In the UK, leading confectioners such as Mars, Nestlé and Mondelez have signed up to a 250 calorie cap on single-serve confectionery as the UK government and retailers push for lower calorie items to address rising obesity rates.
Elsewhere, Hungary, Mexico, Denmark and Finland have imposed ‘junk food’ taxes, while France and some US states introduced soda taxes.
The regulatory environment has piled pressure on confectioners to reformulate or cut portion sizes.
“The simplest way to achieve calorie reduction, without any compromise on the sensorial characteristics of a product, is to reduce the bar size, and some manufacturers have indeed done this,” said Rinus Heemskerk, global innovation director at ADM Cocoa.
Mars and Snickers sales plummet after downsizing
Late last year, the UK Mars bar went from 58 g to 51 g, and a Snickers bar from 58 g to 48 g, while the 51p ($0.83) price remained the same.
According to data from IRI, Mars brand sales in the UK plummeted 14.4% for the 52 weeks ending 16 August this year compared to the same period last year. Snickers sales meanwhile dropped 18.1%, while overall UK chocolate confectionery sales were fairly flat at -0.4%.
A survey by Mintel found that while 23% of consumers believed mini-sized chocolate bars were a good way to control their chocolate consumption, 56% of chocolate buyers said they feel cheated if manufacturers kept the product the same price but reduced the pack size.
Mars dismisses sugar alternatives
Mars previously said that it could not reformulate the Mars bar further without changing the taste because replacing cocoa butter any further would mean the product could not be labeled chocolate under EU rules.
Mars' material science program manager, Isabella Van Damme, said late last year that sugar alternatives had yet to deliver a product without negative repercussions such as laxative effects.
Mondelez switched to rounded shape chunks for Cadbury Dairy Milk in 2012, reducing the size from 49 g to 45 g, but keeping the same price.
IRI’s data showed that Dairy Milk brand sales continue to grow in the UK (+3.5%), but Richard Anderson, senior insights manager at IRI, said that was more a consequence of promotions and SKU launches such as Marvellous Mixups.
Mondelez plans to axe its Cadbury Dairy Milk Bar and a Half range in the UK by the end of 2015 because all products exceed the 250 calorie limit.