The Perfect, Just Right, Small Bites!

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When it comes to food, it’s now hip to be small. From mini-ice creams to cake pops, restaurants are rolling out bite-sized offerings in hopes of reaching the taste buds of fickle diners who increasingly are watching their waistlines and wallets.  The trend isn’t limited to desserts. In 2010, one of the the hottest new industry trend was mini-sizing. Creative chefs are shrinking everything from pizzas and hot dogs to lasagnas and burritos.  Small is big at the grocery store, too. Food manufacturers have jumped on the trend by introducing a variety of miniaturized product versions such as the 100 calorie packs of cookies and even-less-than-pint-sized, 3.6-ounce ice cream cartons.  And in the bread section, the bagel has been cut down to size along with the mini bagels. 

The advantages of going mini are multiple. Small sizes help diners manage their budgets, caloric intake and tastebuds.  Diners get to sample. They get to try a lot of different things, so they don’t get bored.

Like most trends, mini sizing isn’t entirely new. Tapas, or small plates, have been in Spanish cuisine for centuries. And mini sizing has long been popular in the catering business, where it’s important that food be easy to hold and

easy to eat. With the popularity of sliders and tapas bars, American restaurants and chefs are seizing the opportunity to take mini mainstream.  Now, we’re finding mini is something people like in regular meals, too, because they are counting calories.  People used to think the more volume you had, the more value, but people are getting tired of oversized everything — desserts, cookies, cream puffs as big as your head. You can’t finish it, and you feel wasteful throwing it away.

Many industry experts said the mini-sizing trend is being driven, in part, by backlash against years of restaurant “supersizing.”   That backlash combined with the economic downturn of recent years and diners’ increased concern about their waistlines made the market ripe for mini-sizing. 

Marketing is responding to the negative side of super-sized portions leading to increasing incidence of overweight individuals. Smaller sizes mean the consumer may not have to forgo the item. They can choose to keep it, just as long as the portion is within what they perceive as reasonable.  The visual appeal of mini-sized food also is an important aspect of its increasing popularity. Many chefs agree . . . in the eyes of consumers, tiny equals adorable.  It’s kind of like loving babies and puppies. Everything is cuter when it’s smaller.  Given the popularity of mini-foods, it’s no surprise that beverages are going mini, too.  Miniature and half bottles of wine also are a popular option because they give budget-conscious diners more flexibility.  

Restaurant owners and caterers are finding the mini-sizing trend has advantages for their bottom line. While mini-sized food can be more labor-intensive to prepare, many said the extra effort is worth it because smaller sizes entice diners to try items they otherwise might not.  The size of one’s wallet and the size of one’s hunger really varies. It’s a treat not to be forced into one size. You don’t necessarily think of burritos for catering a business meeting. But the mini size makes them more approachable.  Mini-sizing is catching on for at-home entertaining as well. 

Kitchen and home stores have responded with lines of lilliputian-sized dishes and glassware specifically designed for mini-sized food. For example, mini casserole dishes, spoons and martini glasses.   More than just cute, mini sends a positive message, and if you make food well, a small bite can be very pleasing.

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