Downsized: More and More Products Lose Weight
Georgia reader Brian Petrino looked at his Angel Soft toilet tissue, labeled "our thickest ever," and fumed. The old roll had 352 sheets per roll; the new one had just 300 sheets, and they were narrower. "It should say 'our smallest,' " he groused.
From toothpaste to tuna fish, hot dogs to hand soap, companies have been shaving ounces and inches from packaged goods for years, usually blaming it on rising costs for ingredients and energy. They've got a point: Higher commodity and fuel costs are expected to cause a spike in food prices by as much as 3 percent in 2011. But if manufacturers are skimping when costs go up, why aren't they more generous when costs hold steady or fall?
Reasons for the Reductions
Those moves may fool some people, but most have caught on. In a Consumer Reports survey several years ago, three-quarters of Americans said they noticed that packages were shrinking, and 71 percent of those people theorized that the main reason was to hide a price hike. Yet half said they'd prefer that companies keep the old package and raise the price. So why don't they?
"Because people are much more conscious of price than they are of package size or net weight of contents," says Edgar Dworsky, editor of Mouseprint.org, a blog that examines advertising's fine print. Slight downsizing is often imperceptible, whereas price increases are about as subtle as a pie in the face. And when prices rise, buyers often seek cheaper alternatives.
Despite awareness of downsizing, it's not easy to figure out which products have shrunk because relatively few packaged goods come in standard, recognizable sizes anymore. Tropicana and Florida's Natural, for example, shaved 5 ounces off their half-gallon cartons of premium orange juice. Häagen-Dazs, citing "ingredient" and "facility" costs, put its ice cream pints on a diet, knocking them down to 14 ounces. Other products come in such a range of sizes that it's hard to tell when one of them shrinks. Oreos, for instance, come in more than a dozen packages weighing from 2 ounces to more than 50 ounces.
[Story and list of 10 Items That Shrank continues below.]
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What You Can Do
· Look at different brands. Not all competitors act in lockstep. Minute Maid still sells its orange juice in half-gallons, and Ben & Jerry's packs its ice cream in pints. In addition, companies don't always downsize every package in their lineup.
· Compare unit price (per ounce, per quart, per pound, or per sheet) of package sizes. Promotions change, making one size or another cheaper from week to week.
· Try store brands. They're usually 25 to 30 percent cheaper than name brands and are often at least as good, we've found.
· Stock up and save. Supermarkets sell staples such as paper goods, cereal, and soups at or below cost to draw you in. Those "loss leaders" rotate regularly. If you follow flyers, you'll see that many items go on sale at predictable intervals, letting you stock up until the next sale.
· Buy in bulk. Warehouse clubs offer everyday low prices on large sizes or multipacks, so you don't have to wait for a sale.
· Contact the company. When we asked customer-service representatives why a product had been downsized, we were often given coupons toward our next purchase.
If enough people complain, companies may actually listen. Virginia reader Glenn Tonnesen thought Pepperidge Farm was trying to pull a fast one by labeling its German Dark Wheat bread "New Size, New Price." The old loaf weighed 24 ounces and cost $2.66 per pound; the new was 18 ounces and $2.92. The message, Tonnesen suggested: "We made it smaller, but that's OK because we made it more expensive!" Pressured by consumers unhappy with the lithe loaf, Pepperidge Farm brought back the larger one, briefly. It has since been discontinued.
10 Items That Shrank
Eagle-eyed readers provided these examples of weight loss. Customer-service reps provided the reasons.
Ivory dish detergent
Old: 30 oz.
New: 24 oz.
Reason: The 30-ounce product was discontinued in smaller stores, due to increased costs for raw materials.
Tropicana orange juice
Old: 64 oz.
New: 59 oz.
Reason: Last winter's freeze in Florida. The choice was to raise prices drastically or drop package size. Based on consumer research, people preferred to keep the same price and get a little less juice to keep within their budgets.
Kraft American cheese
Old: 24 slices
New: 22 slices
Reason: The larger 16-ounce package was discontinued because it wasn't selling.
Kirkland Signature (Costco) paper towels
Old: 96.2 sq. ft.
New: 85 sq. ft.
Reason: "It's a good question. I'll look into it and e-mail a response." (We never got one.)
Häagen-Dazs ice cream
Old: 16 oz.
New: 14 oz.
Reason: Due to the cost of ingredients and facility costs, it was either change the size of the container or raise the price.
Scott toilet tissue
Old roll: 115.2 sq. ft.
New roll: 104.8 sq. ft.
Reason: A strength improvement increased the amount of fiber by 10 percent. The company also chose to realign the roll to match what other companies are doing. It's also an alternative to a price increase.
Lanacane first aid spray
Old: 113 grams
New: 99 grams
Reason: It was reformulated to provide more cooling and a finer, faster-drying spray. The propellant ratio was increased, and since propellant weighs less per unit volume, the net weight in the same-size can was reduced. Can size was retained to ensure the product would fit in the same space as the one it replaced.
Chicken of the Sea salmon
Old: 3 oz.
New: 2.6 oz.
Reason: The company hadn't provided one at press time, but StarKist, which downsized its tuna pouch, blamed the rising costs of ingredients and packaging.
Old: 10 oz.
New: 8.1 oz.
Reason: Rising gas prices
Hebrew National franks
Old: 12 oz.
New: 11 oz.
Reason: The marketing department decided to change the packaging, and with that came a change in size.
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