When it comes to food, package size matters

Choosy mothers should probably choose Jif if they want to scrape more peanut butter out of a standard-size jar. According to CNN, competing sandwich spread Skippy is among numerous brand names that have quietly shrunk the size of their packaging as a means of passing on food inflation to consumers.

While the Skippy jar remains the same height and diameter as it did when it contained a full 18 ounces of peanut butter, a deeper indentation on the bottom accounts for the loss of 1.7 ounces. Meanwhile, the most significant change Jif has made to its packaging is on the label, where large type alerts consumers to the fact that this jar is still 18 ounces strong.

A New Look for Old Brands

    What changed: The 400-location hotel worldwide hotel chain is in the middle of a $1.7 billion project to renovate about half its U.S. hotels. The new look includes brighter colors in the room, with pillowtop beds and white duvets and flat-screen TVs. Sheraton is rolling out a branded line of toiletries, called Shine by Bliss, and fitness centers will get upgrades. Lobbies will feature restaurants, most with a casual dining chain called Relish, and cafes with Internet stations. Some locations may also have a steakhouse developed by Shula's.


    What changed: Now owned by Stride Rite, which re-acquired the rights to the sneaker brand from hip-hop mogul Damon Dash (a recent foreclosure victim), PRO-Keds are going to get a makeover as they come back into the fold. Stride Rite will focus on classic styles, such as the "Royal" canvas basketball shoe, first introduced in 1949, and give it an overhaul that will hit stores in November and retail for $50 to $80.


    What changed: Hasbro updated the 60-year-old game of Clue with changes that include a fancy new mansion with a spa and theater, and new weapons like a baseball bat and an ax. Professor Plum is now an Internet billionaire and Colonel Mustard is a former football star, and the murder mystery takes place during a party for the rich and famous. The game structure has also changed somewhat, with the addition of a second deck of cards, which is supposed to add an extra element of surprise.


    What changed: Little girls have been inundated with Disney princess paraphernalia for years now, and the line has been so popular that the company wants to try to do the same thing with fairies. Tinker Bell, a mere side character in J.M. Barrie's 1911 novel and the 1953 movie version of Peter Pan, is going to soon be a leading lady. A straight-to-DVD movie, Tinker Bell, comes out October 28, and that will be followed by a line of books, toys, lip gloss and stationary. The new line could mean big bucks as Tink already brings in about $800 million in retail sales for existing products.

    AP | Disney

    What's changed: Strawberry Shortcake got more than just a new dress or two when she got a makeover earlier this year (just before American Greetings sold the rights to the character to a Canadian company). The '80s icon got a total makeover that includes a few nips and tucks to her physique as well changes to her makeup. She will now spend a lot of time talking on her cell phone and eating fresh fruit in an effort to appeal to a new generation of young girls. A new animated movie and TV series are slated for 2009.

    American Greetings

    What changed: Holiday Inn is in the process of a $1 billion makeover of its hotel locations as well as its logo. About 100 properties will leave the chain, while about 1,000 hotels will be added over the next three years. Existing locations will be upgraded in ways big and small from improved infrastructure to "triple-sheet" bedding. All locations that are spruced up will get the new logo, which will be a stylized white H on a green square, rather than the green script familiar from most highway views.


    What changed: A new global version of Monopoly Here & Now replaces the streets of Atlantic City with world metropolises like Taipei, Cape Town and the Latvian capital of Riga, which nabbed the Park Place spot in a round of online voting. Hasbro's new board game, which will be printed in 37 languages, goes on sale next week. You'll still be able to find the original version on sale, but the game maker is trying to attract a global audience with this new version.

    Ray Stubblebine, Hasbro / AP

    What changed: Xerox has one of those special brand names that has become the common name of a product or process -- in this case photocopying documents. But in 2008, after 40 years of the same boxy, bland look, the company decided it needed a makeover and it rolled out a new logo and branding campaign. Now, the logo has a red sphere attached to it that is supposed to symbolize the brand's worldwide reach and rounded lower-case letters.


    What changed: Wal-Mart keeps growing larger and larger, but it is also experimenting with getting smaller at the same time. The giant retailer is starting a pilot program of four small Marketside stores in Phoenix, Ariz., and if the concept works it could expand to ten stores, and then perhaps 1,000. The new stores, only 15,000 square feet, will offer groceries and other fresh items that shoppers can get to quickly. Wal-Mart also is testing six Neighborhood Market stores in Tulsa using the same concept of a smaller space and a focus on fresh food.


    What's changed: Ethical concerns about how young calves are raised for food have curtained veal consumption in recent years, but a new campaign is trying to tout the beef product, at least for high-end buyers. "Certified Humane" meat packers raise calves in group housing, which means they are free to move about in pens, and are fed some grain rather than all milk. The resulting veal is sold in specialty butcher shops, for now, and commands only 5 to 10 percent of the veal market.

Other slimmed-down packages include:

A box of Kellogg's Apple Jacks, down from 11 to 8.7 oz.;

A can of Starkist tuna, shrunk from 6 to 5 oz.;
A bottle of Tropicana orange juice, which sports a new snap cap that's supposed to make up for the fact that you're getting 7 oz. less liquid; and

A "half-gallon" container of Breyers Ice Cream, which now holds 48 oz. instead of 64.

Consumers are catching on. In a nationwide Consumer Reports survey in July, 75% of respondents said they noticed packages are shrinking, and 71% believed the main reason for downsizing was to hide price hikes from consumers. Still, half of those surveyed said they'd prefer that manufacturers keep the old package and raise the price.

Edgar Dworsky, editor of mouseprint.org, a consumer education Web site that examines advertising's fine print, suggests checking and comparing the unit prices in the grocery store and opting for the brand that offers the most value. In other words, even those of us without children should be choosy mothers when it comes to buying food.

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