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Downsize me! FSA right to push for smaller snacks

By Guy Montague-Jones , 04-Aug-2009
Last updated on 05-Aug-2009 at 16:22 GMT2009-08-05T16:22:57Z

Chocolate bar makers should embrace the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) proposals on snack portions and adapt their supersizing skills to downsizing.

For chocolate bars, FSA proposed last week in draft recommendations to industry that more products of 40g or less be made available. It also said chocolate confectionery should not weigh more than 50g. (Major brands like Twix and Mars both currently weigh in at 58g).

Some may consider these ideas punitive and excessive but obesity rates continue to rise and food suppliers and governments have a basic responsibility to do what they can to reverse this worrying trend.

Obesity warning

The UK government projection that nine out of 10 children could be overweight or obese by 2050 should be a call to arms. It is, of course, up to the individual to choose what they eat, but industry can do more to prevent this forecast becoming reality.

Exercise and education play a role in the fight against obesity but reducing portion sizes would be an effective step from industry towards a thinner and therefore healthier population.

UK health secretary Alan Johnson neatly explained the logic of smaller snacks earlier this year at the first meeting of Business4Life, an industry consortium on healthy living.

He said smaller sizes would help us eat less. “We were raised to waste not want, so if we buy a big chocolate bar we’ll eat it all.”

Supersize me

It may be argued that if portion sizes were reduced we would rush out and just buy more packs. But that would make us feel greedy so we would generally restrict ourselves to the smaller packs, and be healthier as a consequence. McDonalds executive David Wallerstein pioneered the supersize idea in the 1960s and the industry has since applied the same logic to increase consumption and sales by introducing big snack portions and products with ‘33 per cent extra free’.

This must stop and it is in the long term interest of food companies. If the status quo is allowed to continue the health of future generations will be compromised and food companies may face the prospect of tobacco-like restrictions.

Snack makers should swallow the bitter pill of smaller portions unless they want to face the prospect of chocolate being sold behind the counter with warning signs stamped across the packaging.

By rising to the challenge of creating tasty snacks with less salt, sugar, and saturated fat, the food industry has given some products a healthy makeover. It has also made some progress on portion sizes.

As the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said in reaction to the FSA draft recommendations, its members are already working hard to develop new pack formats that “meet the demand for healthier alternatives.”

So what should industry do?

By making smaller pack sizes available, food companies are at least giving people the option of eating healthily but more can be done by the industry to persuade them to do so.

One possibility is to print portion size information on packaging to help inform consumers how snacks should be eaten. As a recent IGD report pointed out terms like ‘typical serving’ are irrelevant unless the ‘who for’ is explained, so a family pack should make clear its purpose and warn individuals not to scoff the lot in one sitting.

But education is not enough by itself. Large chocolate bars should no longer have a place on our shelves if they are clearly designed to be eaten by one person in one sitting. Removing supersize bars from shelves will help remove temptation and guide people towards healthy eating habits.

If you would like to comment on this article, contact guy.montague-jones ‘at’ decisionnews.com or click on ‘have your say’ below.

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