NEW DELHI: Smaller pack sizes were once a way for brands to reach new, rural markets in India, but for food and drink brands blamed for contributing to the nation's obesity and associated illnesses, it's now about health.

Medical experts have been warning about the rise of obesity for some time – back in 2007, for example, a study highlighted its incidence among schoolchildren in Hyderabad and warned that lifestyle changes and the increased consumption of high calorie foods were among the factors behind the development.

More recently, the World Health Organisation has suggested that, come 2030, some 79m people in India will be affected by diabetes, twice the number in 2000.

The response of major food and drink manufacturers has been to make their offerings available in smaller pack sizes. Pepsi, for example, is rolling out a 150ml can – half the normal size – while Coke is planning a 180ml option.

Hindustan Unilever, meanwhile, intends to limit to 250 kilo calories per portion some 80% of its packaged ice-creams, whether that's done by reformulating products or reducing the size of the products.

"Unilever shares the public concern about the issue of obesity and related chronic diseases and the tremendous long-term challenge society is facing to deal with them," a HUL spokesperson told the Economic Times.

"As a food manufacturer, we are clear we have a responsibility to help address this challenge both in our product formulation and in our public position," the spokesperson added.

The Economic Times discerned a similar trend at retailers, where "portion control and tempered indulgence are gaining momentum", according to Devendra Chawla, group president/food and FMCG, at Future group, which owns the Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar chains.

"Consumers are consciously choosing smaller portions," he reported, "and brands are following suit."

Chawla said that consumers preferred the taste of regular brands to diet ones and were simply limiting the frequency and size of intake of the former.

Data sourced from Economic Times, The Hindu; additional content by Warc staff