Like so many of life’s great questions, this one was born over a bowl of Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries. I was eating them with my daughter, who I’d just asked to be quiet because if she kept talking, she was going to be late for school. As I sat there in silence, looking at the Cap’n’s handsome face and quickly finishing my breakfast, my eyes scrolled up to the big “Family Size” border on the box.
I began wondering to myself, “What determines ‘Family Size,’ anyway?” The Cap’n is a wise fellow, no doubt, but he doesn’t know how big my family is, nor anyone else’s for that matter. Who is he to judge how many Crunch Berries we need?
And so, after dropping my daughter off barely on time, I spent the next two-and-a-half hours wandering the aisles of my local Walmart, trying to make sense of things. The first thing I noticed was that “Family Size” seems to apply to a lot of different foods. Thus, I broke my investigation down by food type, starting with the one that tormented me initially.
My plan was to check out the number of servings in every cereal box that had “Family Size” on it, and then compare that to the number of servings in a standard box, which seemed like the only way to truly compare apples to oranges.
The first thing I saw on the end cap of the cereal aisle were boxes of Family Size Chex. All the standard Chex flavors were there — rice, wheat, corn — and every Family Size box contained 13 servings. I then went to the standard-sized Chex boxes, and each of them had eight servings. Next, I investigated another General Mills product — Cheerios — and found that the Family Size also had 13 servings, while the standard size box contained just six.
Branching out to other cereals, my old friend Cap’n Crunch had 16 servings in his Family Size box, and nine in the standard one. Family Size Froot Loops had 14 servings, and standard Froot Loops had seven. With Lucky Charms, the Family Size also had 14, with eight in a basic box.
Overall, “Family Size” cereal boxes seemed to contain somewhere between 13 to 17 servings, while the standard boxes were all nine servings or less. The only outlier was a Family Size box of Peppa Pig-branded Rice Krispies, which had only 10 servings. But from what I could find, that cereal only comes in Family Size, and is probably a “limited-time only” kinda thing, so it doesn’t make sense to let Peppa Pig fuck things up for everyone else.
Much to my surprise, “Family Size” isn’t really a big thing in the chip aisle, as many companies opt for calling their big bags “Party Size” instead. In fact, the only chips in my Walmart’s chip aisle that proclaimed to be “Family Size” were Wise brand “Golden Original” chips, which had 14 servings versus nine in their standard bag. Other brands of potato chips were pretty much the same, with Party Size Lays having 13 servings, and eight in a regular bag.
For potato chips and Doritos, it was much like the breakfast cereal — 13 or so servings for the “Family Size” or “Party Size” bags, and nine or less in a normal bag. Everything changed, however, when I got to regular tortilla chips. Tostitos Scoops had 15 servings in their Party Size bag and 10 in their regular size; meanwhile, original Tostitos and “Bite Size” Tostitos had 17 servings in their Party Sizes, and 12 servings in a regular bag. Basically, there were a lot more servings per bag when it came to tortilla chips, which is good because I can eat an entire bag of those things — Party Size included — if I put my mind to it.
Crackers are tough because they’re all packaged so differently. For Triscuits, which are packaged like cereal, the Family Size had 13 servings and the standard box nine. But for Ritz crackers, which are tightly packed into individual stacks, the Family Size had a whopping 31 servings, and the regular box had 21 servings. Truly no rhyme or reason to crackers, so let’s move on.
Cookie companies also like to sell their stuff in “Family Size.” The Family Size Chips Ahoy! package had 18 servings versus 12 in a standard box. As for Oreos, a Family Size offering had 16 servings and 12 in a standard pack. Side note: The serving size on Oreos is just three cookies, and that’s utterly ridiculous. True Oreo serving size is anywhere from eight cookies to an entire sleeve — everyone knows that.
Other Stuff Labeled ‘Family Size’ at Walmart
As I browsed my Walmart, snapping pictures of dozens of items, I found little consistency in what “Family Size” actually means. A Family Pack of Hebrew National hot dogs had 20 dogs at one dog per serving, and just six dogs in a normal pack, while a Family Pack of Nathan’s had 14 dogs, and eight in a regular pack. Similarly, Eggos had 12 servings in a Family Pack, and just five in a regular pack.
The ones that made the least amount of sense, though, were the items from Bob Evans, where a standard package of mashed potatoes had five whole servings, but a Family Size had six — just one more!
Generally speaking, it seems that most “Family Size” products have about 30 to 70 percent more of any given product, but it’s rarely double the amount (though sometimes, like with Eggos, it’s more than double). My theory: “Family Size” has much more to do with what they can fit in the box — both the product box and the boxes the products are shipped in. For confirmation, I reached out to Dan Skinner, brand communications manager for Conagra Brands, which owns Hebrew National, Manwich, Slim Jims and a bunch of other foodstuffs. He said that box size was indeed a big factor, as was “available shelf space, requests of our customers (retailers) and our insights on what consumers are looking for when they shop the category.”
He also told me that there’s no regulatory definition for “Family Size” — thus, it’s all completely random and mysterious. Guess I should have asked before wasting my morning in Walmart.