FiE 2017

Halt portion-size ‘super-inflation’ to curb obesity

By Noli Dinkovski contact

- Last updated on GMT

There has been a ‘redefinition’ of portion sizes, says Mars director Rob Verhagen
There has been a ‘redefinition’ of portion sizes, says Mars director Rob Verhagen

Related tags: Nutrition

Food and drink manufacturers need to halt the “super-inflation” of portion sizes if the global obesity epidemic is to be addressed, a senior innovation director at confectionery giant Mars has claimed.

The “redefinition”​ of portion sizes over the past 20 to 30 years had a major role in growing obesity rates, and industry had a responsibility to reverse this trend, said Rob Verhagen, global director for health and wellbeing, and global innovation director for Snickers and Twix, at Mars.

“You only have to look at beverage sizes – as an industry, we have always offered small, regular and large. However, large is now actually extra-large, while standard has become large,”​ he claimed.

Verhagen was part of a panel debate titled ‘How can food and beverage companies develop products to meet the healthy convenience trend’, held at Food Ingredients Europe in Frankfurt, Germany last November.

‘A trend that we need to stop’

“It’s a trend that we need to stop as an industry, because you can talk about healthy snacking all you like – but if you consume too many healthier products, we are still going to be overweight,”​ he said.

According to Verhagen, Mars had made both portion-size reduction and reformulation a priority across its brands.

However, he warned industry against “claiming the reformulation”​ as it was “not empowering consumers to make the right choice”.

He referred to a recent study in France, where consumers were offered bowls of identical M&M’s – one labelled standard and another low-fat.

When asked to take what they thought was a sensible portion of either, consumers on average took 34% more from the low-fat bowl, Verhagen said.

‘Significantly reduced saturated fat’

“As a company, we’ve taken trans fats and palm fat out and have significantly reduced saturated fat – but we have never communicated these things, because we believe that once we start doing so, we would drive unethical behaviour in consumers,”​ he explained.

“So, we’re taking those expenses but we’re not claiming them.”

A similar approach applied to packaging, Verhagen suggested. While Mars was looking at making some of its packs biodegradable, he believed such a claim wouldn’t be front-of-pack as it “might drive the wrong behaviour from consumers to throw those packs away, rather than putting them in the recycling bin”.

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