For most commentators the news that, from March, Charlie Bighams will begin to offer single portion versions of its premium ready meals, was yet further evidence of the trend towards overworked singletons lacking time to cook but still wanting good food. Yet, there may be more to it than that.
Recent research we commissioned indicated that consumers are concerned with waste and their waists, are interested in small quantities of the very best, and may be prepared to pay more for good things that come in small packages, particularly if those packages have the right allure.
Achieving brand elevation through reducing pack size can be a risky strategy, and it must be approached with caution, but for the brand manager looking to increase revenues and improve margins it is an idea that can hardly be ignored.
Approximately 60% of household food waste arises from products ‘not used in time’. This is £6.7 billion of produce ending up in the bin, and the food industry does appear to be catching up with consumer enthusiasm for tackling this issue.
As is so often the case in the food and drink industry it is provincial restaurants that are leading the trend. The UK’s first zero-waste restaurant, Silo, opened in Brighton’s North Laine towards the end of 2014. Its special compost machine is proudly displayed near the entrance, supplies are delivered in reusable containers, flour for bread is milled on site, and the toilets are flushed with waste from coffee machines.
It joins Skipchen – the Bristol café which only sells food that was due to be wasted, having reached its sell-by date or been surplus to the needs of restaurants and organisations – at the forefront of evolving consumer views on food waste.
We have never been so conscious of what we put into our mouths
Of course, alongside this drive to discard less is an increased awareness of, and concern for, the nutritional value of our foods. From the five-and-two diet to the paleo craze, we have never been so conscious of what we put into our mouths.
In our recent white paper ‘Elevating Brands’ we highlighted how the age of austerity which followed the long era of indulgence, has now given way to an age of consequences, where consumers have a little money to spend but carefully consider how they spend it. Nowhere is this more true than in our food and drink purchases.
In other sectors reducing pack sizes has produced startling outcomes. In September 1998 the UK government brought in legislation to restrict the packet size of paracetamol sold over the counter. In the decade that followed, deaths due to paracetamol poisoning fell by 43% – an average of 68 lives saved every year.
Emma Clifford, senior food analyst at Mintel, believes that there is as much enthusiasm for reducing food and drink pack sizes. “The notable interest from the younger generation in packaging that helps them with portioning products indicates that this is seen as a useful added-value feature for packaging,” she says. “It can also boost products’ green credentials through helping to combat food waste. Such features could also be positioned as an easy way for consumers to manage their portion sizes to capitalise on the large numbers of dieters in the UK.”
Is it simply concern for our health and our overflowing landfill sites which is driving this change? Not entirely. Many of the more astute brand managers are recognising that consumers increasingly perceive large items to be “value” whilst smaller ones are “premium”. There is evidence that by reducing pack sizes you can increase prices.
Take Cathedral City cheese which in 2013 reduced its pack size from 400g to 350g and in so doing boosted volume and value growth. Or Blossom Hill which began selling its Zinfandel wine in 50cl bottles and became a Facebook sensation overnight.
Our research indicated an enthusiasm for taking this even further: some 15% of adults have either bought or would be interested in buying individual sachets of certain products, such as table sauces or sweet/savoury spreads. A recent rare example of a brand in the UK responding to this trend came from Kallo Foods, which launched its Whole Earth Crunchy Peanut Butter in 32g Ease-Squeezy sachets at the end of 2013.
It is worth noting that not all consumers appreciate their favourite brands using this strategy. Consumer group Which? analysed the shifts in size and price of popular brands between November 2011 and October 2012 and found many were shaving small percentages off sizes whilst maintaining prices.
To be fair to the manufacturers this was largely an attempt to maintain an acceptable price point in the face of rising commodity prices, but it made them look like they were trying to con consumers and it created difficult headlines for those brands. We saw the furore surface again in January 2015 when Cadbury took a crème egg out of its box of six.
In order to achieve a premium price whilst taking away product a food brand must offer the consumer something extra, and in most cases this means elevating the packaging. Carefully crafting and layering packaging design, introducing premium cues, and presenting an item to treasure can help the consumer to see the product in a new, elevated light.
It is not an easy trick to pull off, but get it right and a brand may even be able to emulate the achievement of 2014 Dragon’s Den contestant Harriot Pleydell-Bouverie. Her company, Mallow & Marsh, is now listed in Sainsbury’s on a year’s contract, offering a box of three individual marshmallows, in flavours like peppermint and dark chocolate, for £2.50. A whole bag of the supermarket’s own-brand marshmallows retails at under £1.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019