MARTIN SLOANE | Supermarket Shopper Shoppers don't like downsizing



Over the past year I have received dozens of letters from readers complaining about product downsizing. Downsizing is a nasty word. For grocery shoppers, it usually means getting less for your money. Peter Hayes of Seal Beach, Calif., wrote to me when he first noticed Tide powder had been downsized from 110 ounces to 87: "That is quite a healthy, but sneaky, price increase."
Sneaky or not, grocery products are being constantly downsized. And the changes are often less noticeable with products like ice cream. Breyers recently downsized when it introduced its Ice Cream Parlor line (the Reese's, Heath and Oreo varieties). Breyers justified the smaller container, saying the ingredients were more expensive, and, given the choice of a higher price or smaller container, it chose the latter. At the time, I said consumers could expect other ice cream makers to follow Breyers, and they have. If you look carefully, you will notice the round container of Edy's is now 1.75 quarts. (The squat container of Edy's Homemade is still a half-gallon.) Healthy Choice is now 1.75 quarts.
Consumers understand that manufacturers are faced with rising costs. Grocery shoppers recognize that the cost of raw materials, labor, packaging and trucking keep going up. Why don't manufacturers just increase prices instead of playing downsizing games? That is what I asked Gene Grabowski, vice president of the D.C.-based trade association, Grocery Manufacturers of America.
Research
"All of the manufacturers do consumer research. This research tells them that consumers most dislike grocery price increases. Consumers prefer that manufacturers offer a smaller size rather than charge a higher price." Grabowski continued, "This opinion is widely voiced by seniors and other consumers on a fixed income."
So, what is a smart shopper to do? A careful look on the supermarket shelves will show you a few packages that have been upsized! Specially marked packages of Wisk laundry detergent, now available at many supermarkets, have a big banner, "15 percent More Free!" Specially marked bottles of Ajax dishwasher liquid, say "50 percent More" and contain 38 ounces instead of 25. Stouffer's Skillet Sensations have a banner, "50 percent More Beef!"
If you are tired of the more, fiber, thicker, softer claims, consider taking packages of paper products and comparing their weight! That is the advice of Cooki, a reader from Irwindale, Calif., who sells paper products by the case: "Large rolls don't necessarily mean more paper." says Cooki. "A case of toilet tissue can range in weight from 34 to a high of 50 pounds." I tried it. Using the supermarket's produce scale, a 4-roll package of Ultra Northern Double Rolls weighed approximately 24 ounces. A similar package of Charmin Ultra weighed 20 ounces. A package of 200 Brawny napkins weighed 21 ounces. The similar package of Bounty 200s was 18 ounces. Interestingly, a package of low price Sparkle napkins, 250 count, weighed only 17 ounces.
You can also become a more knowledgeable Smart Shopper by subscribing to Consumer Reports. When Consumer Reports tested 30 toilet papers in its laboratory, it discovered decided differences in strength, disintegration, softness and absorption. Moreover, it found big differences in their price -- from 6 cents per 100 sheets to 25 cents. For convenient access to tests of grocery products in dozens of categories, I highly recommend subscribing to the Consumer Reports online service at: www.consumerreports.org.
Play the game
For most shoppers, the best solution to product downsizing in the coming year is to play an enjoyable game of your own. Don't just get mad, get even -- or get ahead of the game -- by playing my Great Grocery Game. While product sizes have decreased over the years, coupon values have gone up. If you notice fewer sheets of toilet tissue, save the next toilet tissue coupon you find and then wait until the brand goes on sale. That "Double Play" discount is the best solution to downsizing, and your personal triumph at the checkout counter!
United Feature Syndicate

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