Portion control, sustainability and cost at odds

by Allison Sebolt
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For the past several years, consumer demand has driven product expansion in the portion-control category as consumer desire to snack more healthfully has increased. Yet at the same time, sustainability has become increasingly important to both consumers and food companies, and the two trends appear to be opposed to each other.

Mintel International, Chicago, said while nutrition, health and disease management have been the focus of food product development for many years, America might be entering a new phase. "Good for you" will increasingly be faced off with "good for the environment," and food companies will find themselves redefining how their food products will retain appeal, Mintel said. The research firm said for long-term success, portion-control packaging needs to be less wasteful. Yet Krista Faron, senior analyst with Mintel Research Consulting, said in today’s current economic environment, cost might outweigh both portion control and sustainability concerns and be the deciding factor.

Some of the most familiar portion control products are the Nabisco 100-Calorie Packs from Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill. Kraft continues to expand its line with such newer varieties as Chips Ahoy! Candy Bites, Oreo Candy Bites, Mister Salty Milk Chocolate Covered Pretzels, and South Beach Living Bars. The 100-calorie line has even ventured into the beverage segment with cappuccino packets. In 2007, the 100-calorie pack line brought in about $275 million in revenue for Kraft.

While 100-calorie packs are still popular, portion control has a much greater reach as different companies are looking for various ways to provide more healthful snacking experiences. For example, Sara Lee, Downer’s Grove, Ill., offers Sara Lee Cheesecake Bites. The Cheesecake Bites come packaged with 40 bite-size pieces per container and are 20 calories per piece. Sara Lee said the reasoning behind the product came from restaurants adding smaller dessert options to their menus, and the company saw a need to bring the trend home while providing balanced indulgence.

The Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., even has Grab ‘N Go Cereal variety packs with each packet individually wrapped and containing limited amounts of calories. There are also Special K Bliss 90-calorie cereal bars.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, other products include Fresh & Easy Smart Box Fruit Punch Maze Snack, which has fruit punch, a pack of carrots, string cheese, crackers and dried fruits. Back to Nature, meanwhile, has introduced Wild Blueberry Walnut Granola with Flax Seed Cereal, and The Hershey Co. has introduced 100 Calorie Peanut Butter Wafer Bars from Reese’s.

Consumers are purchasing such products as Mintel found 4 in 10 survey respondents said they use portion-controlled packaging, with the majority of them saying it helps them avoid junk food and lose weight. More specifically, 39% of males and 49% of females said they use such packaging. Of those adults who use portion-control packaging, 51% said they expect to use more portion-controlled products in the future.

Mintel noted there are two primary markets to which the healthy snacking industry caters, one being offering consumers healthier choices in otherwise less nutritional product offerings, and the other market appeals to elevating the health association of the most nutritional healthy snacks.

Not every company has been quick to embrace the trend.

"The issue with low-calorie packs is that they’re not filling for the average adult, and taste is often affected in an attempt to lower the number of calories per serving, particularly in foods containing high percentages of artificial sugars and oils," said Phil Walotsky, spokesperson for PeaceWorks Holdings, the company that makes KIND Fruit + Nut bars. "However … controlled — portion sizes serve a purpose — they replace consumer-imposed will-power at the point of consumption with manufacturer-imposed limits at the point of purchase."

Mr. Walotsky said the concern of PeaceWorks in formulating reduced-calorie products is a need to use lower-calorie artificial ingredients as substitutes to meet calorie requirements when quality and taste are important factors as well.

"That’s the real downside of what’s been called ‘nutritionism,’ or creating foods only to meet specific nutritional benchmarks," Mr. Walotsky said. "If you ignore the desires of consumers in pursuit of a trend, it can catch up to you in the long-run in the form of poor customer loyalty or becoming known as a low-quality brand."

Laurie Guzzinati, Kraft spokesperson, said portion control, convenience and maintaining traditional product taste are essential to Kraft when developing 100-calorie products. She also said consumers often say 100-calorie packs take care of them portioning and putting products in plastic bags for snacking on the go. She said it also takes care of consumers having to guess how many calories they include in a portion.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, September 16, 2008, starting on Page 48. Click here to search that archive.

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