Americans May Be Expanding, But Food Is Shrinking

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With Cuba Gooding Jr. yelling “Show me the mini!” Pepsi is undoubtedly hoping you’ll overlook the fact its new 7.5-ounce cans sell for almost as much as 12-ounce cans in much of the country. It’s just the latest – and perhaps most flagrant – attempt by a company to convince you less is more.

According to government figures, nearly 70 percent of us are overweight or obese. But it’s apparent we’re not getting bigger because we’re downing super-sized bags of chips. No, many bags of chips have actually gotten smaller in years past. So too have cookies, crackers, peanut butter and a host of other products you buy every week.

Watch the video below to see Money Talks News finance expert Stacy Johnson reveal the sneaky way companies are padding their bottom line. Then keep reading to learn more about which products are getting smaller and how you can fight back.

The incredible shrinking product packages

Mouse Print calls it downsizing, while Consumerist describes it as a grocery shrink ray. Whatever you call it, package sizes have definitely taken a dip in recent years. Here’s a sampling of products that have dropped their size but not their prices, according to those websites.

Tide Liquid Detergent

  • Old size — 100 ounces.
  • New size — 92 ounces.

Charmin Ultra Soft

  • Old size — 176 sheets (4.27 inches wide per sheet).
  • New size — 164 sheets (3.92 inches wide per sheet).

Pantene Conditioner

  • Old size — 22.8 ounces.
  • New size — 21.1 ounces.

Oscar Meyer Deli Fresh

  • Old size — 9 ounces.
  • New size — 8 ounces.

Chobani Yogurt

  • Old size — 6 ounces.
  • New size — 5.3 ounces.

You can find more examples at Mouse Print and Consumerist. Ritz crackers, Jif peanut butter and Ocean Spray juice are among the other offenders.

Why are products getting smaller? Well, companies have all sorts of justifications. Charmin told Mouse Print it reduced the sheet width on its toilet paper in order to add enhancements such as comfort cushions and to make it easier for the company’s “most demanding users” to flush.

Meanwhile, Chobani told The Boston Globe it only had customers’ best interests at heart. The company was apparently concerned you would be confused trying to compare the nutritional information on its 6-ounce containers with the information listed on its competitors’ smaller packages. Ah, how sweet of them to care.

7 ways to get your money’s worth

It’s a stark reality that product packages will likely continue to get smaller. Regardless of how the companies try to spin it, that’s not good news for you.

Here are seven ways to fight back:

1. Watch out for redesigned packaging

Your favorite brand’s new packaging may look snazzy, but it may also hide a reduced size. When you come across a new design stocked next to an older version of the same product, compare the package size. If the new design is smaller, you may want to stock up on the older packaging while you can.

2. Shop by unit price

Another way to ensure you’re getting the best value is to always shop by unit price rather than package price. That way you don’t get tripped up by comparing the price of a 10-ounce bag of chips with a 13-ounce one.

Most grocery stores list the unit price on shelf tags, and some states even require that this information be displayed. Of course, if your store doesn’t show the per-ounce or per-pound price, you could always pull out a calculator and do the math yourself.

3. Track prices

For the super-organized out there, you could use a price book to watch for changing product sizes and prices. In the olden days, savvy shoppers would use a notebook to track per-unit prices on their favorite purchases to help them identify pricing trends and to find the best deal. Today, you can use apps like ValueTracker and Sharky Shopping to do the same thing.

4. Buy on sale and use a coupon

With so many products on a downward slide, it seems like paying more for less is the wave of the future. However, you can keep your costs down by buying items only when they are on sale. For double savings, try to combine a coupon with a sale whenever possible.

Shoppers can use subscription sites such as SavingsAngel.com and TheGroceryGame.com to match coupons to sales, and there are literally hundreds of blogs posting coupon matchups for free each week.

5. Don’t be brand-loyal

Brand loyalty doesn’t help when it comes to getting the best value. Rather than sticking with the rapidly shrinking brand names, take a gander at the private-label items on the shelves. They may be available in a larger size and be every bit as tasty or effective as the big brands.

6. Look for older packages

Once a brand downsizes, that doesn’t mean all the larger packages instantly disappear. They may be sold in dollar stores, warehouse stores or outlet shops. Keep your eyes peeled for packages with an older-style label, which may indicate a larger size. Then, depending on the shelf life of the product, buy extras for future use.

7. Write to the manufacturer

Finally, let the company know you’ve noticed its sneaky change and are unhappy about it. Of course, they’re not going to add back the missing ounces just for you, but you may get some short-term reward for your effort.

Many companies send out coupons and even samples to complaining customers. In the long run, manufacturers might think twice about shrinking their products if they know enough shoppers are paying attention.

Have you noticed shrinking food at your local grocery store? Share your story in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Nancy

    Grocery stores now sell 5-oz cans of tuna, while Costco sells 7-oz cans (at least, the last time I looked.)

  • pennyhammack

    This is inflation and it doesn’t show up on the CPI because you are paying the same thing for less product. I noticed it back when the coffee companies started putting 13 ounces of coffee in a can that looked like a 16 ounce can and that was about twenty years ago. A box of Ritz crackers used to contain five stacks, now a similar box contains four stacks but visually they look and cost the same. That’s a 20% reduction. Flour, sugar, yogurt, etc.,have all shrunk in volume without price reductions in the past few years. Not fair to those of us who are struggling to make it on SSI – 1.5% increase this year and a pension that doesn’t increase and never will.

    • Susan Knapp

      Huh! I didn’t know the 7 ounce can of tuna still exists! My favorite recent “aha moment” is the discovery that
      Stella Artois beer is being sold in 11.2 ounce bottles instead of the
      standard 12 ounces. I only realized this when I was using it for a
      recipe that called for 12 ounces of beer. Then there’s the chain grocery
      store that advertised Haagen Dazs “pints” on sale, except that they
      aren’t actually a whole pint. But the article’s advise is
      good–definitely buy on sale and use coupons. If you are skillful, you
      can get the item pretty cheap or even free. I recently bought 2 packages
      of brand-name antacids and got them for free plus they gave me $$ on top of that with a rebate offer.

      • Jason

        Stella Artois is a Belgium beer and 330ml (11.2 US oz) beers are the standard size in Europe and some other parts of the world. Some foreign brewers package and sell 12 oz bottles specifically for the US market but many do not. I remember Red Stripe made news a few years back when they decided to stop making a 12 oz bottle for the US market and starting importing their standard 330ml bottle.

    • Jcatz4

      I’ve been noticing the shrinking products for many years. The price “may” remain the same but in most cases the price goes “up” and the product “shrinks”. I live on SS and a very small pension. I don’t understand why the cost of food is not (apparently) used in the CPI for figuring an increase in SS. A “half gallon” of ice cream – if it is really ice cream – is only 48oz. It wasn’t long ago that I thought I would treat myself to some Breyers Butter Almond Ice Cream. Back when I was growing up, Breyers was made in Phila., PA and was a really good ice cream. I always loved the Breyers Butter Almond. So, I get it home and make myself a dish and the taste was terrible. I looked at the carton and found out that it is NOT ice cream but is called “A FROZEN DAIRY DESERT”. It tasted like coagulated oil! My point is in many cases, the product shrinks, the price goes up and the quality goes DOWN.

  • ccitizen60

    Nothing more than a somewhat covert form of price inflation.

  • BayronPosas

    Good thing there is plenty of beer left.

  • Donald Burk

    We have been buying Canine Carryouts for at least 4 years at Walmart.(dog treat – blue bag -comes in 5 or 6 different flavors) The price of a 7 oz package has been for 4 years or longer $1.00 for that 7 oz package. Recently we walked into Walmart and there was a big display in the middle of the isle. In large letters the display was marked falling prices WAS $2.09. It was a 5 oz package of Caine Carryouts limited time only NOW $1.69. SAVE 40 cents. Our next visit the items in the middle isle were gone but in the usual place where Canine Carryouts were kept was the 5 oz package that was on sale for $1.69 now marked regular price $1.00 When we got one home and opened it we compared it with an older package. The bag size is the same – the “artwork” on the bag is the same, the amount of pieces are the same but only two changes the package says 5 oz instead of 7 oz and the dog treat pieces are smaller.

  • The IWC

    I work retail and I learned that the primary reason why there’s “less” in a product is because companies ship their items via freight (semi trucks) and with diesel prices extremely high, the heavier the freight, the more shipping is charged and the stores have to pass on the increase to the consumer. By reducing the amount in the package by 10%, prices stay the same – though you still get less…but the majority of shoppers don’t even bother checking the size of the package anyways… In retail, paying $2.99 for a 16 ounce box of crackers several years ago… now it’s $2.99 for a 14.4 ounce package instead of $3.99 for the same 16 ounce package.