Does the king-size still reign under a different guise?

The death of king-size chocolate bars was hailed as one of the first successes in the UK’s battle against obesity. Both Cadbury Trebor Bassett and Masterfoods unveiled plans to axe their king-size bars to coincide with the launch of the Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF) Manifesto on Food and Health in September 2004. But 15 months after the announcement there is a growing feeling among food and health groups that they have been “duped”. While it is true that the “king-size” is disappearing, there are accusations that it is cynically being replaced by “sharing” formats, and that bars have remained the same size.

Confectionery industry insiders say larger block chocolate bars will be one of the key areas for increasing both volume and value sales this year. Cadbury is increasing the size of its 200g Dairy Milk range to 250g as standard. One source says: “The 200g-plus bars will be the major battleground this year.” She adds that manufacturers are using this new strategy because it enables them to continue promoting larger chocolate bars – under the banner of offering more to share – but at a higher starting price.

Other innovations in the larger bar formats include Masterfoods’ relaunch of Mars and Snickers Big Ones under the Duo format (MW October 20). The bars are the same size as the original Big Ones but allow consumers to snap the bar in half, encouraging them either to share it or save some for later. The confectioner is also rebranding Twix Kingsize as Twix Xtra and the larger Galaxy bars as Galaxy “A little extra”.

Insiders say Masterfoods is also considering phasing out its smaller grab-bag formats, such as Maltesers, so that the larger pouches it offers for sharing would become the standard size. Masterfoods denies it is looking at such plans.

The FDF claims the commitment made in the manifesto to explore new approaches for individual portion sizes to help reduce over-consumption has been fulfilled by offering consumers a range of different pack sizes and formats. Nestlé Rowntree has gone one step further, adding nutritional information on the front of packs.

But Charlie Powell, project officer at Sustain, which campaigns on behalf of a number of food and children’s groups, labels the “sharing” concept “completely ridiculous” and “a big, fat excuse” for not meeting the pledge. He also points out that deals such as “50 per cent extra free” and “buy one, get one free” are no different to super-sizing. Powell says: “The industry clearly has no intention of sticking to the expressed commitment. It shows that it is not capable of adhering to self-regulation.”

That said, the confectionery category has changed. The number of “sharing” products has grown significantly in recent years. And Cadbury points to its smaller “under 99 calories” Dairy Milk Bars it has launched. Meanwhile, Masterfoods is rebranding its king-size range in new formats and Nestlé’s largest bar is a 150g Aero “family” product.

A spokeswoman for the FDF denies manufacturers have reneged on the commitment. She says: “They have made great strides in offering consumer choice.” But critics argue that new formats, allowing consumers to stock up for later, simply mean that consumption is spread across the day rather than reduced.

While the FDF believes there is no need to nanny consumers, there is growing disquiet among health groups that larger, calorie-dense products are still available.

Caroline Parry

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