In November, British newspaper the Observer carried out research to find that across a basket of 10 Christmas treats, including Cadbury’s Roses, KP Dry Roasted Peanuts and Asda’s chocolate coins, every single item weighed less than they did last year.
In Australia, the issue has become so widespread that consumer group Choice has urged shoppers to be wary of manufacturers who downsize portions without reducing prices.
One notorious example of this happened last year and involved Cadbury. Having drastically downsized its Dairy Milk blocks by one-fifth to 200g (while switching the packaging from paper to cardboard to help disguise the change) in 2009, Cadbury last year advertised that its blocks would have “10% extra joy” as it increased their size to 220g.
Meanwhile, Nestlé reduced the size of its Club blocks by 10% but maintained the size of its Kit Kat bars as it took pot shots at Mars Australia and Cadbury, saying: “In uncertain times like these, it’s comforting to know that Kit Kat still offers you the same sized ‘Break’ of delicious chocolate and crispy wafer.” Perhaps a case of a confectionery manufacturer speaking with forked tongue.
But now Nestlé has changed its tone, if not its approach, and billed the halving of the size of its popular Allen’s Killer Python jellies as part of a health initiative. It has backed this up by reducing prices so the price-to-weight ratio will remain the same.
The company has just announced the change in New Zealand, a month after the Australian market went through the same downsizing. It has also reduced the size of Smarties “fun size” boxes from 20g to 16g.
“Nestlé New Zealand is shrinking the Killer Python to treat size, a move aimed at bringing confectionery serves down to scale,” the company said in a statement. “The move is part of Nestlé’s efforts to help New Zealanders better manage their health, by communicating clear and reasonable food portion sizes, especially treats.”
The new Killer Pythons weigh in at 24g, or 336kJ, compared with the original 47g, 630kJ version, and are one of the first products in the company’s confectionery range to include a consumer-friendly portion icon on its pack.
Nestlé’s Martin Brown said that resizing the Killer Python was only the beginning of this initiative.
“We’re now offering confectionery with responsibly sourced ingredients, on-pack portion education and changes such as revised portion sizes and re-sealable packaging,” he said.
“We know some of the fans will be outraged, but this is the right thing to do. It is part of helping people improve their nutrition, health and wellness.”
The response to the move on social media hasn’t amounted to consumer “outrage” yet, but there has still been some ill feeling, especially as Australians are very protective of Killer Pythons, a family favourite over generations.
“Really do we think this actually helps [to reduce obesity]?” asked one Twitter commentator, while another suggested the person who made the call to halve the size of Killer Pythons was a “f****** d****”.
Alex Perrottet, a journalist from Auckland, asked: “Who do @Nestle think they are kidding over the marketing of shorter killer pythons? Healthy eating choices? Think about the children! #fail.”
Nestlé’s nutrition manager, Susan Kevork, said that shrinking confectionery portions to a more appropriate single serve is one step in helping people control their nutritional intake.
"Telling people to cut all treat foods from their diet is unrealistic and unachievable in the long term..”
Dietitian Melanie McGrice said that reducing the serving size of confectionary helps people who have trouble judging portion size control their calorie intake.
“A 10 year old can now run off a Killer Python in around 30 minutes. With the previous size, it would have taken almost an hour,” Grice said.