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Coke and Smarties: better for you at last?

Coke and Smarties are watching their weight with new packaging

More is better. That’s why people flock to Coscto for economy tubs of pickles, and say “yes” to supersized fries. But with obesity on their minds, consumers are ever-watchful of portion control. Now two iconic, albeit sugary, brands are answering the call.

Coca-Cola and Nestlé’s Smarties are launching updated versions of their products. For Coke: smaller serving sizes and less sugar. For Smarties: packages designed to limit the number of sweets eaten in a sitting.

The fact that Coke was sweeter in Canada may have surprised some. But with sugary sodas under the media glare, bringing the Canuck sweetness in line with Coke in other parts of the world seems an obvious move. It reduces a Coke’s calories by 8%.

Taste tests done before the launch “gave us the confidence to go forward,” says Shannon Denny, director of brand communications for Coca-Cola. “Consumers are looking to balance the number of calories they consume while still enjoying the products they love.”

Coke is also shrinking its most popular bottle to 500 ml <1>, which is 15% smaller than the 591 ml standard; and adding a “sleek” can of 310 ml <2> versus 355 ml. It’s also making mini-cans <3>, which clock in at 222 ml, and 237 ml classic glass bottles more available through additional in-store displays and racking. Mini-can sales were up 15% in North America in Coke’s last quarter.

For Smarties, new boxes <6> feature three chambers, each containing 15 of the candies. An individual portion has 10.6 grams of sugar, 70 calories and two grams of fat. The 45 Smarties in new packs is less than the 50 count of the previous box. A cello bag <4> and cannister <5> with lids to measure portions, have also been added.

“Portioning and taking a leadership stance in health and wellness is critical in this category,” says Ryan Denys, marketing director of confectionery at Nestlé. The redesign started after market research “to help guide the consumer on finding the most responsible portion.” Nestlé will get the word out via Facebook and Instagram, initially, then add TV ads.

Patricia McQuillan, president of Toronto marketing consultancy Brand Matters, says she’s “hopeful about both changes.” She believes Coke and Smarties are responding to important consumer issues, which should set them up as trend leaders. And she tips her hat particularly to the packaging adjustments. “You can only take so much sugar out of your candy or soft drink. Portion control is the next logical stage.”

McQuillan predicts Smarties’ price will go up (the company says no; though the new box costs more to produce), and Coke’s will go down. “In my consumer packaged goods experience, when we brought about a smaller format, our margins increased. Nestlé is adding more value innovating packaging, but Coke is taking away from its packaging. I would think Coca-Cola will have the opportunity to increase their profit margin once the cost of the changes has been absorbed.”

Whether people will end up consuming fewer calories from Coke and Smarties remains to be seen. But Ara Wiseman, a Toronto nutritional expert and author, says the changes show CPGs are going against the supersizing trend. “That’s leading to more awareness. And awareness is the first step in becoming healthier.”

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