New research from the NPD Group appears to support claims that there is a growing discrepancy between serving sizes listed on food labels and what consumers are actually eating.
In a new report into the frozen meals sector, the market researcher says family or party-size frozen meals designed to be shared by four people are routinely being consumed by just one or two people.
Meanwhile, more than a quarter of consumers cooking products labeled as containing 2-3 servings admitted they frequently ate the entire product in one sitting, according to NPD Group, which based its report on a survey of 2,500 US adults.
The firm's food and beverage industry analyst Darren Seifer said: “There is a disconnect between the stated serving size on a frozen meal package and what an individual is consuming.”
CSPI: Consumers are being misled by ‘unrealistic’ serving sizes
This apparent disconnect is not just of academic interest, but a key issue in the obesity debate, according to lobby group The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
In a recent letter urging Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Margaret Hamburg to revise serving-size regulations, the CSPI claimed manufacturers were putting "ridiculously tiny" servings on pack, which made some products appear in a more favorable light.
While the calories, sodium or sugar in a single serving often seemed reasonable, shoppers were routinely consuming multiple servings in one sitting without realizing how many calories they were consuming, claimed the CSPI.
Serving sizes should reflect what consumers actually eat
The disconnect was particularly evident in the soup category, argued executive director Michael Jacobson. “The FDA should define serving sizes to reflect what consumers actually eat, as the law requires, not what the soup industry pretends that they eat.”
He added: “Labels for Campbell’s Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle soup indicate a serving is one cup - a little less than half a can - and has 790 milligrams of sodium—a hefty amount by any standard and about half the sodium most adults should consume in a whole day.
“But according to a national telephone survey commissioned by CSPI, 64% of consumers would eat the whole can at one time and would consume 1,840 mg of sodium—more than a day’s worth for most adults. Only 10% of consumers said they eat one cup portions.”
Other products singled out for criticism for their “ridiculously tiny serving size” included cooking sprays and powdered coffee creamers.
The serving size for the creamer was one teaspoon, even though “many or most consumers use several times as much”, claimed Jacobson.