Confectioner Mars has admitted that it reduced the size of its Mars and Snickers chocolate bars by 7% in the second half of last year – but without telling anyone, and without reducing the price. Mars initially claimed that it made the move for public health reasons, i.e. as its contribution to the obesity battle – and then appeared to admit it was actually a cost-cutting measure. Either way, the bad news for us is that we didn’t imagine it: chocolate bars really are getting smaller. And for Mars, letting consumers find out like this can’t be great for the brand…
It seems that Mars and Snickers have been reduced from 62.5g to 58g (that's about two peanuts per Snicker) – but the price hasn’t been downsized to match. Apparently when Mars UK was first confronted about this (by the Daily Mail, of all people) it suggested this was an altruistic move, to stop kids getting fat on its chocolate bars – but then went on to suggest that rising costs were also to blame. The official statement, released yesterday, tried its best to fudge the two: ‘By slightly reducing portion sizes on Mars and Snickers we were able to continue to responsibly meet consumer demands for healthier lifestyles, whilst not increasing our prices.’
Now it’s no secret that food manufacturers have suffered from spiralling costs lately. And persuading kids to eat less chocolate by making bars smaller seems like a pretty decent start to any anti-obesity campaign. But the inevitable consequence of these mixed messages is that Mars has ended up in a rather sticky situation. Some will think that the company is using obesity as a smokescreen for cost-driven price hikes; others that they’re ripping off the customer by giving them less for their money, without admitting as much.
And there’s the rub, as far as Mars is concerned. If it had said last year that it was doing this (the tactic is apparently called the Grocery Shrink Ray in the US) and proffered either of these two explanations at the time, it would probably have elicited nothing more than a brief whinge from a few hardened fans. But by confessing under duress like this, Mars looks a bit disingenuous (to say the least). And that won’t be good for it in the long run. As watchdog Consumer Focus says: ‘Shrinking size but not price could damage consumers' trust in the brands they love.’
Still, at least Mars seems to have learned its lesson – it’s just started a similar initiative in Australia, but this time it’s actually plugging the reduction as an anti-obesity measure (admittedly a rather odd cause for a chocolate-maker to be espousing). Once bitten, twice shy.
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The incredible shrinking Mars bars