What Would it Take for Retail Food Industry to Create Smaller Portion Sizes for Children?

Developing the business case for smaller portion sizes to prevent childhood obesity
    • December 16, 2005

In 2004, staff of Mathematica Policy Research, based in Princeton, N.J., analyzed marketplace conditions that might influence the retail food industry to produce and package food in smaller portions.

Key Activities

  • Under the grant, researchers:

    • Reviewed published scientific literature from disciplines relevant to the problem of obesity.
    • Conducted one-hour interviews, primarily by telephone, with 10 key informants in academia, government and industry.

Key Findings

  • In a report to RWJF, the researchers concluded:

    • The food industry is likely to continue producing larger-sized individual serving packages because they are profitable.
    • Reducing package size poses two significant risks for companies: loss of market share to competing firms due to higher unit price, and decreased product consumption due to smaller portion size.
    • Some consumers are beginning to demand smaller packages because of two consumer values: convenience and the perceived health benefits of portion control.
    • The threat of litigation could influence the food industry to produce smaller portions.
    • Government efforts to reduce portion size through the use of regulations or incentives are not likely to succeed.
    • The food industry is unlikely to produce smaller packages simply to encourage lower food consumption. This may change if the threat of litigation increases.
    • Consumer demand for smaller packages will exert the strongest influence on industry decisions about package size.
    • Because businesses are highly responsive to shifts in consumer demand, government efforts should focus on educating parents about the health benefits of portion control for themselves and for their children.