The triumphant advance of mini-packs

The industry wants to take account of the new eating habits with packaged food in ever smaller quantities. The trend is likely to drive prices up and is not exactly environmentally friendly. FAZ.NET shows what consumers can do about it.

The contents of the coffee capsules are tasty, but not only cause a lot of waste.

Cola in 0.15-liter cans, Nutella in mini-jars and salmon in 50-gram packs: consumers in German supermarkets are increasingly finding food in unusually small portions. For Wolfgang Adlwarth from the Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung, however, this is not surprising: “There is a trend towards small packs,” observes the retail expert.

One of the pioneers of the trend is the American beverage giant Coca-Cola. In April, after a number of regional test runs, he is bringing a new mini can onto the market nationwide alongside the classic beverage can with 330 milliliters of cola – with just 150 milliliters of effervescence. From June there will also be Fanta in mini packs. “We know from market analyzes that consumer demand for smaller packaging in particular is increasing,” emphasized a company spokesman. “People have become more mobile, they consume more on the go, and households are getting smaller. Some also pay more attention to sugar and calories, ”says the beverage giant. All of this is fueling interest in smaller pack sizes.

The mini trend – not just for lemonade

In fact, the mini-trend doesn’t just apply to lemonade. Even sweeter spreads such as nut nougat cream are increasingly ending up in smaller packaging with Germans than the classic 250-gram jars in their shopping trolleys. “We are currently seeing strong growth in smaller packaging sizes, albeit at a comparatively low level,” reports Nina Gemko, expert for consumer trends at Nielsen in this area. Smaller, higher-priced containers in particular developed very positively.

The triumphant advance of mini-packs is being spurred on by several current trends, says industry expert Adlwarth. One reason for this is the growing number of single households and senior citizens, for whom the classic package sizes are often oversized. Another growth driver is the trend towards out-of-home consumption. If you want to have a snack in between at lunchtime, a portion pack is simply better served.

The new formats are also of interest to retailers and manufacturers, emphasizes Adlwarth. Because they often promise higher profit margins. The fact is: If you buy coffee in capsules, you pay several times the price of “normal” filter coffee for one kilogram of beans. Even those who buy cola in the new mini can must expect to pay significantly more per liter than when buying a larger container.

The mountain of packaging waste grows and grows

But that’s not the only disadvantage of the mini-packs. The mountain of packaging waste is also growing and growing. According to figures from the Federal Environment Agency, it rose to a record 18.15 million tons in 2015. 8.5 million of these were accounted for by private consumers – that was 1.4 percent more than in the previous year and a good 15 percent more than in 2009, as packaging expert Gerhard Kotschik from the Federal Environment Agency says. More recent figures are not yet available. For the time being, however, Kotschik does not see any legal options for containing this flood. Rather, consumers are also asked to avoid unnecessary packaging when shopping.

What is certain is that many customers are annoyed by pre-portioned salads, vegetables in plastic trays and voluminous plastic sausage packs with little content. This was also recently revealed by a survey by the Hamburg Consumer Center, in which many people complained about unnecessary packaging and hidden price increases due to shrinking fill quantities. But countermeasures can be taken with a few simple tips, says Tristan Jorde from the consumer center: Go to the store with your own cloth bag and, if possible, grab regional and loose foods or products in reusable containers, advises the environmental expert.

The best role model for Jorde is the weekly market: there, too, customers have it in their own hands to buy fruit, vegetables and other products loose and in exactly the quantities they need and to be filled into bags and baskets they have brought with them – without any further elaborate packaging.