Candy bar manufacturer Mars, Inc. made news this week following an announcement that by the end of 2013, none of its candy bars would surpass the 250-calorie mark (a regular-sized Snickers bar currently clocks in at 280).
The general response by many in the health and nutrition community was a positive one. Certainly, taking away a 540-calorie king-size Snickers as an option is a good thing (after all, why buy the “regular” size if, for just a few more cents, you could have one almost twice as large, right?).
I, however, see this as nothing more than tried-and-true Big Food spin.
First of all, the replacement for king-size Snickers bars is the “2ToGo”, which contains two 220-calorie bars in one package. In other words, it is still possible to purchase a 440-calorie package of candy. Mars, Inc. says the package can be resealed so you can “save one for later.”
Ring any bells? It does to me. This sounds an awful lot like the 100-calorie snack pack “boom” in the early 2000s. As Michele Simon explains in her book Appetite for Profit:
“The food industry is very good at turning criticism into a marketing opportunity. In the case of 100-calorie packs, their ostensible purpose is to deter consumption of the entire box in a single sitting (as if tearing open consecutive packages wouldn’t occur to anyone). The food industry has magnanimously offered to save consumers from themselves by marketing higher-priced portion-control versions of highly processed foods.”
The “2ToGo” bars are, as made clear by the name, two candy bars. “Saving one for later” can mean having one after lunch and one after dinner. That is still 440 calories of junk food in a day via one purchase.
I am also dismayed that this is framed as Mars “downsizing” its products. I beg to differ. More accurately, they are no longer producing ridiculously large “single-serving” candy bars. Not surprisingly, the food industry wants to be congratulated for slaying the very monster it created.
I am also troubled that “the company says it wants to be an industry leader, helping its customers enjoy “responsible snacking.” Not only is this mired in all-too-familiar ‘personal responsibility’ rhetoric, it also takes the “calories above all else” approach. That is to say, that lower-calorie versions of nutritionally-empty foods are automatically awarded the “good choice” stamp.
I am certainly not in the “calorie denying” camp, but this obsession with calories is rarely about health. It too often overlooks food composition (regardless of caloric content, many Mars products still contain artificial dyes, hydrogenated oils, and other unhealthful ingredients) and is usually finagled into a way for Big Food to pat itself on the back for “offering solutions” to the damage it has inflicted.
I prefer to save my cheers and congratulations for public health advocates.