After looking in the pantry, I was happy to see that I had exactly two cans of tuna — until I remembered that tuna was one of the many products affected by shrinking package sizes, thanks to manufacturers trying to maintain market share by keeping their product prices stable.
Sure enough, my tuna cans held just five ounces each. So, unwilling to make my casserole with 29% less tuna than the recipe called for, I reluctantly hauled myself off to the supermarket for an additional can. I know.
This isn’t the first time I’ve run into trouble when an old recipe called for an ingredient based upon an older product size standard. Awhile back I was preparing a cookbook recipe that called for 28 ounces of spaghetti sauce, but the jar I had only contained 23.9 ounces.
(And, folks, please save your admonishments regarding spaghetti sauce in a jar. Yes, I understand it’s culinary sacrilege — especially for a proud American of Italian heritage such as myself — but sometimes I get caught without any leftover sauce in the freezer, and no time to whip up a fresh batch. I digress.)
As long as food and other commodity prices are rising faster than consumer wages, manufacturers will continue to be faced with the dilemma of either raising prices and losing customers, or shrinking their package sizes and hoping nobody notices. Of course, more often than not, the manufacturers will choose the latter option. Sneaky buggers.
Unfortunately for the manufacturers, the longer this practice goes on, more and more people will eventually discover they’re being deceived — especially the ones who enjoy using old cookbooks.
How small have packages become over the years? Quite a bit. Here are two dozen examples of shrinking product sizes (both specific and general) to prove my point:
- Ragu spaghetti sauce (Was: 28 oz.; Now: 23.9 oz.)
- StarKist tuna (Was: 6 oz.; Now: 5 oz.)
- Anthony egg noodles (Was: 16 oz.; Now: 12 oz.)
- Scott toilet paper (Was: 115.2 sq. ft.; Now: 104.8 sq. ft.)
- Haagen Dazs ice cream (Was: 16 fl. oz.; Now: 14 fl. oz.)
- Skippy peanut butter (Was: 18 oz.; Now 16.3 oz.)
- Kirkland Signature paper towels (Was: 96.2 sq. ft.; Now: 85 sq. ft.)
- Snickers “King size” candy bar (Was: 3.7 oz.; Now: 3.29 oz.)
- Ivory dish detergent (Was: 30 fl. oz.; Now: 24 fl. oz.)
- Country Crock margarine (Was: 48 oz.; Now: 45 oz.)
- Breyer’s ice cream (Was: 64 oz.; Then: 56 oz.; Now: 48 oz.)
- Bounty 2-ply paper towels (Was: 138 half-sheets; Then: 128 half-sheets; Now: 121 half-sheets)
- Canned vegetables (Was: 16 oz.; Now: 14.5 oz.)
- Yogurt (Was: 8 oz.; Now: 6 oz.)
- Mayonnaise (Was: 32 oz.; Now: 30 oz.)
- Coffee (Was: 16 oz.; Then: 15 oz.; Then: 13 oz.; Now: 10 oz.)
How You Can Fight Back
Pay attention to those labels! Instead of focusing on the item price listed on the supermarket shelves, look at the unit price. Comparing unit prices is the easiest way to figure out the best deal when evaluating different package sizes.
Don’t be afraid to try the store brand. Buying store-brand products can save you as much as 60%. And as many of my blind taste test experiments have shown, it’s often hard to discern taste and quality differences between name- and store-brand products — especially when you’re using those products in recipes.
Buy more fresh food. You can reduce your risk of becoming a victim of stealth inflation by eating more fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, and even eggs. After all, the only way the shrinking-package phenomenon could ever affect the price of eggs or, say, a bunch of bananas, is if the powers that be redefine a dozen to be equal to 11, or decide to reduce the number of ounces in a pound from 16 to 15.
Then again, at the rate we’re going, that day may actually be closer than you think.
Photo Credit: jcoterhals