The Psychology of Small Packages


Sarah Nassauer, who reports on retail and consumer trends for The Wall Street Journal, explores the psychology of small packages. It turns out that subtle differences in food packaging encourage you to eat more or less.

Did you really eat that many cookies?

Packaged-food makers might know the answer, even if you don't. Aware that people snack a lot throughout the day, they continue to introduce new packaging that encourages consumers to eat their food anytime they have an urge to nibble, what some executives have dubbed “hand-to-mouth” eating.

The psychology behind how this affects eating behavior is complicated. Sometimes small amounts of food could drive you to eat more. There are cues savvy snackers can detect.

Hershey Co. HSY learned that individual wrappers on bite-size candy were getting in the way of people eating candy in certain settings, like in the car. The company responded with Reese's Minis, a small, unwrapped version of its classic Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, in a resealable bag. It facilitates “I-can-pop-one-in-my-mouth, on-the-go type of behavior,” says Michele Buck, senior vice president and chief growth officer for Hershey.

As part of what the company calls its “hand-to-mouth platform,” it recently introduced Rolo Minis, Twizzlers Bites and Jolly Rancher Bites—all small versions of the candies in resealable bags. Sales of unwrapped miniature chocolate rose about 14% in 2012 compared with the previous year, far faster than the 4% growth of miniature, wrapped chocolates, according to Nielsen data compiled for Hershey. Kit Kat Minis are coming in May.

Packaging is so influential that even a subtle hint seems to nudge people to stop eating.

(H/T Pablo)