Consumer Reports: Honey, They Shrunk the Groceries

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What’s next—11 eggs in a carton? A five-pack of beer? Throughout the supermarket, products are shrinking as prices hold steady or even go up. Lisa Stauber, a Houston mom, was caught short lately when her usual three boxes of pasta weren’t enough to feed her large family. “Whole wheat pasta had gone from 16 ounces to 13.25 ounces,” she told the New York Times. “I bought the same amount I always buy, I just didn’t realize it, because who reads the sizes all the time?”

The downsizing trend is one that Consumer Reports has been watching for awhile and in our recent report Downsized! we found quiet a few supermarket goods that had slimmed down. Three notable offenders were: Tropicana orange juice shrank from 64 oz. to 59 oz. (7.8% smaller); Kraft America cheese went from 24 slices to 22 slices (-8.3%) and Häagen-Dazs ice cream dropped from 16 oz. to 14 oz. (-12.5%). No wonder you feel like you’re paying more for less.

Often the changes are disguised physically by, for example, indenting the bottom of a peanut butter jar or with clever marketing campaigns. A downsized box of cookies has “fewer calories” or that smaller package is “environmentally friendly,” the Times reported. Indeed.

Manufacturers blame the practice on the rising cost of ingredients and energy and believe that shoppers notice price hikes before package size. So what’s a consumer to do? Here are some tips from our savvy shoppers.

  • Look at different brands. Not all competitors act in lockstep. Minute Maid still sells its orange juice in half-gallons, and Ben & Jerry's packs its ice cream in pints. In addition, companies don't always downsize every package in their lineup.

  • Compare unit price (per ounce, per quart, per pound, or per sheet) of package sizes. Promotions change, making one size or another cheaper from week to week.

  • Try store brands. They're usually 25 to 30% cheaper than name brands and are often at least as good, we've found.

  • Stock up and save. Supermarkets sell staples such as paper goods, cereal, and soups at or below cost to draw you in. Those "loss leaders" rotate regularly. If you follow fliers, you'll see that many items go on sale at predictable intervals, letting you stock up until the next sale.

  • Buy in bulk. Warehouse clubs offer everyday low prices on large sizes or multipacks, so you don't have to wait for a sale.

  • Contact the company. When we asked customer-service representatives why a product had been downsized, we were often given coupons toward our next purchase.

  • Note: Consumer Reports has no relationship with the advertisers on this site. Copyright 2011, Consumers Union of United States, Inc. All rights reserved. No redistribution allowed.

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