Tuesday, December 09, 2008


I was buying evaporated milk a couple weeks ago for a fudge recipe. Sometimes when I make grocery lists, I put down the box or can size I need so I can be sure I get the right amount for the recipe. Evaporated milk is pretty standard: they have small cans and large cans. I found my Carnation evaporated milk and started to put it in my cart when I noticed it was a 12 oz can. I looked at my list and I noted a 14 oz can. I looked on the shelf to see if other brands offered 14 oz cans, but unfortunately, there weren’t any other brands. I asked a guy shelving the cake mixes, “Does evaporated milk come in 14 oz cans?” He clearly didn’t know, because he came over, looked at my can, looked at the cans on the shelf, and then said “Guess not.” Thanks. I guess I didn’t really expect there to be 14 oz cans, I was just kind of verbalizing what seems to be happening with a lot of products: downsizing.

It seems to be the manufacturer’s way of increasing prices without increasing prices. It’s sneaky, but it’s kind of genius. They actually had a segment about this on the Today Show this morning. I think companies know that increasing prices will have a more negative impact on their sales. I’m not THAT picky about my brands, so if Kellogg’s Raisin Bran is even 30 cents less than Post, I’ll go for the Kellogg’s.

Fortunately, I’m a savvy shopper. I don’t know how or when I started looking closely at prices per ounce, but it has changed the way I shop for groceries. I make sure I’m getting the most for my money. And now is definitely the time to do that, as you’ll see Skippy skimping on their ounces, even though the jar will look like the same size. If you turn the jar upside down, you’ll see the bottom is more concave than it used to be. You’ll notice tuna cans are a little shorter, and cereal boxes are a little thinner, or the bags inside are a little smaller – sneaky. Even though your eyes can deceive you, prices per ounce can’t (without a law suit).

Honestly, if their production costs are up, and the natural solution is to make the consumer pay more, in most cases, I would prefer they give me less product than increase the price. I went ahead with my fudge recipe using 12 oz of the evaporated milk. I may have put in a bit less chocolate and sugar and butter to even everything out. The recipe didn’t suffer for it. I don’t really care or notice if I have fewer potato chips or Golden Grahams. I don’t care if my Kleenex sheets are one inch shorter; I probably didn’t need the whole surface area of the Kleenex anyway – as long as I’m getting the same amount of sheets. The downsizing is working on me. I’m still buying their products because they’re the same price (or in some cases, less).

I was a little put off last week when I went to Big City Soup and saw prices underneath the pieces of bread they used to give you for free. You would get bread, 1 oz of Tillamook cheese and some mints. Now if I wanted bread it was going to cost me $1.39. I looked at how much my soup cost and saw that the price went down. Ahh...but the price didn't really go down did it. The cashier asked me if I wanted bread. “Does it come with the soup?” Again, stupid question, because I already knew the answer, I was just making the point that I was hip to their little a la carte scheme. I decided I didn’t want bread. I never eat all of it anyway. I’m really just there for the soup (although I really like that cheese). With tax, my soup cost me $5 even. Nice. So with the bread and cheese, it would have cost me a little over $7. That’s only 75 cents more than I paid in the past when all 3 items came together as a meal deal – interesting that I opted for the lower price for less food.

Come to think of it, I would kind of prefer that restaurants give me smaller portions than increase prices on their dishes. I don’t need that much food – especially at Mexican restaurants. I can name about a dozen guys I’ve been to lunch with that would wholeheartedly disagree with my price/portion philosophy but I am littler than they are. As is my metabolism. If I'm disciplined enough to not overeat, I usually end up taking it home for lunch the next day, but some food doesn’t refrigerate well, and sometimes I didn’t like it and don’t want to eat it again.

I guess the point is restaurants and food companies are being sneaky to get the most out of the consumer. One of my favorite movie scenes ever is in Father of the Bride. Remember when Steve Martin just hits the fan after he starts to come to terms with how much his daughter’s wedding is going to cost? He goes to the grocery store for hot dogs and hot dog buns and starts removing buns from half his bags because he’s angry that hot dogs come in packages of 10 and buns come in packages of 8, so the victimized consumer has to buy two packages of buns in order to have enough for the 10 hot dogs but is left with “superfluous” buns.

I feel like I waste a lot of food like that, especially being single and cooking for myself. I can’t eat a whole loaf of bread by myself (they sold half loafs for awhile, but the price wasn’t worth it). Produce is the worst. Rarely do I eat a whole head of lettuce or all that celery by myself. It’s hard and I end up with wasted food. My sour cream goes bad, my can of refried beans goes bad, my pasta sauce goes bad. I’m not saying I like getting less for my money, but if manufacturers are struggling in this economy, I’d rather pay the same price for fewer ounces than pay more and end up wasting food I couldn’t eat by myself.


SRA said...

Amen. I rarely buy who gallons of milk or loaves of bread because I know I'm not going to eat or drink all of it before it goes bad. What rips me off, though, is the fact that what was once called a "half-gallon of ice cream" is now 1.5 quarts. In the past few years, they've taken an entire half quart away from the standard ice cream container. THAT is garbage. The rest, though, I think I can endure. :)

Lisa Marie Trent said...

amen sister.

Ilene said...

I'm with the ice cream thing. That has totally ticked me off.

Jessica Marie said...

Yep, love all the price per ounce tags at Smith's. That (and their regular sales) is why I'm a pretty loyal Smith's customer.

I LOVED your concert, by the way. It was beautiful.

dre said...

I doubt guys even care about this, BUT I do buy gallons of milk because it is a deal, and I'm not picky on experation dates. And I find I just have to get creative with receipes that use the same ingredients so it gets used instead of going bad. I come up with some crazy/good stuff!

And I had a receipe ask for diced or crushed tomoatos which ONLY game in like 40 oz or something rediculous like that. What do I do with all the extra? It's like the 14/12 oz problem.

And I like how you used the word littler, everyone tried to tell me that wasn't a word.

Jergs Family said...

This is a frustrating little marketing deal isn't it? I used to hate shopping because of this very thing you are talking about! All the wasted money and paying more for less was really starting to get to me. But, I have recently started a coupon program that has made grocery shopping like a game for me. I use a website called grocerysmarts.com and they check the weekly ads for me to tell me what is on sale, so I can plan menus around their sale items. It's a great deal - I've saved as much as $85 with coupons and in-store specials. If you want more info - let me know. I'll give you the Password to get on the site.

Hope you had a great time in NY!