Observations with Richard Beecham: Oh crumbs – shrinking biscuits here to stay

LIMP BISCUITS Have our favourite treats got smaller?
LIMP BISCUITS Have our favourite treats got smaller?

Would you like a biscuit?

Of course you would! The power of biscuits and confectionery should never be underestimated, and can act – not literally (however funny the image) – as vital cogs in the mechanics of the home and workplace.

Be it a crunchy sunbeam of joy as your reward for shifting that troublesome stain from the kitchen windowsill, or a sugary placebo during a losing war with your internet server.

Biscuits are vital in satisfying our childlike cravings for sweetness – forever fraught with exciting calorific danger.

But are biscuits what they used to be?

One of the most controversial biscuits of all is the Wagon Wheel. The consensus is that they have got smaller over the years – something attested by production designer Matthew Gant, who spoke about getting hold of old Wagon Wheels packets for 1970s-set cop show Life on Mars.

In a 2007 interview with the Daily Telegraph, he said: “Wagon Wheels used to be about twice the size they are now.

“We got an old packet from the prop hire company but had to resize it so that it didn’t look ridiculous with the little Wagon Wheel coming out of it.”

Reporter Series editor and passionate Wagon Wheel fan Hannah Ridgeway agrees times have changed.

She said: “It was a particular challenge as a kid to try to get the whole Wagon Wheel in your mouth - impossible! Not so with today’s puny Wagon Wheels (more a Wagon Castor!)”

Yet Burton’s Biscuits, producers of what is possibly Britain’s most crumbly wheel, has its own idea of why this is.

Its website states: “Contrary to popular belief, Wagon Wheels have not actually got smaller.

“Most often our first Wagon Wheel experience is in childhood and hence our hands are much smaller.”

Personally, I was more interested in the use of the phrase “Wagon Wheel experience”, but the point remains: “It’s not us, it’s you.” Our halcyon memories of our favourite sweets have been cruelly warped by the ever-changing size of our hands.

But, even if true – as Mars Bar-lovers raising eyebrows at impressively jaunty angles will agree – this does not tell the whole story .

According to a report by trade magazine The Grocer in December, the humble Mars Bar has, in just five years, reduced in size by an astonishing 18 per cent.

Mars’s latest decrease in weight, from 58g to 51g is down to, as the company puts it, its “calorie reduction pledge”.

A Mars spokesman told The Grocer: “As part of our global commitment to promote responsible consumption, and as a signatory of the Responsibility Deal’s calorie reduction pledge, we said we would ensure that all our single-serve chocolate products would contain no more than 250 calories per portion.”

The change could also be down to the prohibitive price of cocoa butter – which has almost doubled in the past couple of years. The decreasing size of our favourite sweets could simply be due to supply rather than demand.

It looks unlikely the bar that made a star out of nougat will ever return to its glory days of 62.5g – but is this such a bad thing?

We live in the real world, otherwise known as Kirklees, where childhood obesity is a problem. Nearly 20 per cent of our 11-year-olds are obese, while almost a third are overweight.

Perhaps these kids, who have never known gargantuan 62g Mars Bars or mouth-haemorrhaging Wagon Wheels, could benefit from learning to enjoy smaller amounts of junk food.

But surely, in this age of calorie-counting and scientifically proportioned portions, we still need a little corner of gluttony that we can call our own, if only for five minutes a day.

Just don’t get me started on crisps...