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Your Incredible Shrinking Groceries

Your Incredible Shrinking Groceries

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.

Read more: Family, Basics, Smart Shopping, , , , , ,

By Veronica Peterson, Web Editor, Care2 Healthy and Green Living

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Veronica Peterson

Veronica Peterson has a background in green design and creative writing. She loves discovering and sharing sustainable ways to enrich life. Veronica is a happy urbanite, who lives above a produce market in San Francisco with her dog Winnie.

31 comments

+ add your own
12:45PM PST on Jan 11, 2010

I have certainly noticed this trend!

1:09PM PST on Dec 9, 2009

I agree with Kirsten on that one. That's the main reason why I tend to buy things in the regular supermarket... although I would love to be kind to the environment and any third-world farmers out there, it's a pretty expensive move when you're a student.

2:42AM PDT on Jul 19, 2009

Lol @ that last sentence...

Yeah, we knew the tinier "greener" packaging bit was totally false.

Buying in bulk is greener! So, what they're doing doesn't make sense and isn't "greener" because you'll run out of the product (i.e cereal) sooner and have to waste gas to drive to the grocery store again and buy another box. It also adds to the problem of excessive packaging. It's just so they can give you less for the same--or higher--price (to charge and pocket more money).

7:45PM PST on Feb 20, 2009

At one time, 1 can would be enough but with the smaller size, I now have to by 2. How is that helping the enviroment? Twice as much to recycle, twice as much to transport. I don't know why they don't make the boxes bigger,cans .. that way we don't have to buy as often, less trips to the store, less recylcing and so on ....

7:27PM PST on Jan 19, 2009

I work in a large chain grocery store and have seen the changes made both in price versus quality/quantity. I can understand the frustration both as a consumer and also as a stock person who puts the items on the shelves and gets asked about the change in price and pack size. While I DO NOT justify what the big name companies are doing, a lot of it has to do with rising fuel costs. That breaks down to how much it costs to transport to the refinery/factory and from there how much it costs to transport to the grocery store shelves that you buy it from. My friends, there is no end in sight. The changes will continue and there is not much you can do about it. Boycotting their products won't do much. If you don't buy it someone else will. I came across new packaging for the Oscar Mayer Deli Creations in which they simply changed the amount of packaging while leaving the product and the price the same. It shows they are concerned about our environmental crisis as well as their costs in producing and marketing the products. Kudos to them! I wish more companies would take a better stance in their views.

6:08PM PST on Jan 19, 2009

Eh, it's not just food where this is happening.

1) Ark Naturals makes this pet eye wash called Eyes So Bright that seems to provide relief for my cat's swollen eyes (a chronic condition, alas). The first bottle I bought was 5 fl.oz/150ml for $29.70. When I was getting near the end, I bought a new bottle for the same price. I was only when I got home that I noticed the size had shrunk down to 4 fl.oz/118.3ml - 20% less for the same price! There's a bargain for you.

2) In 1989 I bough a Gorm storage system from Ikea. Recently I was considering expanding it so I looked up pricing for individual shelves. While they had kept the same depth available, the length of the shelves has shortened appreciably: from 89cm to 77cm, 13% less. So much for increasing the shelving density to accommodate more books.

6:06AM PST on Jan 19, 2009

Oh, I have noticed.

I wondered many years ago when this would start happening here. I thought about it when I looked at Japanese small packaging and high prices.

The important thing is to not be tricked into thinking we are getting more for our money.

5:39AM PST on Jan 17, 2009

I really can't believe that this is only an issue NOW. I have heard and read several stories on this topic in the last week. This has been going on for several years. Is it just that no one has noticed until now? Come on, people! Honestly, the yogurt that I like "down-sized" to six ounces several years ago. The one hold out was Breyers and even that has gone to 6 ounces from 8 ounces. It stinks not only financially but nutritionally because usually dairy portion sizes recommended are 1 cup which = 8 ounces. Therefore, we are not only getting short changed (pardon the pun)monetarily but so is our health. GREEDY, GREEDY, GREEDY!

3:12PM PST on Jan 16, 2009

There are so many tactics used by companies driven solely by profit that it's hard for the regular consumer to know how many different ways they are being screwed when they purchase a single product. It's disgusting, and I second the notion from another comment that we should be telling companies pulling this nonsense that we won't buy from them anymore, and why. I send emails to companies whenever the safety or quality of their product is in question. Most won't respond, and that should be taken as a sign- never buy from them again! For example, there's an organic line from Western Family called "Natural Directions". I recently sent them an email about their canned goods asking if they had a policy in place or in development about phthalate absorption. They actually responded, affirming that Bisphenol-A is in their canned foods and that there is no policy to reverse that. So, I have stopped buying that brand, but will go back should they change their minds because at least they were honest with me. And now they know why they just lost this customer! Imagine how fast their stance would change if they got millions of emails asking the same question...

7:54AM PST on Jan 16, 2009

Maybe its just me, but does anybody else who buys the smaller laundry detergents that come in the tiny containers 2x 3x, etc. use more of the product? I know I do. Bingo its gone in a flash.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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