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Food inflation

Food manufacturers continue to disguise inflation by gradually shrinking product sizes

Thursday, March 31, 2011 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: food inflation, packaging, health news

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(NaturalNews) It is a tactic that has been long employed to avoid having to directly raise prices for consumers, but one that has become increasingly more obvious in recent days. In response to rapid inflation and rising food costs, many food manufacturers are continuing to shrink or otherwise redesign their product packaging in an effort to disguise the fact that actual food prices are increasing. In the end, consumers get less product than they think they are getting, even if prices appear to remain the same.

It all started back in the 1980s when a few food companies began to reduce the overall weight of their products by a few ounces while still maintaining similar or identical sized packaging. Over time, many other products like canned coffee, ice cream, canned vegetables, and bagged chips also began to shrink in weight as well. Most unsuspecting consumers either do not notice the changing weights, or they do not perceive the change to be as significant as they would an actual price markup.

"Consumers are generally more sensitive to changes in prices than to changes in quantity," said John T. Gourville, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School, to The New York Times (NYT). "And companies try to do it in such a way that you don't notice, maybe keeping the height and width the same, but changing the depth so the silhouette of the package on the shelf looks the same. Or sometimes they add more air to the chips bag or a scoop in the bottom of the peanut butter jar so it looks the same size."

In recent days, many companies have actually redesigned product packaging completely, which makes it difficult for consumers to ascertain how much of the product they are getting now as opposed to what they were getting in the past. Some manufacturers have cleverly introduced "green" packaging as part of these efforts, which presumably distracts consumers from the fact that they are getting less product while giving the impression that buying the product is good for their families and for the environment.

A few examples of products that have shrunk include Chicken of the Sea canned albacore tuna, which has dropped from six ounces to five. Several Frito-Lay brands of chips, including Doritos, Tostitos, and Fritos, have shrunk by 20 percent since 2009, according to the NYT. And many varieties of canned fruits and vegetables have been reduced in size from the typical 16-ounce cans to cans as light as 11 ounces.

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