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This article was published 7/11/2010 (3614 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It could be a thinner box with less room for cereal, a skinnier jar with one less serving of pasta sauce, or a flatter container that holds fewer scoops of ice cream.
As companies try to keep costs in check without catching the attention of price-conscious consumers, the recent economic downturn wasn't just about job numbers and government deficits -- it's also been about downsizing products without downsizing their prices.
"Certainly with the recession over the past few years, there seems to have been a lot. It's a sneaky way to pass on a price increase to consumers because the product package is either identical to what it was before or virtually identical, so the consumer thinks they're buying the same old product, but they're not," said consumer watchdog Edgar Dworsky, who specializes in consumer protection and is current editor of the website mouseprint.org, which exposes the strings and catches in advertising fine print.
"You're getting less and just by definition, if you're paying the same price and you're getting less, that's a bit of a ripoff."
Normally, companies don't advertise the change when they roll out new peanut butter jars, chip bags or other product packaging to fit less food.
Some industry giants, including Unilever, General Mills, Nestle Canada and Loblaw, declined to provide Postmedia News with a list of products that have undergone recent size adjustments.
Other companies said there are good reasons for the downsizing trend, such as reducing a product's carbon footprint and sparing customers the pain of price hikes in the face of rising commodity prices and production costs.
Here are some examples of product downsizing since 2009:
-- Customers used to be able to buy 1.89 litres of Tropicana orange juice last year. Today, the container holds 1.75 L.
"Tropicana learned from research that, in today's tough economy, consumers generally prefer a slight adjustment to packaging size over a price increase," said Liz Luzza, a spokeswoman for Pepsi Co.'s Tropicana brand.
-- The new SunChips bags, unveiled earlier this year in Canada as the greenest chip bag ever with a large "100 per cent compostable bag" message across the top, also holds 15 grams fewer chips, reduced from 240 g to 225 g. Frito Lay Canada has also "adjusted" a number of bag sizes within its Lay's, Doritos and Tostitos brands "because of rising costs for energy, production and distribution," said spokeswoman Natasha Lasiuk.
--President's Choice ice cream containers have been flattened to 1.65 L instead of 1.89 L.
--Kraft's Miracle Whip used to be sold in a glass jar containing 950 ml. Today, the plastic container holds 890 ml. The packaging changed "for sustainability reasons as well as to maintain market competitiveness," said company spokeswoman Lynne Galia.
-- Major toilet paper brands have also undergone changes this year, including Scott 1,000-sheet rolls that are now 4.1 inches by 3.7 inches, instead of 4.5 inches by 3.7 inches.
-- Classico and President's Choice pasta sauces are now packaged in taller but skinnier glass jars -- and now hold 650 ml of sauce instead of 700 ml.
The prices, however, haven't gone down.
Joan Patterson, a spokeswoman for Heinz Canada, which owns the Classico brand, said in addition to allowing the company "to hold consumer prices steady in spite of significantly increased costs for ingredients and packaging," the smaller jar size "also had a positive impact on the environment because it reduced Classico's carbon footprint, since less glass means less fuel used in transportation."
There are a few products in Canada that are required by regulation to be a certain size, so consumers don't have to worry about downsizing to the size of baby food, pre-packaged bacon and sandwich meats and most frozen and canned fruits and vegetables.
And one line of products in the grocery store is bucking the downsizing trend -- in Canada, at least. In the United States, leading brands of canned tuna have shrunk their product by more than 16 per cent -- from six to five ounces -- by flattening their puck-like container.
Their Canadian counterparts haven't followed suit, even though the companies also facing rising costs.
"We're constantly adjusting our cost to our customers accordingly," said Peter Clarke, director of marketing for Clover Leaf Seafoods, Canada's leading supplier of shelf-stable seafood.
"We're not participating in that, and as far as I know, there's no intention for downsizing in Canada."
-- Postmedia News
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