Why 'downsizing' will replace 'upsizing' over the coming decade.

After an era of ‘do you want fries with that?’ and current widespread offers to upsize for little additional cost, many are starting to realise that ‘value’ measured in dollars, is not always real 'value' when it comes to personal health. 

Excessive portions are one of the key contributors to rising levels of obesity in Western countries. A significant amount of academic research shows the amount of food that’s in front of us is strongly correlated to the amount we eat. 

We find it hard to resist eating when food is readily available – even if it tastes bad.

In a classic study by researchers at Cornell University - Bad Popcorn in Big Buckets - movie goers were given free popcorn that was either fresh or stale (14 days old) in either a medium sized container (120g) or a large bucket (240g). 

At the end of the movie the researchers measured how much popcorn had been eaten and found those who ate from the large buckets ate 45% more than those who were given the medium sized containers. 

Even if the popcorn was stale, they still ate 33% more if the container was large.

Mindlessly eating what’s in front of us is common human behaviour. And many people know they need help to manage the amount they eat.

Ipsos Food CHATs research identified last year, that the second highest priority Australians had for the 12 months ahead when it came to their food habits was to reduce their portions.

One of the key phrases I hear in practise is ‘I know what to eat, I just don't know how much to eat'

Helping people eat less is important and rewarding.

It’s good for business as small sizes sell well. The uptake of medium sized meals when eating out and the growth of baby cakes and mini muffins are two examples.

It’s good for people’s health. It helps reduce the risk of ‘stuffocation’ by training us to eat to our needs rather than eating more than we need just because food is there.

It’s good for the planet as smaller portion sizes mean food goes further, drawing less on the resources needed to produce it.

But food businesses can be afraid of downsizing. Afraid that customers will walk away hungry, that they will think they haven’t received good value, that they are inferior to their competitors because they are offering less. 

But as Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book ‘Big Magic’ - fear is boring. ‘Fear is a mass-produced item available on the shelves of any generic box store’.

Addressing fear requires courage and the reward is creativity. Creativity leads to innovation, differentiation and a potential competitive advantage.

In the area of downsizing, food businesses can face their fear and create a point of difference by:

  • Focusing on quality rather than quantity
  • Advertising food enjoyment over value based on price
  • Providing education and/or an atmosphere conducive to slow and mindful eating
  • Offering ‘medium’ sized plates and portions
  • Developing foods and meals based on health and taste, rather size and fries

For individuals, the fear of eating smaller portions is based on a fear of being hungry. This can be addressed by trialling:

  • Eating mindfully. Eat without distraction and notice when you feel satisfied.
  • Being fussy - value taste over volume.
  • Eating until you are 80% full then stopping.
  • Serving yourself 20% less. Then waiting 10 minutes before deciding if you need to go back for seconds.
  • Choosing 'medium' or 'small' over large or extra-large.

 If innovation is about solving people's problems, 'downsizing' presents a significant opportunity.