Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pay More – Get Less!

In my last post, I told you about the way manufacturers and stores are changing the labelling and packaging of their products. It isn’t always because of new recipes. I think it is more of a way to keep consumers on their toes and to keep us in the store longer in hopes that we will spend more money.

Well we are spending more money but we certainly aren’t always getting more for our money!

Sure, some things are on sale and there are good deals to be had if we are lucky enough and patient enough to hunt for them BUT sometimes the new packaging can be a bit misleading.

How often have you checked the weight, volume or quantity of the product in that new packaging? Is it the same as what it used to be?

Several products have gradually shrunk over the years. When Canada brought in the metric system in the 1970’s products gradually switched their labels from imperial to metric. Rather than have odd sounding quantities the companies rounded the totals up or down to make the numbers even. For example: 8 ounces equals 227.2 g. This was either rounded down to 200 or 225 or rounded up to 250. 16 ounces is equal to 454g so that was generally rounded down to 450 but occasionally rounded up to 500. It was all rather confusing at the time and to some extent still is for those of us who were pretty much out of school by the time the metric came in.

What happened after that initial change though is in some ways more interesting. Several products gradually shrunk. You used to be able to buy a 12 ounce bag of chocolate chips. That converted to 340.8g. Somehow over the years, that has managed to decrease to the new standard of 300g or 10.56 ounces. Some varieties have even gone down to 270g which is only about 9.5 ounces.

Generally I don’t go by the weight of a package in a recipe – rather by the volume or weight of the product required for the recipe, but it can get confusing if you aren’t paying attention to a recipe and the size of the package you are using.
In the last few years several major manufacturers have changed the packaging to cover up the fact that you are actually getting less for the same price.

I don’t buy a lot of cereal, but I remember seeing a piece on the CBS Early Show a year or so ago that said some of the companies had actually decreased the amount in each box by anywhere from 2 – 5 ounces (57 – 140g) but kept the same suggested retail price.

Snack food companies have also done the shrinking product content trick. Several brands of potato chips and crackers have about an ounce less (28g) per package. Frankly, the fact that you are getting less snack food for the same price is a good idea in my mind as most of these type of products are high in calories, sodium and fat. I buy one or two bags of tortilla chips and a three or four boxes of crackers a year. I’m not much of a snacker and rarely eat junk food.

One item that I buy a few times a year is the Green Giant frozen vegetables. I don’t use them often - I prefer fresh – but these are nice to have on hand when you want something out of season or to throw in a casserole. Late winter of 2009, I was watching for them to go on sale as I didn’t want to pay the regular price of over $3 for a 1 kilo bag. Finally, just before Easter, I saw them on sale for $2.39! Great! I could stock up with a bag each of sweetlet peas, peaches and cream corn, cut green beans and the mixed vegetables. I found the display case in the frozen foods and started picking up my bags. Wait a minute – something doesn’t feel right here. These are smaller! I checked the label and sure enough – the 1 kilo bag that had been around for years was now down to 750g! The regular and sale prices were about the same but the quantity that you were getting was 25% less! When I got home, I checked the ad more carefully and there – in tiny print was the size of 750g. Needless to say, I was not impressed!

This shrinking product syndrome isn’t just happening in the edible areas. It is also happening in the paper products such as Kleenex tissues. They used to be 200/box but now about 100 to 150 depending on type but the tissues are also smaller than they used to be.

I think the most glaring of the shrinking products is toilet paper. I’ve been buying the Purex brand for many years. I always wait till it is on sale and then stock up with several packages. About 15 years ago, a double roll was 500 sheets. Eight double rolls for $4 or less was considered a good deal. Well, you can still get eight double rolls for about $4 if you watch for sales BUT the double roll has somehow gradually managed to shrink to 280 sheets!

Yup, times are changing. Inflation has increased prices and a dollar sure doesn’t go as far as it used to. Packages are being redesigned and getting smaller. If there really was truth in advertizing, the slogan would be “Pay More – Get Less!”

Then again, maybe the truth is a little too hard to sell. We’d need way to much toilet paper to clean up the mess that would create.


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