FREAK Shots: That's One Way to Reduce Sugar

A reader named Jerrod Savage sends in a couple images that seem to show a rather clever marketing strategy. Turns out that when you reduce the size of a container of Nesquik chocolate syrup, you also reduce the sugar content! It’s possible the actual syrup has less actual sugar — but, judging from the label, it’s also possible that it doesn’t.

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: Jerrod Savage The Original

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: Jerrod Savage The Low-Sugar (Smaller!) Alternative

Jay B

It's not only the size of the bottle but the size of the serving has been reduced by 30%, 20ml to 14ml. I bet the price stayed the same!

Good luck with that.

I like the serving size of 14 ml.

That is less than one measuring tablespoon of the brown substance.

Ian Kemmish

Given that syrup is essentially no more than a saturated or nearly saturated sugar solution, I'm curious as to how many OTHER ways you know of to reduce the sugar content of a bottle of syrup?


My favorite is how cooking spray will always say "Fat Free", when it's essentially a can of pure fat. It turns out you can list 0g of fat if your serving size makes the fat turn out to be less than 1g.

What is the serving size? 1/3 seconds of spray (or .226g). I want to see someone try to cook their eggs with that little oil in the pan.


This is a bogus post. A quick review of the two products at the link below shows that the regular has 16g of sugar PER SERVING and the reduced sugar alternative only has 10g.

Joe D

The question is whether the changed serving size is legitimate: i.e., does the 14ml serving make your milk just as chocolatey as the old 20ml serving? If so, then the reduced sugar claim is also legitimate, as would maintaining the previous price (in fact, the number of servings increased from 35 to 36).

Eric M. Jones

Personally, I always wonder why food companies change the labeling on their products. The gestalt of the label allows customers to find it by color and design, even if the size changes a bit.

Recently I couldn't find my cat's preferred food in the dimly-lit grocery store because the cat food company decided to change the color and graphics on the label. Can't they just get their marketing department's I.Q. above room temperature fer-krisakes? My cat can't tell one label from another, but I have to find the darned can under fluorescent lighting that was installed during the Eisenhower administration. I wrote to the company...they sent me some coupons. Hah!

St. Augustine

I would not characterize this as a "rather clever marketing strategy." If there was no change to the product except package size and suggested serving size, then it would be correct to classify it as an intentionally deceptive and fraudulent marketing strategy. I hope you would reserve the more positive designation of clever to those strategies that are innovative and honest.


Unfortunately, we can't see the nutrition panel typically found on the back of the container. I'm not familiar with this product, so I can't speak to the veracity of the claim. Only seeing a small tightly cropped photo, how do we know this isn't a case of selective editing? All we know is that the size of the container is smaller (700 v. 510) and the portion size (of the chocolate) is smaller. But are they using a more powerful sweetener that cuts down on the volume required?

Can someone provide more background, please? Possibly a shot of the nutrition panel/ingredient list? Data?

There are a lot of ways to manipulate flavour, mouthfeel, and all the other things that make a food experience.

David Chowes, New York City


Remember when a pound can of coffee contained a pound of coffee?

Now, using the same size can, you will get either 13 oz., 11.5 oz. or less.

As you have demonstrated, this is a practice which many companies use to increase the bottom line because they know that most potential customers are don't realize what is going on..


VB in NV

It's in the same deceptive area as the Subway and McDonald's ads in which the sandwiches bear no resemblance to what you actually get in their restaurants.

Paul F.

@SkepMod: The serving size has been reduced from 20ml to 14ml. That entirely accounts for the reduced amount of sugar.

Personally, I agree with Michael Pollan: Never eat anything that makes a health claim. It means that you are paying for marketing instead of food.


@SkepMod: This is not bogus. I checked the website. Look at the nutrition label for both products.

14 ml contains 10g of sugar in the "lower sugar" product - sugar per ml = 10/14 = 0.714 g/ml

20 ml contains 14g of sugar in the "higher sugar" product - sugar per ml = 14/20 = 0.7 g/ml

If the numbers above are exact, the sugar content in the "lower sugar" product are actually higher per ml!!!

But I guess they have approximated the numbers and they both have the same sugar content ratio.

The difference is where they say that you have to use different amounts of the syrup (20 ml vs 14 ml) into 250 ml of a drink for example, mix the syrup with 250 ml of milk.

Noam Katz

@SkepMod: You are wrong. The amount of sugar per serving has gone down, but that's only because the serving size has gone down in equal proportion. Kris discussed this above.

I would like to add this point: If you go to the company's website and look at the ingredient lists, you will find that the two products are identical in that respect as well. This appears to be the exact same product in a new package.

It has been my experience that it is rare for parents or children to actually measure out syrup when mixing chocolate milk -- the servings aren't pre-measured out for you like soda cans -- so I think there will be no actual change in consumption habits. You can sometimes find "100 calorie" coke cans and the like, which rely entirely on reducing the serving size, but because the can itself is smaller there is more reason to think that people will actually drink less soda in any given sitting, and thus might benefit from the gimmick. But not here.

Finally, I think the wording on the label is downright misleading. It says "33% less sugar than our original." Without qualifying the statement to read something like 33% less sugar *per serving* than our original,' the reasonable consumer would understand their statement to mean that the product was 33% less sugar-dense per unit volume (or perhaps per unit weight). With my proposed qualification, I would consider this merely excessively clever and sneaky. Without my proposed qualification (i.e. as it stands now) I consider this fraudulent and hopefully illegal under the laws of Canada.



For those of you who went to the website link, note it is for Nestle Canada. Here is the US is is illegal to change the serving size to change the nutrition facts. At the US site you can see that there is no "low sugar" version sold in the US. But the stuff we get here has 12g sugar in 1 serving of 1 tablespoon, which is lower sugar per tablespoon of the two Canadian products. Obviously, the free market gets you more choice in Canada. Or, more opportunity to be duped. Buyer beware.


Obama should hire the guy who thought this up. If he could proclaim that he cut gov't by 33%, without actually cutting any programs, both Democrats & Republicans will be happy. In fact he could even win over Tea Party'ers.



It's actually 16g of sugar per 20g serving in the "higher sugar" product. So the reduction is from 80% sugar content to 71.4% sugar content. That's a proportional reduction in sugar concentration of about 11% ( = (80 - 71.4)/80), which is still a long way from the advertised 33%.

Where they come up with the 33%, I don;t know. Even the proportional reduction in sugar content per serving (%37.5) is off.


I find this to be almost a joke to consumers. It is so obvious, yet I bet many consumers fall for it because the only thing that they see is the big 33% less sugar words in the front which immediately attracts them and blinds them from seeing the rest of the information provided. This is scary in the way that it shows us how easy it is to manipulate people and sell them any product. Also, it shows how producers manipulate the information, and without lying, they make products look different or better. And I bet Nesquik isn't the only one who does that. The only way to avoid this is to make consumers more aware of these types of 'tricks' that companies create to sell their products and in an indirect manner, lie to consumers.


Why not just make the serving size 3.64 milliliters just to make it small and harder to do math with? "Servings" bear absolutely no resemblance to what people actually eat, or even should eat. In what world does one take the word of, say, a soup manufacturer, that one is supposed to measure out 1 3/4 cups of soup out of a 2 1/2 cup can because that is the proper amount to eat?

There should be no "serving size" but rather as in Europe the packages should list calories per 100 g of product, with packages meant to be eaten in one sitting also listing calories per package.


This is a very sneaky trick. The 33% less sugar can be interpreted in different ways, per serving for example, and since they know this, they make it as big and clear as they possibly can, this way it is the first thing the consumer sees. They don't expect consumers to look through the nutrition facts or to investigate where the 33% comes from, since they usually don't. Companies know that this is the easiest ways to get customers and to get money, so why not put the same product inside different containers? (which is what some of them do.) This shows how sometimes our lack of curiosity can lead us to fall into these kind of traps. The funny thing is that one way or the other it is chocolate syrup, it is pure sugar, so if the reduction is real, it wouldn't be of much help to your health anyways. People who buy syrup do it because they know it is not healthy, so seeing the 33% in my opinion does not mean Nesquick will get more demand for their "low-sugar" syrup.