The fact is, for those who are willing to look close enough, we are actually being confronted by a serious bout of deflation, at least when it comes to the size of the containers sitting on our supermarket shelves.
With production costs continuing to climb, manufacturers find themselves caught in a classic dilemma: either raise prices and risk losing customers, or stave off the price increase by shrinking the size of their packaging.
Anybody care to guess which option the company brass most often decides to take when faced with the need to make that kind of lose-lose decision?
The Evidence Is All Around You
Of course, manufacturers know that a little deception is worth it if it means they can hold back those dreaded price increases.
How small have packages become over the years? Quite a bit. Here are just a few examples — 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.)
- Country Crock margarine (Was: 48 oz.; Now: 45 oz.)
- Snickers “King size” candy bar (Was: 3.7 oz.; Now: 3.29 oz.)
- Kirkland Signature paper towels (Was: 96.2 sq. ft.; Now: 85 sq. ft.)
- Bounty 2-ply paper towels (Was: 138 half-sheets; Then: 128 half-sheets; Now: 121 half-sheets)
- Ivory dish detergent (Was: 30 fl. oz.; Now: 24 fl. oz.)
- 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.)
‘Twas a time when the standard ice cream container was a half-gallon. Not anymore. Breyer’s ice cream tub fell from a half-gallon to 1.75 quarts — then it shriveled to 1.5 quarts. It’s only natural to wonder if 1.25 quarts is just around the corner.
Meanwhile, you may be surprised to learn that a “pint” of Haagen Dazs is now only 14 ounces. Yep; and it’s been that way since 2009. Thankfully, as a hard-core Chunky Monkey fan, I’m happy to report that Ben & Jerry’s hasn’t followed suit. Yet.
Peanut butter fans probably never noticed that Skippy peanut butter shrank their 18 ounce container size down to 16.3 ounces back in 2008. Not 16 ounces, mind you, but 16.3. Don’t ask me why they didn’t just stick to whole numbers. Maybe they didn’t want to push their luck.
On the other hand, choosy mothers will be pleased to know that Jif peanut butter still comes in the traditional 18 oz. jar.
To be fair, manufacturers sometimes increase their package sizes too. For example, Hershey has been altering the size of their candy bars to account for fluctuating ingredient costs since 1908. Between 1921 and 1968 the price of a Hershey chocolate bar held steady at a single nickel. During that time, the weight of the bar fluctuated in both directions from a high of 2 ounces in 1930 to a low of .75 ounces in 1968.
Then again, when manufacturers increase the package size while holding the price steady, they advertise that information on the label in bold font that’s impossible to miss.
Heck, even TP isn’t immune from the downsizing epidemic. In their own study of shrinking package sizes, Consumer Reports discovered that a roll of Scott toilet paper — excuse me, toilet tissue — has 9 percent less paper on a roll than it used to.
Hey, it could be worse; Scott could have tried holding prices down by going from 2-ply to 1-ply instead. Or even 1.3-ply. But I suspect that particular deception is something most of us would have noticed sooner rather than later.
Photo Credit: jcoterhals