Living Better For Less? Inflation Is Down – But So Is The Size Of Your Groceries:

Do you like chocolate? If so, there’s re-assuring news from the USA. Research there has suggested that (contrary to popular supposition) it can be good for you. According to results published in the “Archives of Internal Medicine”, quoted by BBC News Health reporter, Michelle Roberts, people who eat chocolate a few times a week are “on average, slimmer than those who do so occasionally and they have a lower BMI (Body Mass Index)”. Another positive factor, says the Daily Mail, is that the cocoa ingredient contains “polyphenols which prevent the oxidation of harmful cholesterol” and emits an aroma which “slows down brain waves and makes us feel calm”.

Before you rush out to the supermarket to replenish your supply, however, perhaps you should pause to consider which brand you intend to purchase. If you have a partiality for “Cadbury’s Crème Eggs”, which it seems are only put on sale during the three months leading up to Easter, you could be in for a disappointment. As the “Yahoo Lifestyle” journalist, Kim Hookem-Smith noted on 12th January, the American cheese conglomerate Kraft (who bought the Cadbury’s company in 2010) have changed the recipe. They “don’t taste the same” Even worse, there are now only five eggs in a pack compared to the previous six.

If your attachment to chocolate goes back a long way, this probably won’t come as a big surprise. You may even be familiar with what the Americans call “The Grocery Shrink Ray”, whereby (as Laura Northrup pointed out in “The Consumerist” in October) “the manufacturers of food and consumer goods make their products smaller rather than raise prices. You know what it looks like: It’s why your toilet paper doesn’t quite fill the holder anymore”.

In the UK, this “underhand sales practice” ( as described by the consumer campaigning magazine “Which”) dates back to when the media noticed that Mars had reduced the size of their bars from 62.5g to 58g but were charging the same price. Mars claimed, somewhat unconvincingly, that they had done so “to help tackle the nation’s obesity crisis”.

Since then, Cadbury’s have re-launched its “Dairy Milk” bars in a new “curved” shape but (laments the Daily Mail) shrunk the 49g ones by 8% down to 45g and the 140g bars to 120g, thereby “losing the equivalent of two chunks. Cadburys didn’t stop there. They subsequently “cut the size of their Roses tins from 975g to 850g –effectively snatching away 11 chocolates”. Nestle promptly did likewise, reducing the size of its purple “Quality Street” tins by 18% from 1kg to 820g. The cost for the shopper in many of these cases either didn’t change or even went up.

In 2014, “Which” issued guidelines on “The 10 pricing tactics to watch out for in supermarkets”. This revealed (among others) that the size of Nestle’s “Cool Mint Matchmakers” has dwindled by 14% from 151g to 130g. The price in Asda and Morrisons remains the same at £2.24p. This followed Nestle’s decision to cut their “Munchies” by 16% from 150g to 126g. Hitherto (commented “Which”) “These were £1.67 or two for £3 in Asda, £1.67 in Sainsbury’s and £1.78 in Waitrose. They were £1.59 in all three afterwards, which isn’t a proportionate price drop”.

This phenomenon has not, of course, been limited to chocolate products. If you go into any Sainsbury’s to buy one of their branded washing powders, you’ll find that they have suddenly slimmed down the packets from 800g to 650g, claiming that they are “more concentrated” and that though they contain “less powder they have more power”. The price has stayed at £1.75p. The standard basic dimension for most competing washing powders such as Persil, Skip, Breeze, Comfort, Omo and Surf (all marketed by Unilever) or Ariel, Bold, Daz and Tide (Proctor & Gamble) is now 650g, irrespective of the retailer.

Meanwhile, continuing with a few more of the results from the “Which” surveys: Persil’s “Small & Mighty Biological Colour Liquid “is now 525ml instead of 630ml (minus 17%). The “Before & After “ prices? Asda £4.22 then, £4.68 now; Sainsbury’s £4.30 to £4.50; from £4.50 in both Morrisons and Ocado to £4.69 and £4.75. If you have a penchant for “Birds Eye Takeaway Feasts Original Chicken Popstars”, you’ll get 12% less (150g instead of 170g) but still pay £1.99 for them in Sainsburys. At Morrisons and Waitrose, Patak’s “Tikka Masala Cooking Sauce” still costs £1.76 despite being reduced from 500g to 450g. There used to be 40 “surface wipes” in a Dettol “Anti-Bacterial Cleansing” pack, but there are now only 36 (10% less) though remaining at £2. Similarly, Pledge’s “Clean & Dust Jasmine Furniture Polish ” has 17% less spray (300ml to 250 ml) but still costs £1.30 in Morrisons.

The list is endless. “Which” wasn’t impressed either by the £1 stickers that Sainsburys have been attaching to their broccoli, Tesco to their spinach and Waitrose to their mushroom displays when the price “has actually been the same all year round”. How do the manufacturers succeed in apparently misleading the public? Vince Wayne Mitchell, a marketing professor at City University, told “The Guardian” that if (for instance) “they reduce the number of crisps in a packet by 10%, people tend not to notice”. Another way they use JMD (“Just Noticeable Difference”), he explained, is by adding ingredients that are cheaper or even of dubious origin, such as in the case of the horsemeat scandal.

In the opinion of a contributor to the “Which” conversation website, “It is clear that many manufacturers have changed the shape of bottles, jars and other containers to conceal the fact that the volume is smaller, and that the weight of the product has gone down”. Both the Government and the supermarkets, “Which” asserts, should take action to make unit pricing much clearer, so consumers “can easily compare products to see which is the cheapest”. Furthermore, they declare, “Special offers should be genuine”.

Filed under: Society | Posted on January 15th, 2015 by Colin D Gordon

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