At the grocery store, the purchasing power of our dollars isn't the only thing that's shrinking. Manufacturers are quietly downsizing the quantities in packaged food, often while holding prices steady, all in response to the rise in commodity and fuel costs. A few examples:
- Kellogg's cereals have an average of 2.4 fewer ounces per box
- Tropicana orange juice containers decreased from 96 ounces to 89 ounces
- Wrigley's 17-stick PlenTPak has been replaced by the 15-stick Slim Pack
- Spreads (butter, mayo) and ice cream containers have decreased in size overall
The story, in Time magazine, says that people are more sensitive to price than they are quantity, which explains why manufacturers are trying to slip the changes by us.
"Most people can tell you how much a box of cereal costs, but they have no clue how much is actually in it," says Harvard Business School professor John Gourville, who studies consumer decision-making.
Sure, many shoppers probably don't know how many ounces are in a box of Apple Jacks, but I think most people can eyeball it and figure out when they're getting ripped off. (I, for one, feel there's been considerably less cereal packed into the boxes these days.)
Some manufacturers say the shrinkage is in response to customers' needs (Tropicana claimed its new container redesign and attendant downsizing was the result of complaints about spillage), but most manufacturers aren't fessing up to the reductions, says Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federal of America:
Waldrop says he doesn't blame manufacturers for taking the step to protect their bottom lines, but says the food companies should be honest with their customers about it. "If they're transparent and open, consumers are less willing to think [manufacturers] are trying to pull one over on them."
The story recommends doing what savvy shoppers already do: Check the per-unit price on the shelf tags.
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