Size Matters – Dynamic Sizing at Fast Food Restaurants

This…this is why menu labeling is such a good idea.

TORONTO (Reuters) – Three years after phasing out its controversial Supersize menu, McDonald’s has introduced two new large-sized items to its menus in select markets – a 42-ounce soft drink and a one-third pound burger.

The U.S. Surgeon General called for the food industry to take action on portion sizes in 2002, but a recent study showed that fast-food portion sizes have not decreased notably since that time. In fact, for some restaurants portion sizes have gone up, even as companies introduce new, healthier menu items.

Personally, I don’t care if a restaurant sells something that has 400, 800, or hell even 1200 calories. If anyone ever felt the urge to get the calorie content of foods found at the higher end restaurants, there would be dishes found of similar calorie content.

However, what does bother me is the following:

“When I first started doing my research, the fast-food companies were showing off about how good their foods were,” said Dr. Lisa Young, author of “The Portion Teller” and adjunct professor at New York University, where she co-authored the study with NYU nutritionist Dr. Marion Nestle. “Now they’re getting rid of words like “biggie,” like Wendy’s, and they’re just calling them small, medium and large.”

It’s the re-calibrating of serving sizes to give the psychological impression of reasonable portions that really puts the fast food companies into the “evil” category. Twenty ounces of soda should be a large, not a medium, and yet here we are with McDonald’s releasing the new Hugo drink…fourty two ounces of pop – roughly the same size as their SuperSize option they had on the menu a few years back.

But if you talk to any of McDonald’s PR flacks, they’ll be quick to tell you that this is not a return of the supersize option. This begs the question, if the Hugo isn’t an option based on size, then what exactly is it supposed to be?

The answer is that its easier to remove or at least muddle the basis for size criteria in order to encourage the customer to make purchase based off of their emotional responses rather than logical ones. If the names of sizes become functionally irrelevant, then the consumer will cease to use it as a variable that influences their decision.

Think I’m over reacting? When was the last time you heard anyone at the movie theater complain that their Small Pepsi was 24 ounces?

This is why menu labeling is a good idea. If people are truly worried about their caloric intake at fast food restaurants (an idea of which I’ve not entirely bought into), then a static criteria such as calories would keep these places somewhat honest.