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Lifestyles

Will shrinking portions cause Americans to expand?

Posted July 6

From soft drinks to hummus, every kind of food and drink seems to have a fun-sized version these days as manufacturers take a cue from Hollywood and say, "Honey, I shrunk the portions."

Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola have introduced beverages in 7.5-ounce cans, Nabisco is selling skinny Oreos, and McDonald's is experimenting with a smaller version of the Big Mac, bewilderingly called Mac Jr. (What's wrong with Little Mac?)

Chase Purdy of Quartz reports that the miniaturization of portions is both a reaction to consumers' desire to consume less sugar and fat, and their demand for food that can be more easily eaten on the go — think cereal without milk.

It's particularly useful in an industry so embattled by sin taxes (like one Philadelphia just passed) that its executives talk about sugar as if it were alcohol.

In a conference call with investors, Coca-Cola chief operating officer James Quincey spoke of the company's need "to provide a portfolio of products that encourage and enable consumers to enjoy added sugar responsibly," Purdy reported.

A 7.5-ounce can of Coke contains 90 calories and 25 grams of sugar, compared to the traditional 12-ounce can's 140 calories and 39 grams. (Vanilla Coke and Cherry Coke have even more sugar — 42 grams in 12 ounces. That's four times the sugar in a Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut, just so you know.)

Euromonitor calls the fun-sizing of food and drinks "rightsizing" and notes that it helps overcome manufacturers' "obstacles to growth" as consumers grow more health conscious. It also lets manufacturers charge more per ounce, Quartz notes.

And theoretically, it could help American consumers get control of their outsized appetites.

"Reducing the pack size has proven valuable to enable consumers to better measure and regulate their soft drink and calorie intake," Euromonitor's Rosemary Downey wrote.

But smaller portions don't always translate to reduced consumption, as The Wall Street Journal has reported.

In 2013, Sarah Nassauer wrote about “the psychology of small packages” and said sometimes smaller portions drive people to eat more.

That’s because “certain types of eaters — people who are concerned about how they look or who aren’t naturally good at controlling their eating — see bite-size pieces of food as ‘zero calories,’” Nassauer wrote.

And, if a person isn't satisfied by a miniature Coke and has another, he'll wind up consuming more sugar and calories than if he'd had the regular-sized can.

One trick that has been proven to help people eat less: using a smaller plate.

Reuters reported last year that doing so may help Americans consume 29 percent fewer calories. Adults should eat on plates that are 9 or 10 inches wide; children on plates that are 7.5 inches, Dr. David Sharp, a nutrition researcher at Kent State University School of Health Sciences in Ohio, told Reuters.

That's because psychologically, larger plates make us feel like we're eating less because portions appear smaller, while smaller plates make us feel like we're having a feast.

You're going to need a bigger plate for another McDonald's offering, however. The Grand Mac is only available in Texas and Ohio for now. No word yet on whether it's selling better than the Mac Jr., or if smaller portions are here to stay.

EMAIL: jgraham@deseretnews.com

TWITTER: @grahamtoday

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