Although growth of portion-control packs has leveled off, innovation keeps the category viable.
Today's consumers might be on the cusp of rediscovering the true meaning of portion sizes, changing from a super-size mentality to a miniature one instead; looking for smaller versions of some of their favorite baked products.
It is difficult to pinpoint one trend alone that is influencing the portion control market as too many forces are currently at play. Although convenience remains high among consumers' list of demands, the economic downturn has forced many buyers to consider price and value rather than portion size. So, in terms of portion control packaging, reports are mixed.
A marketing perspective
In 2007, the New York Times reported that 100-calorie packages of snack foods topped $200 million in annual sales, and that sales figure has grown, with convenience serving as a key driver for portion-controlled packs. Still, a recent report by Mintel shows sales in 100-calorie packs lagging, citing price and size as deterrents.
An excerpt from the report, “The New Value Shopper,” released in April from the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA), Madison Wis., reveals that 56 percent of consumers are buying more bulk/economy sized items. The IDDBA commissioned Datassential to survey 3,500 consumers and 100 retailers on changes in buying behavior and attitudes, with the surveys conducted in January of this year.
The report further stated that, for several years, Americans' increasingly busy schedules fueled demand for convenience-oriented foods; however, the current economy is largely halting this longstanding trend as demand for value often trumps convenience.
The Hartman Group Research Consulting firm, Bellevue, Wash., published consumer research entitled, “Pulse Report: Portion Control from a Consumer Perspective,” which indicate that 78 percent of those surveyed turn to portion control for weight management purposes. Nearly half of the respondents (44 percent) use pre-portioned, single-serve multi-packs that don't cost too much. Fifty-eight percent of respondents who do not buy single-serve packs cited price as a reason. Also, the term “single serve” may have higher consumer acknowledgement than 100-calorie packs, which consumers tend to associate with dieting. “Single serve” is an older, more familiar designation that has existed in some categories, such as yogurt, for years.
Can portion control be eco-friendly?
Almost every supermarket category is latching onto the eco-friendly packaging bandwagon, and baked snacks are no exception. According to Mintel GNPD, this type of packaging has increased by more than 7,000 percent from 2005 to 2008. As an example, Entenmann's Little Bites 100-calorie packs are packaged in a new, smaller box to reduce waste. Some use eco-friendly ink made from soy or corn. Immaculate Baking Co. uses eco-friendly ink on its packaging for its Chocolate Covered Biscotti Crunch.
Last October, Lindar Corp., Baxter, Minn., introduced a single serve cupcake and muffin package in traditional, gourmet and large sizes in response to retailers' requests. “Retail bakers are using these as a way to display and sell fancy, decorated gourmet cupcakes as a way to get out of the service case. Prior to this it was next to impossible to get a single cupcake home without it being damaged,” says Dan Fosse, food packaging sales and product development manager.
Fosse says retailers requested the packaging provide them with excellent product visibility, an area for labeling application that would not distract from the product in addition to a package that was easy to open and close. “Technically this is a very difficult part to make,” Fosse says.
Last but not least, it was important to Lindar to create sustainable packaging. The company turned to Ingeo, from Cargill Co., under Nature Works LLC, for a bio-based resin made from corn. “We manage our material streams by either being in a recycled material, or PET, or we utilize post-industrial scrap or sheet material,” Fosse says.
Lindar's packaging gained particular attention at a sustainable packaging conference hosted at Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. “Most companies that attended were working on sustainable packaging efforts,” said Fosse.
Innovation still key
Lindar reports its single-serve cupcake packaging is in high demand. Innovative packaging can help boost sales even in a lagging economy. According to Mintel, pie manufacturers, for example, could look to innovative single serve packaging to attract adults to an indulgent product, such as a single-serve crush-proof container that includes a fork.
Some manufacturers are taking this advice to heart and pie slices are finding a place in the freezer section. Schwann's Edwards brand offers Singles, a new single-serve product that combines a baked item with ice cream. The product is packaged in two-packs that include two individual servings.
Sara Lee Corp., Downers Grove, Ill., launched a mini version of its popular cheesecake under the line Sara Lee Bites, which is marketed as a “poppable” snack. Each ready-to-eat bite contains just 20 calories. Designed to be consumed immediately once removed from the freezer, the bites are packed in a tapered round paperboard tub. Lively graphics help position the product as a snack food that appeals to both children and adults.
General Mills' Betty Crocker introduced Warm Delights Minis as a follow-up to its existing line of Warm Delights. These desserts are packaged in a bowl designed for microwave heating. Minis come in individual serving sizes, contain 150 calories and can be prepared in less than three minutes.
Late last year, Hostess Twinkies repackaged itself into 100-calorie snack packs, introducing Twinkie Bites. It also introduced a snack pack featuring strawberry cupcakes as part of its 100-calorie pack line. Total industry sales of 100-calorie sweet snacks reportedly topped more than $400 million a year, whereas five years ago the category was almost nonexistent.
Clearly despite the battles it faces from economic challenges, many consumers are attracted to the single-serve, individual portion category.
Keebler takes packaging innovation prize
While the single serve packaging trend might face new challenges, don't expect individually or portion-controlled packaged foods to disappear. At Pack Expo® 2008, among the winners for packaging innovation was Keebler Take-Alongs™, cookies packaged in a six-cell white polypropylene perforated cookie tray designed for portion control and take-along convenience. The tray is perforated so consumers can separate out an individual serving, consisting of four cookies each, while the lid offers space for the manufacturer to advertise the contents. The Keebler Take-Alongs are available in Chips Deluxe® Original cookies or Sandies® Pecan Shortbread.
Alcan Packaging produces the peelable 3.7-mil barrier lidding at its facility in Batavia, Ill., using polyethylene terephthalate (PET)/polyvinylidene chloride (PVdC)/print/low-density polyethylene (LDPE)/white PE/peelable ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). This results in a portable snack with at least a six- to nine-month shelf life.