The counter-intuitive switch: big food companies urge consumers to eat less

After spending years trying to convince consumers to buy more of their famous-name products, now some of the biggest players in the food industry are trying to get people to eat less of them.

Burgers are shrinking, cookies are becoming thinner and package sizes are getting smaller. In at least one case, a company is telling customers to cut back on its more indulgent foods.

Mars, maker of M&Ms and Uncle Ben’s rice, has announced that it would start labelling some of its products to indicate that they should only be eaten occasionally, due to being higher in sugar, salt or fat. Mars is the latest company to take this seemingly counterintuitive approach (see more here: Mars’ brave new health policy).

A look at grocery aisles and restaurant menus shows how prevalent the trend has become toward products with leaner messaging.

  • McDonald’s has announced it’s testing new sizes for its iconic Big Mac, including a smaller “Mac Jr”.
  • Snack food maker Mondelez introduced “thin” Oreos last year — a smaller cookie, smaller package size and fewer calories per serving.
  • Coke and Pepsi are finding a big audience for miniature soda cans, even as they continue to hawk two-litre guzzlers.
  • Starbucks temporarily sold frappuccinos in a mini size last summer. Other changes nudge customers to make healthier choices on their own, such as posting calorie counts on menu boards.
  • The Subway sandwich chain became the largest restaurant chain to start posting this health information recently.

As customers become increasingly concerned with package labels and legislation starts mandating what food businesses must divulge — like calorie counts and foods with high levels of sodium — downsizing has become yet another tactic major companies are using to hedge against increasing pressure to cut calories and boost healthiness in processed foods.

“It has everything to do with survival,” says Will Rosenzweig, dean and executive director of The Food Business School, which is part of the Culinary Institute of America.

“We’ve just reached a point where you can’t ignore that if you’re on the wrong side of this health and climate thing, you’re going to be in a declining business.”

More than a third of Americans are considered obese, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

And major food manufacturers and brands have come under significant pressure in recent years from customers and watchdog groups alike to alter the makeup of their products in response to growing demand for less artificial, more humane and more nutritious food.

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Junk food companies are trying to survive with an unlikely strategy

As Americans become increasingly invested in health and nutrition, some of the most infamously unhealthy companies are trying to regain their trust by encouraging consumers to eat — and buy — less junk.

Mars Foods, a subgroup of chocolate giant Mars Company and maker of brands including Uncle Ben’s rice and Dolmio pasta sauce, announced in April that it would provide customers with guidance on which products should be eaten every day and which should only be consumed occasionally.

Further, Mars actively discouraged consumers from eating some of its products  too often — like pasta sauces that are high in sugar – an idea that, at first, seems to run counterintuitive to any business’s best interests.

However, Mars Foods isn’t alone in this endeavour….

BusinessInsider: Read the full article