Unusual choice of units: 1.8 billion square millimeters


The materials for Kraft Heinz's 2018 annual meeting boasts that they "reduc[ed] total packaging by more than 1.8 billion square millimeters of film each year—the equivalent of almost 346 football fields worth of packaging material."

Okay, first of all, square millimeters is a strange unit of measure when you have 1.8 billion of them.

The football field is itself a strange unit of measure.

Furthermore, 1.8 billion square millimeters is nowhere close to 346 American football fields. It's not even one football field. To get 346 American football fields, they need 1.8 trillion square millimeters, so maybe they meant a European billion. But in that case, why convert it to American football fields? Shouldn't they convert it to European football (aka soccer) fields?

Comments (40)

  1. Piotr says:

    same reason why batteries are measured in milliamphourss (ie 2000 milliamphours vs 2 amphours) – a bigger number looks better

    1. Ambarish says:

      Is an amphour a British male amphora?

    2. ender9 says:

      Wouldn’t that be because older batteries often had capacities under 1Ah, and it’s easier to compare 600mAh to 1100mAH than to 1.1Ah?

  2. Brian says:

    It seems like one of the oddball units used in an Engineering School activity. I can remember an Engineering School car rally when I was an undergrad. For one leg of the rally, the distances were measure in cube root fluid ounces.
    I used to live in Rhode Island. RI is the next unit of area up from a football field. According to Wikipedia, it measures 3.144 x 10 to the 15th square millimeters. Now I live in Texas, which is, of course, the next size up from RI.

  3. Simon Clarkstone says:

    Perhaps they found 346 = 1.8 million square meters, then multiplied by 1000 to convert square meters to square millimeters?

    Which was the wrong calculation because 1m^2 = 1000000mm^2, not 1000mm^2

    1. Kevin says:

      This is why mm^2 is a travesty of a unit. The “milli-” should bind less tightly than the square, but for reasons of backwards compatibility, it does not.

      (Raymond: Can the SI people borrow Microsoft’s time machine?)

      1. bmm6o says:

        You have to read them like C type declarations.

      2. poizan42 says:

        But then an area of 1mm x 1mm would no longer med one square millimeter, I think that would be worse.

        1. kme says:

          It wouldn’t be a square millimetre, under the suggestion is would be a milli square metre.

  4. Antonio Rodríguez says:

    In Europe, “football” refers to what you Americans call “soccer”. When we talk about the American variant, we always say “American football”. So, as Kraft is European (Germany-based), they are probably talking about soccer fields.

    1.800 (American) billion square millimeters equal to 1.800 square meters. Soccer field sizes are variable: between 90×45 and 120×90 meters, or 4.050 to 10.800 square meters. Or two to five times the cited 1.800 billion square millimeters. If you take a middle value (say, 6.000 square meters), you’d get about 300 fields in 1.800 *trillion* square millimeters. So I agree with your second statement about the European billion.

    All in all, this is a fine example of a text written in an European language (probably German) with an European mindset and then blindly translated into English (without taking care of British vs. American vs. international variations).

    1. Brian says:

      Kraft (part of Kraft-Heinz) is American based. Before the Kraft/Heinz merger, Kraft was based in Chicago.

    2. Andrew says:

      Kraft Heinz, as well as its predecessor companies Kraft Foods Group, Inc. and H. J. Heinz Company are American based.

    3. Wyatt says:

      Kraft Heinz headquartered in the United States. The original namesakes were children of German ancestry.

    4. Antonio Rodríguez says:

      My mistake. I always thought Kraft was a German company (its name sounds German, and I have seen it in Spanish stores and supermarkets since I can remember; I was so sure I didn’t see need to check).

      Being an American company, it doesn’t make sense at all the use of European billions in the text.

      On the other hand, as Raymond says, the standard NFL American football field measures 6,400 square yards (360 by 160 feet), or about 5,350 square meters, which isn’t far from the 6,000 square meters average soccer field. So the phrase can refer to American football and still be correct (but for the billion part).

    5. Buster says:

      > 1.800 (American) billion square millimeters equal to 1.800 square meters.

      Awesome! The first dot is a decimal point, and the second dot is a thousands separator, right? To make things clearer, you should have spelled the first unit “meters” and spelt the second unit “metres”. (Unfortunately, I don’t think any English-speaking country ever used a dot as a thousands separator.)

      1. Mark Mullin says:

        That’s how make math really fun …. we swap around the meaning of various symbols. C++ learned that from math people. :-)

  5. Stuart says:

    Why are you assuming that “football fields” meant “American football fields” rather than “soccer fields” in the first place?

    1. Because the math works out perfectly for American football fields (once you adjust for the factor of 1000). The math does not work for soccer fields.

      1. hyperman_ says:

        Another thing that might help is that in e.g. dutch the word ‘biljoen’ seems the equivalent of the American ‘billion’ but is actually another number, off by a factor 1000. I try to give a table:

        Dutch counting goes like this: miljoen(1e6), miljard(1e9), biljoen(1e12),biljard(1e15),triljoen(1e18),triljard(1e21).

        American counting goes like this: million (1e6),billion(1e9),trillion(1e12). Ther is no -iard in between.

        German, French and Danish follow the Dutch convention. I have no idea what happens in other countries, but it is easy to get a few factors of thousand wrong when translating between American an western Europe.

        1. Dark Daskin says:

          In Russia we use the short scale like USA, but 10⁹ is called milliard.

        2. poizan42 says:

          See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_and_short_scales. England actually officially used the long scale until 1974, most of europe still does.

  6. French Guy says:

    Actually, 1.8 km² (I don’t want to type all those 0’s) covers less than 300 soccer fields (taking the smallest dimensions accepted for international matches); it covers about 403 American football fields without end zones and about 336 American football fields including end zones. So I’m guessing a typo for the number of fields and some European talking to an American without checking for the names of big numbers for the scale.

  7. ZLB says:

    “awesome” is 15 letters long. Football pitches are measured in mm^2 and Visual Studio has been renamed to Visual Studio (Not responding)

    Today is a strange day.

  8. Muzer says:

    A “soccer field” is referred to in English as a football pitch. Not sure if you would say “soccer pitch” or “soccer field” though.

    1. Tim! says:

      You would say soccer field. “Pitch” in this sense is definitely unique to British English.

  9. Adrian says:

    I’ve always wondered, when people use (American) football fields for distance or area, whether they include the end zones. The only thing I know about a football field is that it’s 100 yards long, plus end zones. But I have no idea how wide they are or how long the end zones are.

    1. Ken in NH says:

      When people use football fields as a unit of area, I believe most people think of just the playing field, not the end zones b/c most Americans know it’s 100 yards long (though few ever think about how wide). It doesn’t really matter though. What makes football fields a good unit of measure is just that people can picture the total better than they can square meters or square feet or square yards &c. It’s sloppy, so whether it includes end zones or not is not as important as giving people something they can visualize.

  10. Ivan K says:

    This would present a measurement problem in parts of Australia where the sport of Australian Rules Football (AFL) is practically a religion: there is no such thing as a fixed football field size. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_rules_football_playing_field#Ground_dimensions

    1. Erkin Alp Güney says:

      Neither in FIFA-rules football, football fields can vary in size so much that area of one football field is twice as large as other football field.

  11. DWalker07 says:

    Similarly, I often report my height in Angstroms, just to use a larger number.

  12. Bjartr says:

    My favorite esoteric unit is megafurlongs/microfortnight. The speed of light is 1.8026 megafurlongs per microfortnight, by the way.

  13. Zonk says:

    Europeans measure package surface in square millimeters, and from Discovery Channel they know that Americans measure area in football fields. So first part of the sentence is for locals and second is for overseas partners

  14. Ken in NH says:

    Football fields (or other analogous) are a perfectly fine unit of measure. People can visualize that better than they can a square mile or square meter &c.

  15. Peter Doubleday says:

    Yes, well. Nobody seems to have complained about this yet, but plastic comes in three dimensions. I know cubic millimetres are really, really, small, but you don’t get to boast about a measurement unless it has the right dimensions.

    It’s a general and vexating problem, really. Quick! How many Megapascals in a square metre? Well, obviously you divide the Mps by 1,000,000, because, you know, Newtons. This screws up a surprisingly large number of engineering calcs.

    My favourite here is something that essentially bespeaks a lack of domain knowledge. I was passing on the value for angular momentum. Displayed to the (presumed structural engineers) in degrees per second. Well, structural engineers are not the smartest bulbs in the basket. But here’s the thing: we used a math library that worked with radians (as you would), and it was stored in degrees.

    The unit measurement, as presented, cost me about a week or two of work before I found the comment that said “This is stupid, but we have to re-convert it back into radians.” In, of course, a completely separate DLL.

    Units are tough. Build them in at the beginning, or nastiness ensues.,

    1. DWalker07 says:

      To avoid the three-dimensional problem, this boast could have been stated in terms of POUNDS or KILOS of packaging material saved. That takes into account any reduced thickness they were able to get away with.

  16. Peter Doubleday says:

    Interesting that nobody yet has mentioned the obviously trivial whoopsie that Kraft made by reducing three dimensions to two. Or not.

  17. While billion currently means 1,000,000,000 or 109, historically, the British billion was 1,000,000,000,000 or 1012, which is the current American trillion.

    1. Oh, great. Your blog software ate my “to the power of” sign.

      A blog software that doesn’t insert line breaks, paragraph break and “to the power of” signs … by Microsoft, a cloud-first company! How disappointing.

      1. Scarlet Manuka says:

        Don’t you know that people who use strange symbols are invariably hackers trying to break the system? Consider yourself lucky they don’t strip out the apostrophe character for fear of SQL injection.

      2. Scarlet Manuka says:

        Also, if you press the Post Comment button without filling in your name or email address, you get a message telling you to fill them in – but the Post Comment button doesn’t come back from spinny-circle-dom. If this shows up, then you can still post the comment by clicking on the spinny-circle, but it’s certainly not obvious that you can do so.

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