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Release Date: 01/04/2011

CR Finds More Products Are Getting Smaller

Manufacturers downsizing packaging by as much as 20% but still charging the same price

CR Feb '11 CoverYONKERS, NY — Does it seem like some products don’t last as long as they used to? From toothpaste to tuna fish, hot dogs to hand soap, companies have been shaving ounces and inches from packages for years. ConsumerReports’ latest investigation, featured in the February issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReports.org, found that more and more products are getting downsized.

Household names like Tropicana orange juice, Ivory soap and Kraft singles American cheese are all playing the shrinking package game, and manufacturers are attributing it to rising costs for ingredients and energy. “They’ve got a point. Higher commodity and fuel costs are expected to spike in food prices by as much as 3 percent is 2011,” said Tod Marks, senior editor and resident shopping expert at Consumer Reports. “But if manufacturers are skimping when costs go up, why aren’t they more generous when costs hold steady or fall?”

Companies often hide their handiwork when they shrink their packages. Indenting the bottom of containers, making plastic wraps thinner, or whipping air into ice cream are a few subtle ways companies downsize their products.

Reasons for reduction

Manufactures make subtle changes to the packages but generally keep the price the same because when prices rise, buyers often seek cheaper alternatives. And the bottom line is that consumers are more attuned to changes in price than packaging.

Consumer Reports found packages reduced in size by as much as 20 percent in its study. For example, Ivory dish detergent shrank from its 30 oz. bottle to a new 24 oz. bottle due to increased costs for raw materials, according to a customer service representative. And Häagen Dazs ice cream’s 16 oz. container shrank to a 14 oz. container due to the cost of ingredients and facility costs. It was either change the size of the container or raise the price, according to customer service.

Here is a complete rundown of Consumer Reports findings:

Product Old size New size Difference
Tropicana orange juice 64 oz. 59 oz. -7.8%
Ivory dish detergent 30 oz. 24 oz. -20%
Kraft American cheese 24 slices 22 slices -8.3%
Kirkland Signature (Costco) paper towels 96.2 sq. ft. 85 sq. ft. -11.6%
Haagen-Dazs ice cream 16 oz. 14 oz. -12.5%
Scott toilet tissue 115.2 sq. ft. 104.8 sq. ft. -9%
Lanacane first aid spray 113 grams 99 grams -12.4%
Chicken of the Sea salmon 3 oz. 2.6 oz. 13.3%
Classico pesto 10 oz. 8.1 oz. -19%
Hebrew National franks 12 oz. 11 oz. -8.3%

What shoppers can do

Despite awareness of downsizing, it’s not easy to figure out which products have shrunk because relatively few package goods come in standard, recognizable sizes anymore. Other products come in such a range of sizes it’s hard to tell when one of them shrinks. For example, Oreos come in more than a dozen packages weighing from 2 ounces to more than 50 ounces. Consumer Reports offers these tips to help consumers shop the aisles with ease:

  • Look at different brands. Not all manufacturers downsize. Minute Maid still sells its orange juice in half-gallons, and Ben & Jerry’s packs its ice cream in pints.
  • Compare unit price. Look at cost per ounce, per quart, per pound, per sheet. Promotions change, making one size or another cheaper from week to week.
  • Try store brands. House brands are usually 25 to 30 percent cheaper than name brands and are often at least as good.
  • Stock up and save. Supermarkets sell staples such as paper goods, cereal, and soups at or below cost and rotate them regularly. Many items go on sale at predictable intervals, so stock up until the next sale.
  • Buy in bulk. Warehouse clubs offer everyday low prices on large sizes or multipacks.
  • Contact the company. When Consumer Reports asked customer-service representatives why a product had been downsized, they often offered coupons as an apology.

If enough people complain about downsizing, companies may actually listen. When customers complained to Pepperidge Farm about a new smaller-sized, more-expensive wheat bread package, the company bought back the larger loaf briefly. It has since been discontinued. The full report is featured in the February issue of Consumer Reports available on newsstands January 4 and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

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