In response to criticism over excessive portion sizes, confectionery companies have recently been replacing ‘king-size’ chocolate bars with two smaller bars in the same wrapper. For instance, Masterfoods’ 74g king size Mars bar with 334 kcal has been replaced by two 35g portions with 158 kcal each.
The intention was to make the products more easily shareable, or to allow for them to be eaten on two separate days.
There has also been a call to reduce the size of regular chocolate bars, especially in the UK where the Food Standards Agency is running a campaign to reduce saturated fat and energy consumption. Last year it suggested that regular chocolate bars should be 50g or less.
A regular Mars, at the time the new study was conducted (2007) was 51g and contained 230 kcal.
Researchers from Amsterdam University’s EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research wanted to see whether the two-pack king size chocolate bars (TPKSCBs) really led consumers to eat smaller snacks.
Research assistants were posted at two petrol stations and two railway stations, in four cities in The Netherlands. They approached every person who had just bought a TPKSCB and asked them to complete a questionnaire. In total, 110 petrol station visitors and 33 railways station visitors completed the questionnaire, of whom 67.8 per cent were male.
Amongst the findings, accepted for publication in the journal Appetite, was the observation that 91.6 per cent of respondents intended to eat the TPKSCB on the same day. The most common reasons given were hunger, and not having considered the size.
“Based on the results, it is suggested to increase the availability and visibility of regular chocolate bars and healthier snacks, and the educate consumers about the impact of portion sizes of high caloric snacks,” they said.
The team said the indication is that consumers still perceive the entire package as one unit instead of two, because they come in the same wrapper. This also makes them less storable.
There could also be a mismatch between expected satiety and actual caloric value of foods. If chocolate bars are not perceived as satiating, people will tend to eat larger portions.
The researchers concluded that TPKSCBs are not an effective strategy for helping consumers regulate snacking. If consumers are individually responsible for regulating their own calorie intake, as the food industry claims, “it is strongly suggested to give them this responsibility before purchase rather than after” – that is, through choice.
Some limitations to the study were highlighted, nonetheless. These include the setting of the study in railway stations and petrol stations, where purchasing decisions are more likely to be driven by hunger, convenience and impulsivity than in a supermarket.
It also presumes that consumers eat TPKSCBs in addition to a regular meal, thus bumping up their daily calorie intake by 416 kcal. If they eat them instead of a regular meal, eating a whole one would not impact total daily calories.
Appetite (online ahead of print)
“Two pack king size chocolate bars. Can we manage our consumption?”
Authors: WM Vermeer, B Bruins, IHM Steenhuis