While the size of packaging may not seem immediately relevant in a book focusing on nutrition and health, I'm of the opinion that it's plenty important. When you're paying for air, your food dollar is being wasted.
Almost all of us have encountered the irritation, and disappointment, of discovering that a bag, jar, or box contained much less than we were expecting. Sometimes we're not really being shortchanged. There are functional reasons for "slack fill" in packages, like protecting delicate and breakable contents during transport. But cutting quantity to avoid raising prices is a time-honored tactic for manufacturers in tight economies. And in this one, too, many shoppers are noticing a trend toward stealthily shrinking package sizes. Deloitte's 2011 Consumer Food and Product Insight Survey found that nearly almost three-quarters of respondents (74 percent) say the size of some packaged goods is smaller.
Packaging to Price
The practice of manipulating package design or size to disguise price increases is called "packaging to price" and manufacturers are getting very clever at it. Here are just a few techniques that they hope busy shoppers won't notice:
Changing the shape of the package. Reducing the depth, but not the width, of familiar boxes. From the aisle, everything looks the same.
Distracting from smaller sizes with banners like "New E-Z pour bottle, " or "Same Great Taste." Describing new, but smaller, packaging as "greener," "future friendly," or with similar terms to suggest that it uses fewer resources in manufacture.
Packaging in larger containers, bags, or boxes to conceal product price hikes. The packages may say, "Now, 40% more!" But you're paying 50% more.
Adding more brine, syrup, or water to canned foods. Packaging in new, visually identical containers, but slightly reducing the content food. Here the "pound" of bacon suddenly weighs 15 ounces and the "pint" of ice cream contains only 14 ounces.
Black Hole Tactics
While packaging to price can be defended as the simple exercise of free market principles, some "black hole" tactics are especially deceitful. These include:
Adding dimples to the bottom of jars or molded packages Including useless partitioning inside packages, or bags inside packages Concealing pure emptiness, not evident at purchase, under bubble or blister packaging
Let the alarm bells go off when you notice new packaging for a familiar product. Be sure to check the price label to see if you're actually getting you suspect slack fill, look at the net weight of the product you're considering and compare weights and box sizes of nearby products. To file a complaint, contact an FDA district complaint coordinator. A list of coordinators for each state can be found here.