Bitte-Size Me
By Bev Bennett
Indulgent desserts in smaller portions go down easier for health-conscious consumers
McDonald’s isn’t the only company eliminating “supersize” from its vocabulary.
Take a look at the bakery counter. Cookies, cakes and pies are shrinking. Along with its generous brownies and calorie-packed pecan tarts, Whole Foods is offering two-bite versions. The supermarket freezer case is stocked with mini desserts. And the classic multi-tiered wedding cake is shrinking to a mere cupcake.
Desserts are being downsized for a number of reasons including health, portability, economy and changing demographics. For the weight-conscious consumer who wants his cake and diet, too, the shift couldn’t come at a better time.
When Sara Lee introduced its bite-size desserts about four years ago, the company saw the products as answering the need for immediate, individual and indulgent desserts, says Jonathan Bloom, brand manager, pies, for the Sara Lee Bakery Group in St. Louis. That’s changing.
“Convenience, health and wellness and indulgence [though contradictory] are the consumer decision factors now,” says Bloom.
The same desserts that satisfied the shopper’s wishlist a few years ago still can, Bloom says. The company honed its selection of Bites to include Sara Lee Chocolate Dipped Original Cheesecake; Chocolate Dipped Praline Pecan Cheesecake and Triple Chocolate Fudge Brownie.
Sara Lee’s Cobbler Anytime, in test markets in Florida and Georgia, is the newest offering in controlled servings. The product comes in two (4-ounce) individually wrapped cobblers to a package. Each cobbler will serve one or two.
So far Sara Lee Cobbler Anytime products are driving the cobbler category in the test market, up nearly 60%for the most recent four weeks, according to Bloom. The cobbler category nationally is flat by comparison.
Wholly Healthy desserts decided to trim its dessert portions as well. “Retailers tell us consumers are looking for smaller portions,” says Ken Hines, vice president of sales for the company.  “Baby boomers aren’t going to buy a 10-inch cake and have it sit on the counter and go bad.”
In response, Wholly Healthy recently rolled out Crumblettes. The company is offering a smaller slice of its pies as well.
“We make an 8-inch cherry pie, but I’m thinking of a 6-inch pie,” says Hines.
Dancing Deer also was advised to go small.
“We’re developing projects for a major gourmet retailer who asked for a smaller cookie than our standard nine-pack. Our [wholesale] customers want smaller options,” says Trish Karter, president and co-founder of the Boston-based company that sells home-style and decorated gift cookies to natural food stores and upscale outlets.
Her clients say perceived value requires the shift. A one-pound package of 30 (0.5-oz.) cookies seems like more than a 14 (1.25-oz.) cookie package. Going a step smaller, last summer’s line of 1/3 oz. decorated mini cookies has been a hit.
“Shoppers who are used to the one-and-one-fourth-ounce cookie are liking the new smaller cookie. We haven’t seen any downturn in sales for the larger cookie, but the smaller one is doing very well,” says Karter.
Even at the high end, shoppers are looking for smaller treats. Silver Goddess Brownies and Sweets in Baltimore wholesales individually wrapped brownie singles. Owner Joan Allen is planning a 6-in. round brownie and a four-pack of brownies as gift items for the upcoming holiday season.
“With the economy people want small indulgences; something gooey and luxurious, but not pearl earrings,” says Allen.
Eating better, but eating less is how Elizabeth Falkner, chef-owner of Citizen Cake in San Francisco describes her customers.
“People are shifting to better, tastier and smaller,” says Falkner, who is known for her cupcakes and “cupcake-ettes” with injected fillings and lavish frostings.
“Cupcakes are nostalgic and portable,” says Falkner. “People don’t want the 12-in. cake that they’ll either eat or that goes to waste.”  
There’s no doubt that miniaturization is appealing to the consumer, but what does this mean to food companies?
“The smaller you make [the product] the more expensive it gets per pound. You still have to name, package, market and distribute it,” says Karter.
For a company like Dancing Deer that puts a lot of handiwork into its frosted cookies, decorating a 1-oz. cookie takes as much labor as a 3-oz. one, says Karter.
Hines at Wholly Healthy also factors in his costs when he makes smaller desserts.
“I can’t cut my price that much because I still have costs for wrapping and transportation. You certainly get to a point of making a decision of whether the cost [of making and marketing] will allow you to downsize. You have to get so many units to a case to offset the freight,” Hines says.
Kraft Foods Inc. announced it would back away from a highly publicized plan to cut its portion sizes, according to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune. The company spokesperson said Kraft consumers wanted the choice of different serving sizes. Selling small batches works for Allen.
“I’m calorie conscious, so I don’t want a lot. I do want quality for my dollar. I want something intensely flavored and drop-dead wonderful,” she says.
Editor’s Note: Bev Bennett is a contributor to Stagnito’s New Products Magazine.