Bakers Journal

Just a Taste

November 11, 2010
By Michelle Brisebois

For several years, trend-watchers have pointed to smaller portions as one of the food industry’s strongest shifts.

For several years, trend-watchers have pointed to smaller portions as one of the food industry’s strongest shifts.

Bite-sized is poised to be big. Consider taking a slice of the sliver market.

Especially in the gourmet market, smaller portions offer customers an affordable luxury. While consumers continue to struggle in the post-recession economy, small indulgences will remain a key opportunity for retailers.


The research firms have been bullish on portion sizes for a while now and the evidence is abundant. Mintel Menu Insights reported that in the U.S., mini food was the hot trend of 2008, striking the perfect “balance between sensibility and satisfaction.” Mini burgers dominated menus, along with mini desserts and sandwiches. These shifts were seen in everything from QSR to upscale dining. The popularity of cupcakes likely owes its momentum to a culinary curtailing by consumers. Tapas and sushi are other examples of smaller portions that have been gaining in popularity. With customers looking to dine out and experiment, and operators looking at new and efficient ways to deliver quality dishes at a reduced cost, small portions appear to be a trend that is right on the money. Mintel also reports that, “portion size influenced the purchase decisions of 15 per cent of respondents who purchase products from in-store bakeries, indicating that a small but growing number of consumers may appreciate the flexibility and choice of this bakery option.”

Many baby boomers are facing empty nests and only need food for two people. Smaller portions are more attractive because they suit small households mindful of wasting food. Companies such as Sara Lee Corp. and Rich Products are rolling out items that cater to these new empty nesters. To find the right balance of price, size and taste, Rich Products has introduced a new “Just Right Tonight” line of six-inch New York-style baked cheesecakes for the U.S. and Canadian markets. A big slab of cheesecake can be expensive. These smaller cheesecakes are offered at an affordable price. Rich Products positions these cakes as being a dessert that is perfect for the small, impromptu gathering or as an everyday dessert for small households.

Consumers are more adventurous than ever about trying new menu items. The appeal around small portions is often tethered to the fact that they allow people to try a variety of menu items. The smaller portion trend is so powerful because in tough economic times it allows them to fulfil their customers’ perception of value and their eagerness to experiment. Tasting menus are a cornerstone of winery restaurants, allowing customers to try small pours of a range of wines with each course. The customer gets to see how the different wines complement the different menu items and the winery benefits from increased sampling, which in turn increases the likelihood of a second or third bottle sale at the retail store.

Weight control
Many health-care organizations have cited ballooning portion sizes as a key driver of ballooning waistlines. In a post low-carb environment, fad diets seem to be giving way to sensible eating habits. According to a 2006 survey conducted by Mintel, 46 per cent of adult consumers frequently eat sweets, but 38 per cent feel guilty when they eat sweets such as cookies and cookie bars. It isn’t about not having dessert, it’s about having a taste and making it worth your while. The “100 calorie” item seems to be the popular benchmark for a variety of delicious treats, so look at your recipes and try to find a portion size that delivers a decadent 100 calories.

A point of difference
Mintel’s study suggests consumers are ready to shift away from their old buying habits toward more economical purchasing behaviour. Smaller bakeries are uniquely positioned to offer high-quality, single-serve options tailored to the needs of smaller households. Single-serve portions can also attract consumers who wish to try a new flavour without having to buy a whole item. Smaller bakeries are also able to create variety packs of different baked goods. Large manufacturers tend to shy away from assorted packaging because it’s often operationally inefficient for them at their scale of production.

It seems that paring down will be a recurring retail theme for the foreseeable future.  Bakers with the flexibility to cater to customer demand for smaller portions are well positioned to enjoy big business. Apparently it is true: less is more.

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