Video: Downsizing food portions

By Rehema Ellis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/18/2004 8:02:06 PM ET 2004-02-19T01:02:06

It’s lunch time at Quizno’s sandwich shop in Denver — for years serving up giant, over-stuffed sandwiches for the super-sized American appetite. “You want the cheese and onions?” the clerk asks.

But now fast-food customer Dean Cogswell is downsizing his meals. “They had the smaller portions, which I wanted,” he says.

Quizno’s is accommodating customers like Cogswell, offering a 16-ounce sandwich in addition to a compact 4.5 ounce mini-melt.

“There was a demand for it. It was needed on our menu to satisfy our consumers who didn’t want a regular-sized sandwich,” says Zach Calkins, head of Quizno’s.

Quizno's efforts are just one example of a new trend in the food industry to reign in what industry analysts call out-of-control portion sizes. According to Merrill Lynch food analyst Leonard Teitelbaum, “We’ve come through virtually a generation that thought bigger had to be better and now we seem to be going the other way.”

In the era of the Big Gulp, soda giant Coca Cola is now introducing new 12-ounce bottles, while Pepsi is offering 8-ounce cans.

Why? Companies are responding to changing demands from aging, weight-conscious baby boomers and warnings about rising obesity rates, especially in children.

“The increase in portion sizes and rates of obesity have been increasing together since the 1970s and '90s,” according to Penn State nutritionist Dr. Barbara Rolls.  Rolls says her research shows that when you give people more they’ll eat more.

But, smaller isn’t necessarily cheaper. The new downsized sodas cost as much as 43-percent more per ounce.  And, market analysts say it’s a big gamble whether consumers will buy into the change.  “If they feel the price-value relationship is not sufficient for them they’re gonna pass on the product,” Teitelbaum says.

But food companies are banking that diet-conscious Americans are willing to pay more for less if it means healthier eating.

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