Smaller is bigger: Burger King introduces mini Burger Shots

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As Americans downsize their taste buds along with their wallets, the go-small trend is one of the few bright spots in foods. Noticing that Americans are looking toward the lowest rung on the menu again (and that McDonald's bottom line has been rescued by the popularity of its Dollar Menu), Burger King, stung by falling profits, just unleashed its new Burger Shots, the chain's entry into sliders.

Just like the full-sized regular hamburger, currently the lowest-priced beef sandwich on its menu, the Shots come with a dab of ketchup and lone pickle slice. Unlike White Castles, though, BK's Shots are grilled, not steamed, and don't contain onion bits. Six-packs of the burger versions usually cost about $4.39, and two-packs are about $1.49. For breakfast, they come with either bacon or sausage, plus egg and cheese.

It's not the first time Burger King has tried this. Back in 1987, the year of Black Monday, it attempted to hook us on Burger Bundles. Hopefully the chain can keep the patties from slipping through the bars of its flame-broiling conveyor machines. Meanwhile, Jack in the Box is currently testing a sirloin slider of its own, served with the onions, in a three-pack.

Smaller is not necessarily cheaper, of course. Take Hershey's, which ABC News reports has seen a $28 million sales increase on the back of its cheap candy (I won't call it chocolate) brands such as Kisses. There may be about 95 Hershey's Kisses in a pound, but you pay more in weight for them than a regular bar. Do the math: Walgreen's sells a 9.2-oz bag for $3.39, or about .36 per ounce, but a 7-ounce chocolate bar, just two ounces lighter, would cost you nearly a third less, or $2.29, or about .32 per ounce. I would expect that BK's Shots deliver similar diminished value after you factor in all that bread and the size of the new patties, which remind me of loose change.

Smaller may not even translate into emptier stomachs. Last year, researchers discovered that those 100-calorie packs (which almost always represent a poorer value than their larger-size shelf companions) often led chronic dieters to eat more servings.

That's what Au Bon Pain found out last May, when it started selling its Portions line of items clocking in at 200 calories or fewer. Rather than buying less food, customers tended to buy several servings, or they bought a Portions item as a side dish to a main meal.

And then you have the kind of size reduction that manufacturers try to sneak by us. The Girls Scouts recently reduced the number of cookies in their boxes without disclosing the diminished value to longtime customers.

But successful marketing isn't always about reality. It's about perception, and buying undersized stuff gives consumers the perception of restraint. And if you elect to share one of your mini-burgers with someone you love, you won't be carrying it out of the Burger King on your hips.
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