Food companies shrink portions to target solo consumers

Dive Brief:

  • Instead of focusing on marketing to traditional suburban family units, more companies are now catering to urban, single-person households, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • About 28% of households, or 35.7 million Americans, live alone today. That is more than double the 13% that lived alone in 1960, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  
  • In single-person households, less is more in terms of portions. Although these individuals consume less, they are willing to pay more to do so, according to research reported by the Journal. 

Dive Insight:

While families used to regularly gather for dinner, now that is no longer the standard as 62% of U.S. households are composed of single people or couples. Smaller families means different needs and companies are scrambling to discover them.

In the millennial and Gen Z demographics, portion size seems to be one of the dominating considerations when it comes to shopping for single consumers. A recent report funded by the American Bakers Association showed that 75% of millennial and Gen Z shoppers don't like wasting bread, and more than 20% won't buy a new loaf after throwing away an unused one away. With an engrained environmental conscientiousness, today's consumers are hyper aware of the more than 6 billion pounds of produce that goes to waste in its stores annually and aren't looking to contribute further to that figure.

In fact, according to the same report, more than half of the millennial and Gen Z consumers said they would purchase additional baked goods if they were offered in smaller portions. This is not a new revelation either. In 2017, Pinnacle Foods launched a Duncan Hines’ Perfect Size for One baking alternative, and around the same time,  Betty Crocker released single-serving Mug Treats that allow consumers to make one portion desserts. Eggs have also taken a hit due to the reduced need for large portions. Tyson Foods has responded to this by offering Jimmy Dean Simple Scrambles, which are microwavable eggs in a cup.

Snacking has also seen a rise in popularity as consumers turn toward small, conveniently packaged portions of foods like Sabra hummus singles, StarKist tuna pouch singles and Life's Grape raisin snack packs to satiate hunger painsinstead of three square meals.

Manufacturers who have answered the call and begun shrinking their packaging sizes have benefited. Atuna reported National Fisheries Institute data that showed individual pouch tuna sales have risen from 14% of sales in 2014 to 22% in 2018.  Coffee providers have also benefited from switching to individual portions. Single serve coffee grew 5.6% from 2015 to 2016 and then another 3.7% the year following to reach $4.5 billion, according to data from Mintel.

Smaller portions are also often more convenient and limit the cooking time required in the kitchen — something that can be invaluable to time-pressed consumers. They are also portable, which is a consideration for many consumers. In 2017, the USDA said that half of peoples' food budgets went toward foods that were easy to prepare and eat.

Although manufacturers stand to gain from shrinking, they should keep a pulse on one potential wrinkle: packaging. With more individual portions, comes more packaging with potential environmental challenges. But if companies can draw attention to how they're reducing waste in their operations while shrinking portion sizes, there is a good chance they will reap the rewards of consumer loyalty.

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