Smaller packages make it harder to share.
The last thing consumers need is less for their money. But that’s exactly what manufacturers are providing through another quietly launched round of package shrink. They’re scaling back the sizes of everything from chewing gum to ice cream, decreasing the amount of product without changing the retail price.
Wrigley’s reduced the number of sticks in packages of Juicy Fruit, Big Red and other brand gums from 17 to 15. Unilever Foods’ reduced the size of its three-pound tubs of Country Crock margarine by three ounces and its 32 ounce jars of Hellman’s mayonnaise to 30 ounces. Breyers and Edy’s reduced their size of their ice cream containers from 1.75 quarts to 1.5 quarts.
Kellogg Co. hiked its cereal prices in June for the second time this year. A spokeswoman acknowledged that it had reduced the sizes of Froot Loops, Cocoa Krispies and Apple Jacks, among other brands. General Mills did the same earlier this year. At one New York City area grocery store, two size boxes of Cheerios cereal were offered for $3.39. One was 10 ounces; the newer one was 8.9 ounces.
Slightly smaller containers of ice cream may do wonders for waistlines, but won’t make it any easier on consumers struggling with a sluggish economy and record-breaking fuel prices. Manufacturers are struggling with the economy too: they’re paying more for raw materials, as well as transportation and packaging costs. They generally blame the smaller sizes on increasing energy costs.
But rather than address the economic realities honestly-by increasing prices to cover the higher costs-many are simply reducing value to maintain existing prices. Marketing analysts say they don’t want to lose customers to sticker shock. Instead, they’re shrinking product size, gambling consumers won’t notice.
And even if consumers realize they’re getting less, some manufacturers already have excuses. Wrigley’s, for instance, branded its new gum “Slim Packs.” There are reports, although no concrete examples yet, that others plan to align package shrink to green marketing. According to this spin on shrink, smaller packages create less waste.
But there are critical flaws with that argument. Statistically speaking, smaller packaging means the cost of packaging per ounce of product is higher. From an environmental perspective, it’s better to buy in bulk or at least the largest available size. And while some consumers may be satisfied with 1.5 quarts of ice cream, others might not have enough–and would just buy two containers instead. So wouldn’t that create more waste instead of less?
Yes, analysts concede. But Lynn Dornblaser, a senior analyst at Mintel, a leading market research company, still thinks there’s a way for manufacturers to transform cost-cutting to potentially effective green marketing opportunities. It all depends on how they handle it.
In New Zealand, for instance, Dornblaser said a cereal maker cut costs without cutting quantity simply by reducing the size of the outer box 10 percent. In that case, the smaller package was eco-friendly, she explained.
Hefty made a similar move here: it’s rolling out new “Space Saver” packaging on all Hefty drawstring waste bag products. Space Saver packages are 40 percent smaller, but contain the same number of bags. Additionally, the Space Saver packaging is made of 100 recycled paperboard. They’re already on some store shelves. Dornblaser said green marketing works…but only when it’s accurate and honest. Consumers, she warns, are smarter than they used to be–and see through spin.
So how do you handle the increase in suddenly smaller sizes?
- Give yourself extra time in the grocery store.
- Check the sizes of the items you buy regularly.
- Look at weight on the actual item rather than the weight listed on the shelf tag. Many of the shelf tags still reflect the old package sizes, so size and unit pricing information may be incorrect.
- Reconsider what you buy. If your favorite brand is shrinking, maybe it’s time for you to switch to a competitor.