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Sugar’s web of influence 4: Mars and company: sweet heroes or villains?

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 11 February 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h220
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist, Suffolk, UK
  1. jgornall{at}

What really lies behind food companies’ willingness to downsize their products in the name of calorie reduction? Jonathan Gornall reports

Global confectioner Mars signed up to the government’s public health responsibility deal in 2011 and has since complied with pledges to reduce salt in its pasta sauces and lower the saturated fat content of some of its chocolate bars.

In 2013 the company announced that as part of its public health commitment it was going to cut the energy content in all of its single serving products to less than 250 calories by reducing their size. It was a move that Anna Soubry, former public health minister, described as “absolutely brilliant.” The company, she told The Grocer, “don’t have to do it but are doing it for all the right reasons.”1

But were they? Perhaps something else lay behind the company’s eagerness to reduce the size of its bars in all of its markets, not just the United Kingdom—much easier than reformulating—while keeping the price the same.

As The Grocer noted, the company had reduced the size of its bars before, without making any public health claims, “in the wake of big hikes in the cost of chocolate-making over the past decade.” In 2008, it had cut Mars and Snicker bars from 62.5 g to 58 g—again, while keeping the price the same.1

Prevailing economic conditions continue to favour such strategic cost cutting. At the end of 2013 Rabobank, a leading bank in the food and agriculture sectors, predicted correctly that sugar prices would increase by more than 8% in 2014. This, reported Confectionery News, would mean “confectioners will be dealt a double blow in 2014 as cocoa prices are also expected to surge as cocoa production fails to keep up with consumption.”2 In September …

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