeling regulations and expanded use of the nutrient claim "lean" to foods considered "mixed dishes not measurable with a cup that meet specific criteria for total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol." Such dishes may include burritos, egg rolls, enchiladas, pizza, quiches and sandwiches.
In approving the petition, the F.D.A. acknowledged these types of products "have found their way into the American diet and serve as a convenient ‘meals-on-the-go’ eating option"; the category has become well established; and there is a growing interest in healthful alternatives to traditional food options, including vegetarian alternatives.
The agency further explained it believes portable food products, particularly those that are nutritious and portion controlled, serve a useful purpose in assisting consumers in selecting a diet consistent with dietary recommendations.
Prior to the action, foods subject to the F.D.A.’s definition of a "main dish," but that weighed less than 6 oz per labeled serving could not bear the lean label claim. The reference amount for foods such as burritos traditionally has been approximately 5 oz.
As a result of the decision, popular Nestle products that are portion controlled such as Hot Pockets, Red Baron Pizza, Bagel Bites, etc. may be eligible to bear the lean claim.