In an effort to cinch America's ever-expanding waistline, many companies have begun offering snacks in 100-calorie packs.
But while the goal may be to help people slim down by controlling their snacking, the extra convenience costs extra money, according to a new study from the Center for Science in Public Interest.
The agency found that 100-calorie portions of Chex Mix and Keebler Deluxe Cookies cost three-and-a-half times more per ounce than the regular-sized packages. Snack-sized Cheese Nips cost nearly four times as much.
For example, if you buy a large bag of the regular Chex Mix snack and separate out a portion equal to 100 calories, it would cost about 25 cents, while the 100-calorie pack is 87 cents. The Keebler Chips Deluxe Family Size Cookies cost 16 cents per 100 calories, but buying the prepacked snack raises the price to 56 cents.
"These are extraordinary premiums that people are paying for the little convenience that they're getting," said Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Some consumers said they love the snack packs because the limited number of calories curbs their munchies at a small cost.
"It's not a lot of calories all at once, and it satiates my craving," one woman said.
That may help explain why in the just three years snack pack sales have reached more than $200 million.
But others said it's more about hype than health.
"When you buy a regular pack it costs a lot less and you get a lot more," another female consumer said.
Yet snack manufacturers said they're not trying to pull a fast one by charging more for less. General Mills said that due to increased manufacturing and packaging costs, the smaller portions are more expensive to produce. Nabisco explained that most of its 100-calorie snacks are not just smaller versions of the classics and that actually the taste and quantity were developed just for this purpose.
Kellogg's added that it acts as a built-in stop sign, which can help consumers manage their calories. And Hostess said its goal was to create a portion-controlled product that was still satisfying.
But even with portion control it's still possible to gorge on the snacks.
"You have to be careful. If you tend to not stop at one package you can run into trouble," said nutritionist Lisa Drayer.
For example, by splurging and eating two 100-calorie packs of Hostess Mini Cupcakes, suddenly a person has consumed more calories than if he or she had eaten one large Hostess cupcake.
And Jacobson said people should realize the types of foods that are in the snack packs.
"I think it's important to note that none of these foods are really health foods. We're talking cookies and crackers -- foods that we really shouldn't be eating much of anyhow," Jacobson said.