Portion control evolution

by Allison Gibeson
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The portion control trend, which gained prominence with the introduction and popularity of 100-calorie packs, is evolving as food and beverage manufacturers outside of the snack segment apply the trend to broader concepts, said Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, a market research firm.

“One-hundred-calorie packs’ history has been down the (retail) snack aisle,” Ms. Badaracco said. “They aren’t disappearing — they are ricocheting, but the ricochet is harder to see.”

She said the ricochet is coming in the form of products such as mini-colas, pre-portioned whole cheeses and individually portioned ice cream canisters. Beverages are taking to the space with more smoothies and drinkable yogurt products becoming popular, she said.

Ms. Badaracco added that the overall trend has even jumped into the restaurant industry with the calorie-specific menus emerging as the food-service version of the concept.

Food and beverage manu-facturers are not limiting themselves to the production of 100-calories products. Several new retail products illustrate the broadening of portion control, including a new candy line from Skinny Cow, the update of the SnackWell’s line from Kraft Foods Inc. and the Marathon Smart Stuff Bar from Mars, Inc. All of the products are individually portioned, but none of them strictly hold to the 100-calorie benchmark.

Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods originally introduced SnackWell’s in 1992 as a better-for-you snack positioned as lower in fat. In 2004, Nabisco, another Kraft Foods brand, introduced the first 100-calorie packs.

Steve Siegal, senior brand manager for SnackWell’s, said as they listened to consumers there was an evolving interest when it comes to portion control in that consumers want more choice. As such, Kraft recently updated the SnackWell’s brand with new varieties, packaging and calorie counts ranging from 100 to 150 per pack.

“Consumers have embraced the idea of portion-control products, but as the category has matured we see they are looking for choice,” Mr. Siegal said. “What we’ve done with SnackWell’s is to reinvigorate the portion-control category with more variety. In our extensive research, consumers told us simply ‘calorie-controlled’ snacks aren’t what they’re seeking. Consumers don’t want to feel deprived, so they’re willing to have a few more calories in order to satisfy their sweet craving.”

Skinny Cow, a Nestle USA brand, recently expanded from just ice cream products to including candy. The candy products are individually portioned and range from 110 to 120 calories per pack.

“Skinny Cow ice cream and our effort in Skinny Cow candy have not been rooted in portion control at all,” said Tricia Bowles, a spokesperson for Skinny Cow. “While we do have single-serve units … what we are seeing out there is truly a rapid decline in 100-calorie packs. What we are seeing in the marketplace is a need on the part of the consumer to want to find indulgent treats they can eat for fewer calories.”

Ms. Bowles emphasized the need for taste above all and that being lower in calories is just a side benefit.

“The vision really was we wanted something that tasted great first and had the advantage of being lower calorie second,” Ms. Bowles said. “That’s why you see we didn’t stick to a number … but rather we were able to find a terrific formula that delivered on taste that we were able to make for 110 calories and 120 calories, so that’s where we stood.”

Mars’ introduction of the Marathon Smart Stuff bar represents a product in the bar category that is 150 calories per bar and meets snack guidelines established by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a non-profit effort intended to address the issue of childhood obesity.

According to Mintel Inter-national’s Global New Products Database, there were 71 products introduced in 2009 with “100-calorie” in the product description, but only 38 such products introduced in 2010.

Overall, Ms. Badaracco said it is important for manufacturers to make portion-control products feel more indulgent and more like a reward. She added that messaging about control also is starting to be put on product packages less prominently than before.

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