Choosing the Right Packaging Size for American Supermarkets


Large enough for the US market?

When did you last conduct a store check in the US? Did the packaging sizes in American supermarkets leave you taken aback? Why are packagings so large? My theory is that because the country is so large, there is no other choice but to produce large sizes. The roads are long, the highways are wide, and normal packaging for things like milk or chips would seem large in a European context. But why should even this be different?

What are Suitable Packaging Sizes for American Supermarkets?

I live on the East Coast. During my first winter here in the US, there was a lot of snow, and usually quite a lot within a few hours. Ditto with rain. When it rains, it’s like a monsoon followed quickly by lots of flooding. And if it’s not snowing or raining, then the sun shines on for days in a clear, blue sky. There’s no wet and dreary grey sky here. Nature has adapted well to this: the trees are gigantic, lily-of-the-valley are as tall as tulips, and ants, bees, and beetles look like killer insects.

No, I’m not exaggerating. I just want to make it clear that nothing can be planned in miniscule in the US. Cars are larger and more comfortable, because the distances that need to be covered are longer. The standard size for a carton of milk is a gallon, which is about four liters. For toilet paper, an individual roll is about the size of one in Europe, but they’re sold in units of 24 rolls. Water comes in either a gallon or as half a liter, in which case they’re sold in 35-packs. If you doubt this, take a look at the fruit and vegetables. Expensive apricots are just as large as nectarines. Apparently, it’s only a matter of time before nectarines are bred to the size of a grapefruit!

Yes, most of what we see in American films is true. Americans consume milk like water here. Orange juice for breakfast? Half a gallon. Soft drinks? Same.

Refrigerators are accordingly accommodating. There’s room in the doors or on the fridge shelves for large containers. The American fridge is larger than its European counterpart. Our new American refrigerator has a cubic capacity of 500 L (~130 gal), but there are even larger models that have a capacity of up to 650 L (~170 gal).

How do Europeans currently in the US do it?

Swiss Lindt and German Ritter Sport chocolates sell their chocolate bars just as they do in Germany. Both are exotic, obvious import goods. Capri Sonne, however, goes by the name CapriSun in the US. The packaging looks just like it does in Germany. Americans love comfort and individuality. CapriSun’s size makes it an ideal snack for between meals. Even the French mineral water brand Evian hasn’t changed its size in the US. But Evian is sold as a premium brand – the price per liter is many times the price of the local brands.

On the other hand, Haribo has adapted the size of its gummy bear bags. I recently saw a three-pound package in Marshall. That’s 1.3 kg! At Target, the bags of Haribo don’t even reach a kilo, but are almost 500 grams (~17 oz.). The sizes have been changed to fit the US standard. I’ve only seen smaller packages at Worldmarket, but they were imported goods.

Ferrero’s Nutella is sold in different plastic containers here. Visually, they’re not much different from the French or German packaging, but they are noticeably slimmer. The Nutella that I buy here in the US – at a remarkably higher price! is produced in Canada. Personally, it tastes just as good as they stuff back home. The great minds of our time find themselves in debate, whether American Nutella tastes as good as it does back home. “Home” can mean a lot of things. What is “home” for me? Is it Germany, where I lived for 20 years? Or France, where I was born and raised? Jim Webster of the Washington Post recently conducted a taste test to compare them. Delicious!

packaging size for American Supermarkets

Warning: no metric measurements

The US has unfortunately still not adopted the metric system, but I haven’t given up hope. Recently I was in the ER with my daughter and her weight was given in kilos. I was visibly happy! Unfortunately, on the shelves it’s a different story. Coca Cola is the exception – all of their bottles are in liters! For the rest, I’ve compiled a list of the possible sizes, volumes, and weights.

 USA metric 
Weightlbpound1 lb = 454 gA package of Barilla weights 1 lb
ozounce 1 oz = 28.35 g
Volumegalgallon1 gal = 3.8 lMilk is sold by the gallon
1/2 gallon1/2 gal = 1.9 l
1/4 gallon1/4 gal = 0.9 lLooks like a German carton of milk
Distancemimile1 mi = 1.6 km
ftfoot1 ft = 30.5 cmOnce you are set up working in the US, you'll need this conversion for feet and inches
ininch1 in = 2.54 cm

What Size is Right for Your Product?

If you want to be successful in American supermarkets, you will need not only to offer large sizes, but also a wide variety. Danone and Yoplait, both successful French dairy product makers, do just that. The yoghurt and dairy-based desserts are small, but the variety is huge. Different flavors in original or light can dominate a shelf. Dr. Beckmann, however, offers a study in contrast. The Stain Devils here are sold under the brand Carbona. The small, green bottles are sold in yellow here, but retain their 50 mL or 50 g sizes. They’re completely lost amongst the shelves. Even the price tag is larger than the product itself.

Choosing the right packaging size for the United States
Exactly the same taste as usual – Oreo Spring cookies with yellow creme

Things to Keep in Mind

Choosing the right packaging size for American supermarkets is not a big deal. Think big. Think bigger than usual. Check out the competition. Can you afford to stay small? Add fluids to up the volume. Let your family-size packaging become your standard packaging for the US market. Review your smaller, convenience-sized packaging. Is it made for being on the go? Or for one-time use at home? If necessary, test alternative sizes ahead of time, to be certain yourself. Trader Joe’s, purveyor of organic goods and owned by Aldi, has smaller packages that are closer to European standards. You can widen your variety according to flavor, scent, or target group. No matter if it’s vanilla or peach in yoghurt, fresh breeze or patchouli for deodorant, for young families or athletes, the important thing is to show strength through size and variety. If you can get that down, then you’ll be ready for the American competition.

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