home PACKAGING Larger food pack sizes increase consumer estimates of portion sizes, new study finds

Larger food pack sizes increase consumer estimates of portion sizes, new study finds

Brussels 7 October 2015: The size of a food package can influence people’s perception of portion size.

Larger food pack sizes can increase consumer estimates of portion sizes finds a new study completed by the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) and the University of Surrey.

The results of the study, published in the journal Appetite, found that crisps, chocolate, lasagne and cola type drinks all showed evidence of increased portion size estimates when participants were presented with larger pack sizes. This was also observed for multiple food items such as chicken nuggets, sweets and biscuits where participants were asked how many items make up a portion.


“Our results indicate a small but significant ‘pack size effect’ across all countries and for different types of food and drinks. If people were to actually consume the portions they estimated in this study, this would result in a substantial increase in energy intake in each of these eating occasions,” said Dr Sophie Hieke, Head of Consumer Insights at EUFIC.

The study calls for more research to better understand how people estimate portions for example by studying whether people see portions and portions mentioned on food packs as a realistic amount of food or drink someone is likely to consume in one sitting as opposed to something someone should consume in one sitting.
“Answering this question would give us insight into the conceptualisation of food portions in people’s minds and the rationale behind the ratings people give in portion size experiments,” said Professor Monique Raats, Director of the University of Surrey’s Food, Consumer Behaviour and Health Research Centre.

The study, which was carried out on a sample of 13,177 participants in six European countries: France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK, found gender to be an important factor. Despite both men and women reporting larger portion sizes overall, men presented a larger portion size increase and were more affected by larger pack sizes. Differences were also observed between countries involved in the study even though portion sizes increased overall in every country when presented with larger pack sizes. The participants from Sweden, Poland and Germany indicated a larger portion size increase compared to those in Spain, France and the UK when presented with the same pack size.

Participants who regarded portion information on food and drink packages to be irrelevant displayed a tendency to estimate larger portion sizes compared with those who regarded the portion information on packaging as relevant. Age also played a role; increased age was associated with smaller portion size estimates.

The authors note that the study did not measure actual intake and that further research would be needed to test whether the increases in portion sizes do lead to the predicted increase in energy intakes over time and whether or not that effect is compensated and indeed results in an actual increased intake.

Hieke, S, Palascha, A, Jola, C, Wills, J, Raats, M (2015). The pack size effect: influence on consumer perceptions of portion sizes. Online preview: Appetite. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.09.025

The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) is a non-profit organisation which communicates science-based information on nutrition and health, food safety and quality, to help consumers to be better informed when choosing a well-balanced, safe and healthful diet.

EUFIC research is conducted and written up in conjunction with academic experts for submission to and publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Other content produced by EUFIC is reviewed by a scientific advisory board and editorial board of academics before publication. EUFIC receives funding from companies in the European food and drink sector, and from the European Commission on a project basis.

For more information about EUFIC visit www.eufic.org

About the University of Surrey
The University of Surrey is one of the UK’s leading professional, scientific and technological universities with a world class research profile and a reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Ground-breaking research at the University is bringing direct benefit to all spheres of life – helping industry to maintain its competitive edge and creating improvements in the areas of health, medicine, space science, the environment, communications, defence and social policy. Programmes in science and technology have gained widespread recognition and it also boasts flourishing programmes in dance and music, social sciences, management and languages and law. In addition to the campus on 150 hectares just outside Guildford, Surrey, the University also owns and runs the Surrey Research Park, which provides facilities for 110 companies employing 2,750 staff.

Food, Consumer Behaviour and Health Research Centre
The major driving force behind the University of Surrey’s Food Consumer Behaviour and Health Research Centre is the need to translate basic biological knowledge on food safety, diet and health in order to facilitate the improvement of people’s lives. The Centre’s research is wide ranging in terms of topics being addressed (e.g. food choice, policy development, food labelling), and methodologies used (e.g. qualitative, quantitative, stakeholder consultation). Through a variety of nationally and internationally funded projects the Centre’s research seek to understand how to change food-related behaviour; communicate effectively about food-related risks and benefits; and engage the public in food-related scientific debate and policy decision making.