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Shrink Therapy: Have You Noticed the Downsizing?

Friends, I'm inviting you to a food and whine session.

A few years ago, manufacturers began putting less in and charging the same. Seemed okay at the time; we as a nation don't really need to be chomping on 32-ounce candy bars. (Okay; hyperbolic example inserted to get your attention.) Consumer Reports focused on this phenomenon about a year ago. Its survey found that half of the 1,743 shoppers contacted said they'd rather pay more for the package weights they were used to, and that 71 percent of them thought the main reason for less in the box was to hide price hikes from consumers.

Using their noodle: Downsized packaging has spawned at least one new marketing strategy. (Bill Webster -- The Washington Post)

The trend has spread across grocery aisles. And recipe-wise, such maneuvers can be a real bother. The 16-ounce packages of noodles one might use to make kugel, for example, have mostly trimmed down to 12 ounces -- with the exception you see pictured here, and duly noted by the makers of Pennsylvania Dutch noodles. If you've become accustomed to cooking by memory -- 1 package of noodles, 1 container of cottage cheese, etc. -- the pasta part will affect the end result. In some cases, I've had to buy a second container of whatever just to make up the difference for recipe ingredients, which costs more and creates leftovers.

Yogurt cartons have shrunk from 8 ounces to 6; ground coffee, ice cream sandwiches and cartons, cereals, canned tuna, peanut butter, orange juice, boxes of macaroni and yep, candy bars, have all undergone the quiet transformation.

So, here's your chance to vent. Would you rather be buying the same amounts and get charged a bit more, or are you comfortable with less product for about the same price? Is this a boon for households with small numbers?

And most important, which downsized food items have tripped you up in recipes? Talk back, America. Name brand names. I'll make some calls and see what manufacturers have to say.

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  June 9, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Shopping  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Consumer Reports, shopping  
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This practice annoys me to no end. I would much rather keep the same package size and raise the price. Some of the changes are more frustrating than others. For example, I will not buy any yogurt that comes in a 6oz. cup. I like to eat yogurt as my breakfast, but 6oz. is not sufficient. So, those brands have completely lost me as a customer. I usually buy store brands now because they come in 8oz cups. I find myself buying different brands or store brands of many food products that have the "old" amounts in them when another brand downsizes.

Posted by: SweetieJ | June 9, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Really, what am I supposed to do with a 5 oz can of tuna?! Maybe one sandwich, but certainly not enough for tuna casserole. I'm as cheap as the next person (ok, much cheaper) but it's not a savings to have to buy two to get the amount that used to be in one. And it's not very "green" either.

Posted by: GirlScoutMom | June 9, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Giant's brand of yogurt with fruit on the bottom went from 8 oz to 6 oz and I'm paying the same price. Also, Skippy peanut butter went from an 18 oz. jar to 14 oz (I think, it's home in my pantry) and paid the same price. Now I have to double check package or can sizes to make recipes, as you pointed out above. I'd prefer they keep the larger sizes and raise the price.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | June 9, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I hate it also - I have several older recipes that call for 8oz of yogurt so I'm annoyed by those 6oz containers. But I am more likely now to by a quart container of yogurt and add my own flavorings.

Posted by: emunsey | June 9, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Oh yeah, the 6 oz yogurt is especially irritating. I don't eat a lot of yogurt, and really don't want to deal with the leftovers when a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of plain yogurt, and I have to buy two containers (or worse yet, a whole quart).

Keep the amounts consistant, please!

Posted by: magicdomino | June 9, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

It also irritates me. I want to buy a pound of coffee, not 12 ounces. This is just another chapter in the fleecing of the American consumer.

Posted by: davemarks | June 10, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

I agree with GirlScoutMom: The 5 oz. (down from 6 oz.) tin of tuna is a real annoyance. It's just too small and I won't buy two cans to make what one did. Downsizing sandwiches, casseroles and noodle salad. The brand I use: Genova yellowfin tuna in olive oil.

Posted by: fran426 | June 10, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

BTW, I think the standards we're all used to probably are smaller than their long ago originals. For example, recipes for chocolate chip cookies use the 12 oz. bag standard. Then I made them using Maida Haetter's recipe and her suggestion to use a pound of chips. "Trust me. It's not too much," she said, and she was right!

Posted by: fran426 | June 10, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

I work for a market research firm with a number of leading CPG companies and this is a very hotly debated topic in the industry. If you want to blame someone for the "grocery shrink ray" (credit to Consumerist) phenomenon you need to look at the retailers. Given a choice Safeway, Giant, SFW, Harris Teeter, Kroger, etc. do not want to raise prices which is how you end up with smaller containers of yogurt and tuna.

Consumers, however, can really come out ahead if you watch unit prices and spend some time comparison shopping. I am not an apologist for the industry and deal with every day - wondering why Tropicana OJ is now in a 89 ounce package when it used to be 96 and I am paying more.

Posted by: skipper7 | June 10, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

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