The True Cost of the 100-Calorie Snack Pack

A little pleasure, a lot of weight, an altogher bigger footprint?

ByABC News
July 14, 2008, 4:45 PM

July 15, 2008 — -- Snackers beware: Nutritionists say smaller snack packs, often touted as low-calorie, heart-healthy treats, may not be your ticket to a smaller waistline -- or a smaller environmental footprint, for that matter.

"One hundred calorie packs are, in my view, a clever marketing ploy that's bad for consumers and bad for the environment," Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life Clinic at the Children's Hospital Boston, told "Consumers pay more money for junk food wrapped in smaller packages, but of the same outrageously poor quality as any other junk food."

After decades of supersize portions, fast-food companies and mega food producers are trying to fight obesity and make a profit by shrinking their prepackaged portion sizes into smaller, bite-size packs. According to some statistics, that effort is working.

Smaller containers save big-name food companies a penny or two in production, and sales of 100-calorie packs have passed the $200-million-a-year mark in the last three years, according to Information Resources, a Chicago-based firm that tracks product sales. The firm also reports that Chips Ahoy snack packs saw $29 million in sales last year; Oreo snack packs, $27 million; while Ritz snack mix raked in $16 million.

But given health and environmental concerns, what's good for their profits may not be ideal for your health or your wallet.

The production costs of food are up significantly from a year ago, but the downsizing of item size is disproportionate. In other words, food producers are putting less product into every item but charging the same amount in an effort to pass some of the costs along to the consumers.

Take Edy's ice cream. The company has shrunk its containers by 14 percent but hasn't shrunk its cost. So the smaller container will cost a family the same as the original price of the larger container. (Although with an obesity rate of about 34 percent among adults, Americans could stand to eat less ice cream). And buying an extra container means additional cardboard and plastic that needs to be disposed of, not to mention the added hit to the family's wallet. Landfills could become fuller, production eco costs could increase, and eventually, even transportation costs for the added volume could increase.