Explainer: That shrinking feeling — downsized products
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.
Eagle-eyed readers provided these examples of weight loss. Customer-service reps provided the reasons.
Ivory dish detergent
Old: 30 oz.
New: 24 oz.
Difference: -20 percent
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.
Difference: -7.8 percent
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
Difference: -8.3 percent
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.
Difference: -11.6 percent
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.
Difference: -12.5 percent
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.
Difference: -9 percent
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
Difference: -12.4 percent
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.
Difference: -13.3 percent
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.
Difference: -19 percent
Reason: Rising gas prices.
Hebrew National franks
Old: 12 oz.
New: 11 oz.
Difference: -8.3 percent
Reason: The marketing department decided to change the packaging, and with that came a change in size.
© 2012 Consumers Union of United States, Inc. All rights reserved. No redistribution allowed. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertiser on this site.
Video: While products shrink, prices don’t
Transcript of: While products shrink, prices don’t
MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Back at 8:10. This morning on TODAY'S CONSUMER , a growing trend at your local grocery store. According to Consumer Reports , manufacturers are downsizing popular products by as much as 20 percent. Yet the prices, they remain the same. Here's NBC's Miguel Almaguer.
Ms. NETTA ALLRIDGE: All right. Boys, let's go.
MIGUEL ALMAGUER reporting: Netta Allridge didn't notice anything unusual...
Ms. ALLRIDGE: Oh, thank you.
ALMAGUER: ...but some of her basic products , things like toilet paper , were a bit off. The labels and packages on her favorite items look the same, the prices hadn't changed, but what's inside has. There's less.
Ms. ALLRIDGE: I think people are going to be very shocked that it had been that way for six months or, you know, and so they are going to feel like it was a sneak attack on them.
ALMAGUER: According to Consumer Reports , manufacturers have kept prices of many brand name products steady by reducing the size of the package. Tropicana squeezed a small glass of OJ out of their container, five ounces less; Kraft 's 2 percent American cheese slimmed down by two slices, enough for a grilled cheese sandwich ; a pint of Haagen-Dazs used to be just that, a pint, 16 ounces . Now it's 14. And this bottle of Ivory soap , but the new curves mean it's 20 percent skinnier.
Ms. PATTI SCHLIMER (Shopper): I think it's terrible. I think it's kind of sneaky, if you ask me.
ALMAGUER: Manufacturers have given a variety of reasons for their slimming packages, among them the higher cost of food and shipping. Hebrew National says their low-fat hot dogs cost more to make than regular franks, so they offer fewer of them in a pack. Kraft adds their smaller packages still provide a value to consumers.
Unidentified Woman: Your money's not going as far as you need it to these days.
ALMAGUER: For Netta Allridge , smaller containers don't help with a growing family. Seems like any way you squeeze it or slice it, your dollar doesn't go as far as it used to -- 10 square feet less if you're measuring in Scott toilet paper . For TODAY, Miguel Almaguer, NBC News, Los Angeles .
Unidentified Girl: Come on, Caleb !
VIEIRA: Tod Marks is a senior editor at Consumer Reports . Tod , good morning to you.
Mr. TOD MARKS (Senior Editor, Consumer Reports): Good morning, Meredith .
VIEIRA: We joke a lot about shrinkage here, but this is a serious problem for consumers, isn't it? How common is the practice?
Mr. MARKS: It's very common. I mean, Consumer Reports started reporting about this in the 1960s . And it -- the -- it came to a crescendo with the brick pack of coffee, the one-pound can or brick pound that was reduced, that's now barely over 10 ounces . And now we're seeing it with a broad spectrum of products , not just foods, but everyday household products as well.
VIEIRA: Let's start with food. Let's start with Tropicana .
Mr. MARKS: Mm-hmm.
VIEIRA: It used to be that when you went and bought a Tropicana , you'd find it for 64 ounces , right, 64-ounce container?
Mr. MARKS: Mm-hmm.
VIEIRA: Now it is down to 59 ounces , meaning basically they've taken out a small glass worth of orange juice .
Mr. MARKS: Yeah.
VIEIRA: Same price.
Mr. MARKS: Yeah. The company said it was because the big freeze in Florida last year, and their customers prefer that they kept the price the same but give you less. And, you know, you can -- you can't quibble with the fact that there was a freeze, but the reality is other companies haven't all done that. They haven't been in lockstep. And second of all, you know, you're paying more for the same product, and people -- it's a staple. People buy it every day.
VIEIRA: Well, then, if they don't have a freeze, will they go back to the 64 ounces ?
Mr. MARKS: That's the funny thing. We hear over and over again, how, 'Hey, look, our hands are tied, prices are going up, prices are going up, commodity prices.' But how come when commodity prices tumbled a year or so ago, the prices didn't go down or the sizes didn't go up?
VIEIRA: Go up.
Mr. MARKS: So it seems like a one-way argument.
VIEIRA: Yeah. Moving on to Haagen-Dazs , it used to be, what was it...
Mr. MARKS: A pint.
VIEIRA: A pint. A pint, but now it is 14 ounces , so the consumer lost two ounces or the equivalent of a small bowl of ice cream . Want to tell you what Haagen-Dazs said about this. They said, "By downsizing we're balancing our need to cover our increased costs with the realization that our country is in economic recession." Do you think that's of any comfort to consumers?
Mr. MARKS: No. I mean, look, the reality is these are tough times for everyone. But Haagen-Dazs is a premium-priced product that typically costs way more than almost any other ice cream out there. So they're actually almost like piling on. It's an expensive product, and they're saying, 'If you want it you're going to have pay for it.' And it's unfortunate because when products like orange juice and the pint of ice cream ...
Mr. MARKS: ...are in clearly recognizable sizes, people know that it's been shrunk. It's not like some obtuse thing. Oreos, for example, come in 12 different size packages. You don't know what the right size is. But when they shrink these legacy products and their legacy sizes, people take notice.
VIEIRA: People take notice. Right. Hebrew National ...
Mr. MARKS: Mm-hmm.
VIEIRA: ... Miguel talked about that.
Mr. MARKS: Right.
VIEIRA: Fewer hot dogs now because it costs more money, they say, to make the low-fat version?
Mr. MARKS: Yeah, well, you know what it is , they call it a specialty product. It's like the same thing with Kraft macaroni and cheese spirals vs. the elbows. They say, 'We sell fewer them, we have to charge more because it's more fanciful to make' and that sort of thing. There's plausibility to it, but, again, you know, you have to question if it really is just, you know, making a little bit extra, pumping up the profits.
Old Size: 12 Oz.
New Size: 11 Oz.
VIEIRA: Exactly. And then nonfoods, we've talked about this, the Ivory and the toilet paper , Miguel talked about it.
Mr. MARKS: Mm-hmm.
VIEIRA: But there are some products that have not changed.
Mr. MARKS: Yeah, there are some good guys out there. Absolutely, you know.
VIEIRA: Minute Maid being one of them, and Ben Jerry 's the other.
Mr. MARKS: Yeah, usually a lot of companies follow in lockstep. When the big guy does -- reduces a size, the others follow suit. But Minute Maid , to date, they're still acting as good guys. A half a gallon's still a half gallon. And Ben Jerry 's, an alternative to a costly ice cream such as Haagen-Dazs , another premium product, a pint is a pint.
VIEIRA: So your advice is look at different brands, compare unit price , try store brands, they're often as good, stock up and save and buy in bulk.
Mr. MARKS: That's right . Warehouse clubs are a good source of everyday low prices.
VIEIRA: OK. Tod Marks , thank you very much .