While reaching for my usual breakfast cereal at the local bodega, I noticed something different. “Eco-friendly packaging!” the box proclaimed. “Fabulous!” I thought. Until I got home and plopped it down next to my older, almost-empty box. Hmm. “Eco-friendly” must be code for “much smaller,” because while the sizes were noticeably different, the red $3.69 price tag remained the same.
Portion reduction, called “short-sizing,” has become alarmingly common over the last year. The Chicago Tribune reports that since 2007, Wrigley’s gum has shrunk its 17-stick pack in favor of a new 15-stick “Slim Pack”; Nature Valley granola bars have gone from 70 bars a case to 60; and a can of Starkist tuna is down from 6 oz. to 5 oz. Tyson chicken, Country Crock spread, Frito-Lay’s Doritos and Hellmann’s mayonnaise are also slimming down–but prices are not.
When asked about the necessity of these redesigns, companies are quick to throw our “eco-wants” right back in our green faces. A Kellogg’s spokeswoman said reducing the amount of cereal per box was “to offset rising commodity costs for ingredients and energy used to manufacture and distribute these products” and in doing so is “taking into account the new eco-climate.”
But Ben Popken, of The Consumerist, when interviewed on NPR, said he believes that the companies are doing nothing for the greater good and instead, lining their own pockets. “The economy is getting tighter, and I think everyone recognizes that. The problem is that they’re trying to, you know, sneak it across the table without people noticing. So when that works on the large swath of myopic consumers, that’s great and that works out for them. But when you have people who are actually paying attention to these things, then it’s going to be a problem for both the consumer and the manufacturer because then people feel like they’re being tricked.”
“It’s about getting on Facebook, or a blog or on the company’s blog,” says Mintel new-product expert, Lynn Dornblaser, in a recent New York Times article. “Consumers are standing up, and the ones who don’t like it are being very vocal.” Consumer watch dogs like Incredible Shrinking Groceries and The Consumerist are keeping the public aware and providing a forum for some good old fashioned grumbling. “It’s a surprise when you go to buy something and it’s considerably smaller and they don’t tell you why.”
The upside? Maybe you shouldn’t feel so guilty for eating that entire bag of chips–it could have 20 percent less calories than last year.