Food Consumer News: Let's Go Small

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Signs that food retailers are reversing trends in food serving sizes; Google offers employees free healthy foods at its corporate HQ.

There are signs that food retailers are finally reversing the trend in serving sizes, and responding to the rising number of consumers looking for meals that are tasty and just-big-enough.

Starbucks has experimented for several months now with "petite" desserts, tiny portions of sweet stuff priced at $1.50 apiece (cheap for Starbucks!).  The top seller is the Birthday Cake Pop, "a couple of bites of rounded, icing-covered cake on a stick."

The idea has been so successful that Starbucks is building on it by introducing Bistro Boxes, small meals with less than 500 calories.  Entrees includes Sesame Noodles and a Chicken Lettuce Wrap. 

Kraft and Coca-Cola are also "beefing up" their line-up of small-portioned, low-calorie "foods" (er...make that "offerings").

This is a nice change -- portion size is certainly important -- but calorie counts alone don't ensure that a food is healthy. The ingredients matter. To that end, Google is taking a slightly different tack.

At its California headquarters, Google offers its employees wholesome foods free of charge and in virtually unlimited quantities.  The food program is intended to promote employee health and environmental values.  The Google campus is dotted with organic vegetable gardens where employees are free to pick and eat as they please.  At its cafeterias, plates are small, and foods are color-coded for health factors. Breaking from the food industry norm, the healthy foods are the ones stocked at eye level.

The only places where people pay for food are at the vending machines, where the prices are scaled according to sugar and fat content.  A gram of trans fat in a snack adds a dollar to the price.  So prices range from 15 cents (for a granola bar) to $4.25 (for a large chocolate bar).  

As the article and its attached comments acknowledge, there are problems with Google's policy.  Some employees report gaining weight since arriving at Google.  The all-you-can-eat policy requires some learning and self-discipline on employees' part, and it doesn't change the fact that spending long hours in the workplace has bad consequences for our diets.  But Google's actions represent a refreshing attitude by a big company toward its workers' wellness.  I remember when Microsoft was the booming tech giant, they made news by plying their young programmers with free soda and M&Ms.  The Google approach is bound to be an improvement!


John James, M.A.

Research Analyst, Clergy Health Initiative

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