Our sister publication The Grocer broke news that Mars UK had cut the weight of a Mars bar from 58g to 51g, and a Snickers bar from 58g to 48g, while keeping the same 51p ($0.83) price.
No compromise on taste
Mars said in a statement that the move was necessary to meet its pledge to ensure all its single-serve chocolates contained fewer than 250 calories per portion as made in the UK Government’s Responsibility Deal.
“To meet our commitment, having taken product reformulation as far as we can for now without compromising the great taste, we have reduced the portion size of Mars and Snickers to bring down the calorie content.”
We asked Mars what formulation changes it had already made to the bars and why options such as reduced fat cocoa powders and alternative sweeteners were not possible. It declined our request for an interview.
Restrictive EU regulations
Speaking at industry event FiE in Frankfurt recently, Mars' material science program manager, Isabella Van Damme offered some insights. She said that EU regulations restricted the amount of fat a chocolate manufacturer could reduce.
Fat is the principal source of calories in chocolate. A 40g chocolate tablet (dark, milk or white) has an average of 220kcal. Sugar accounts for about 30-40% of those calories, and fat about 40-50%.
Under EU rules, products containing less than 25% fat by weight cannot be called chocolate, only a chocolate-type product.
The Ukraine has even stricter requirements, preventing any confectionery product with less than 34% fat content from being labeled chocolate.
Van Damme said that the restrictive rules meant reducing portion sizes was the only way to cut calories.
Sugar in a Mars bar
At 229kcal per portion, a Mars bar, accounts for 11.45% of a person’s guideline daily amounts (GDA) for calories.
A bar contains 30.4 g of sugar – about eight teaspoons. Van Damme said that sugar alternatives had yet to deliver a product without negative repercussions such as laxative effects.
Intense sweeteners steviol glycosides from the stevia plant were approved for use in the EU in December 2011 and have been heralded by Barry Callebaut as the most viable sugar alternative in chocolate that can create a bar with around 30% fewer calories.
Steviol glycosides however do require bulking support, typically from a fiber blend. Cavalier, a Belgian manufacturer of stevia chocolate, told us that fiber blends significantly upped the cost of using steviol glycosides in chocolate making a bar around times more expensive than a sugar counterpart.
At 8.7 g, fat make ups 17% of a Mars bar by weight.
Barry Callebaut previously told this site that by using special processing techniques a manufacturer could go as low as 25% of fat for milk chocolate and remain within legal limits to be considered chocolate.