Product downsizing gives readers the blues

January 4, 2019

Dear Jill, I have read accounts of products being downsized: The price stays the same, but the product gets smaller. Well, here is one I noticed during the holidays.

I like a certain brand of European butter that always has come in an 8-ounce brick. I bought some to have at the dinner table. Unbeknownst to me, I had another package of the same butter far back on the shelf in the refrigerator. My husband found it and brought it out, and then he found the newly-purchased brick, too.

The brick that was a few months older is 8 ounces, but the newer brick is 7 ounces. Again, this is the same exact brand. I think it is frustrating because the price has not gone down and also because an 8-ounce brick is half a pound. If I am baking with this butter, I now have a package that is somewhat less than half a pound, which is confusing for recipes. Instead of having ¼-cup markings on the butter wrapper, the new package has tablespoon markings on the wrapper. — Camellia F.

I’ve covered the topic of shrinking products many times during the years. When the costs of creating a product rise, a brand is faced with two options: Raise the price, or make the product smaller and keep the price the same. While we, as consumers, often say we wouldn’t mind paying a little more in order to keep the product’s size the same, research says otherwise: When brands raise prices, it tends to drive shoppers toward an alternate brand, effectively “punishing” the brand that raised its prices.

In 2013, we saw many popular brands of cake mixes downsize their products from 18.25 ounces to 15.25 ounces. I continue to be frustrated by this, as the smaller mixes do not fill cake or cupcake pans to the same capacity as the older mixes. And, similar to Camellia, I’m particularly irritated by changes to products used for baking. Of course, product downsizing crosses all kinds of product types and categories.

Dear Jill, I don’t know if you’re aware, but orange juice is getting smaller again. For a long time, a “half gallon” of juice was exactly that: 64 ounces. Then, a couple of years ago, many brands dropped to 59-ounce cartons. Frustrating, but what can you do?

The other day, I realized I had some orange juice coupons to use up, and the same brand was on sale. I picked up a carton in the store and noticed the cartons are the same height as before, but they are even skinnier now. I looked at the package, and they are 52 ounces. This is not the only brand affected. I looked around the refrigerator case and saw another brand is 52 ounces as well.

While I would have bought the name brand with my coupon, I paid more attention this time. The store’s own brand of orange juice says “Still 64 Ounces” on the label, and it was just 10 cents more than the name brand, but I got 12 more ounces of juice. Very sneaky, but I beat them this time and will buy the store’s half gallons as long as they are around. — Ted B.

It’s important to pay attention to the per-ounce price, no matter what you buy. As frustrating as it is to see products downsized, you still might find a smaller size could be a better deal with a coupon. For example, one brand of dish detergent has downsized their smallest bottles from 10 ounces to 9, and now to just 8. While I’m no fan of downsizing, the now-8-ounce bottles still sell for 99 cents, and there are often 25-cent coupons. At 74 cents per bottle, these work out to about nine cents per ounce. If I were to buy the 19-ounce bottle for $2.49 with the same coupon, I’d pay $2.24 — that’s a little more than 11 cents per ounce. When I’m stretching my dollars, the lowest per-ounce price still wins.

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