The Lowdown on Downsizing

September 25, 2008 6:33:33 PM PDT
You may be getting less of what you want at the grocery store and not even know it. That's because some favorite items are getting smaller in size but, unfortunately, the price isn't shrinking. Here's the lowdown on downsizing.Whether its ice cream, orange juice, pet food, or peanut butter, some manufacturers are downsizing. Consumer Reports' Tod Marks explains, "It's where they shrink the product and generally hold the line on price."

A closer look at some Fruit Loops boxes reveals one is 19.7 ounces and the new one is down to 17 ounces. You're also being squeezed on juice. The old version of Tropicana orange juice was 96 ounces. The new one - 89 ounces. Hershey's has a newer special dark chocolate "giant bar," but at 6.8 ounces, it's not as giant as the previous 8-ounce version, which isn't marked "giant" at all.

Tod Marks, Consumer Reports: "Companies use a lot of different rationales as to why they downsize packaging. Usually, in the case of the companies we spoke with, the primary reason is the fact that energy costs have gone up, raw ingredients and materials have gone up. But a couple of companies gave us some interesting answers." Tropicana told us they made the container smaller to create a plastic bottle that "?poured easier with less spillage and less gurgling."

Buyers are wising up. In a nationwide survey in July of 1,743 shoppers by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 75 percent said they noticed packages are shrinking, and 71 percent said the main reason for downsizing was to hide price hikes from consumers. Yet half said they'd prefer that manufacturers keep the old package and raise the price.

There are ways around product downsizing. Manufacturers may not always downsize every package in their product line, but only select sizes. So unit prices may give you an idea of what you're paying less for."

What you can do:

Compare unit prices
Manufacturers might not shrink every size they make.

Be flexible
Brand-loyal consumers will probably pay through the nose more often than shoppers who choose among several brands. Consider store brands; they're usually far cheaper than the big names, and in our tests many have been at least as good. In response to downsizing, one-third of our survey respondents said they'd bought more store brands.

Stock up
Weekly sales at supermarkets feature deeply discounted "loss leaders." Follow the flyers to see which staples go on sale at predictable intervals.

Buy in bulk
Warehouse clubs offer low prices on big sizes or multipacks.

Contact the manufacturer
When our reporter called anonymously to ask why a product had shrunk, he was offered coupons toward his next purchase.

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