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What's the BIG DEAL About Small Snacks?

By Kerry O'NeilSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / January 28, 1993



BOSTON

`BITE-SIZE is the right size, man!" So trumpets Bart Simpson on a box stuffed with miniature Butterfinger candy inside Choice Mart, a convenience store here.

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It's a big-name endorsement for tiny hand-to-mouth food and one of the many telling signs that a miniature food revolution is alive and well in America.

Indeed, in any food store in this country today, a growing number of snacks labeled "bite-size" or "mini" have invaded both check-out counters and snack-food aisles.

A recent stroll through Purity Supreme in nearby Cambridge, Mass., for instance, revealed a hefty list of petite snacks ranging from Brownie Bites and Mini Muffins to Granola Bites and Mini Rice Cakes - as well as a host of button-size versions of old-time favorites: Mini Oreos, Nutter Butter Bites, and Bite-Size Pecan Sandies.

So what's with this wave of tiny food products? Why now, and why here - in a land deeply planted in notions of "bigger is better"?

Americans demand "convenience and portability," says Kerry Lyman, a spokesperson for Continental Baking Company. Hostess, one of the company's subsidiaries, packages its tiny brownies and muffins in plastic bags. The products have been a success, she says, because "people like something easy to eat on the run." Hostess is currently test-marketing mini-cinnamon rolls.

Victoria Yuen, a 13-year-old from Boston who totes her lunch daily, adds that the nicest thing about tiny cookies is that "they don't crumble." Minis combat cookie slump

Executives in the cookie industry point to a slow market, and not consumer demand, as the driving force behind the mini-cookie trend. Indeed, since the soft-cookie war of the mid-1980s, Nabisco, Keebler, and Sunshine have shown profits as flat as a Midwest horizon. Today's tough times - stemming from an American public that is pinching both waistlines and pennies, and a recent growth of private labels - has left the industry scrambling for new products that will woo customers. These button cookies unders core the companies' marketing hunger: Cookiemakers have crept into the snack-food category and are mimicking the "look" in hope of increasing their revenue. As Alexander Nichols, a spokesman from Sunshine puts it: "Everybody's taking a little bit from everybody else."

Stuart Greenblatt, a spokes-man for Keebler Company, says the company's main interest is in "staying alive," which means "coming up with innovative products and giving customers what they want."

It is Nabisco, however, the oldest (200 years) and largest cookie-cracker company in America (it dominates 49 percent of the industry), that has most aggressively pushed the mini products.

Not surprisingly, it was this giant company that instigated the "bite-size" invasion in 1987 when they shrunk top-selling Ritz into Ritz Bits. Pleased to find their tiny tykes turning a healthy profit, they quickly downsized more: Premium Bits and Triscuit Bits, then followed with fun cracker-cookie bears that made celebrity status: Teddy Grahams. In 1991, they rolled out the first downsize cookie: Mini Chips Ahoy!