Doesn’t it seem like we pay more and get less for goods and services? Maybe you haven’t noticed. The disparity would not be evident unless you did shopping for your family on a regular basis.
It’s eye-opening when the price of the yogurt or dog food you bought last week jumps 10 percent or more the next time you go shopping. And the sudden fluctuation in cost becomes even more disheartening when you remember the price tag for the same item first went up two months ago.
Retailers blame price volatility on supply problems, weather issues, increased transportation costs, etc. They aren’t lying. The retail economy has cycles, peaks and valleys. Today, most people are so far removed from the sources of their supply, they can’t comprehend the complicated network of manufacture, packaging and shipping required to get products into local stores.
Likewise, too few people check the fine print on the boxes and packages. Yes, the price always seems to increase, but what we get for our money often is less.
While getting ready for a garage sale, I found a box still unopened from our move back to Tennessee. It was marked “Bathroom Stuff” in my late wife’s scrawl. Inside was the usual hodge-podge from vanity drawers and under-sink cabinets: combs and brushes, partial bottles of shampoo, hand mirrors, rolls of toilet paper and bars of soap in their original wrappers.
One of these caught my eye.
The bath bar had been purchased singly at a local grocery store when we lived in southeastern Ohio, another part of Appalachia. Unwrapping the bar and holding it in my hand, I immediately realized it was different in some odd way.
The outside packaging was almost identical. But the bar that filled my hand was hefty and sturdily lozenge-shaped. Also, it was of uniform thickness from end-to-end, top-to-bottom.
Curiosity piqued, I went to the bathroom and retrieved an unopened package of the same soap brand purchased last week at a well-known discount store. The new bar was smaller and lighter. Plus, it was concave-shaped. In other words, the newer product weighed less, but perhaps the shape change helped mask the difference.
The concave shape, I first thought, was a human engineering advancement. The gently curved bar seemed more comfortable in my palm. But then I realized it had been done as much to disguise the size disparity than to provide a more pleasant bathing experience. Filling concave molds doesn’t require as much product per unit, when compared to the stolid old bar shape, another savings for the manufacturer.
My old bath bar weighed 5 oz. It was purchased circa 2007-2008. I don’t know what it cost, the receipt having been lost long ago. In 2018, the equivalent bar of soap weighs 4 oz. If I am not mistaken, this is a 20% size decrease.
Did anyone else notice? Had there been objections? When did this happen?
For answers – or at least, informed opinions – I went to my favorite Internet browser. Indeed, I was probably the last American consumer to notice that bars of soap had undergone major shrinkage. And the trend involved nearly all brands.
Consumers took to blogs, chat rooms and social media to complain. Apparently, downsizing started during the Great Recession. From the corporate standpoint, a smaller bar of soap at an increased cost immediately improved profit margins (please don’t think the companies declared price cuts because they had decided to manufacture and package bath soap in a lesser size).
It also appears the downsizing first cut a half ounce from a bath size bar, then a second resizing took the weight down to 4 oz.
Let’s not pile dirt on the soap companies alone. Across the board, product packaging by weight is not what it used to be. Take the venerable Twinkie. The cream-filled golden sponge cakes weighed 38.5 grams each when the popular brand was resurrected in 2013. But the sweet treats, sold in cellophane-wrapped two packs for decades, formerly weighed 42.5 grams apiece, according to an Associated Press report.
Ditto for canned fruits and vegetables. Gone are the 16 oz. cans, replaced by 15 oz. and 14.5 oz. containers. Twelve-ounce cans are 10.5 oz. today. Does this mean cookbooks published before the downsizing must be thrown away because the recipes call for weights and volumes that no longer exist? Just wondering…
Size reduction while not making a corresponding price cut is called “shrink-flation.” It’s all for the benefit of the companies, not the consumers.
While digging around on the Internet to find more examples of product downsizing, I happened to remember how much larger that individual candy bars seemed during my boyhood, many years ago.
Well, I was wrong. In the chocolate candy industry, at least, you can still get more for your money, in addition to innovations like bite-size packaging and a plethora of new products. According to a 2015 survey in Confectionarynews.com, several Hershey and Mars chocolate products are seven to 20-percent larger than yesteryear.
Kudos to the candy makers! Don’t ask me why they increased the size of confections. Of course, this also gave them the reason to increase the price. More chocolate means greater overhead for the main ingredient. At least, it’s an honest business principle and understandable. It might also have stimulated appetites and sales.
My mistaken perception about the size of candy bars proves yet again that an old geezer’s memory can be tricky. Back when I was rotting my teeth with Three Musketeers and PayDay peanut-covered nougats, candy bars did seem bigger. Maybe it was just my appetite for sweets.