Downsizing: a Sneak Attack On Your Wallet

The word “downsizing” was no doubt created by a student of George Orwell to hide the reality of what companies are actually doing. Because downsizing is rarely a good thing.

Companies “downsize” their workforces (that is, reduce, cut, slash their employees).

And they do the same to their products. They’ve been doing it for years, and largely getting away with it.

The examples are almost endless: a Hershey’s chocolate bar shrinks from 8 ounces to 6.8 ounces; boxes of Scott tissues contain 12 fewer tissues; Jif peanut butter’s jar drops from 18 ounces to 16 ounces; McCormick black pepper goes from 4 ounces to 3 ounces; Cottonelle and Charmin toilet paper not only reduce the number of sheets per roll, but shrink the width of the roll; and on and on and on. Coffee, toothpaste, ice cream, cereal, you name it: If there’s a way to shortchange the customer, corporations are in a never-ending quest to find it.

This practice has been a poorly kept secret for years, having been reported on by all the major news networks and newspapers, and is, of course, all over the Internet. But customers either don’t seem to care, or have bigger battles to fight in their daily lives, because the practice continues unabated.

Nevertheless, it’s a pure case of a deceptive marketing practice, if not outright cheating of the customer. When products are shrunk and the price remains the same—particularly if they’re sold in the same size package as before—what else would you call it?

Why do they do this? Money, of course. Specifically, profits. If they can get the same amount of money for less product, why wouldn’t they?

Their excuse for this egregious practice? “Customers would prefer less product rather than our raising our prices.” In what universe does this even make sense? Less product for the same amount of money means the price has risen. But, as we mentioned, it’s not always obvious to the buyer; until, that is, they can’t make as many cupcakes as they used to, or they run out of their favorite potato chips sooner than previously.

The double-speak sometimes becomes outrageous in its illogic. “We aim to provide the right value to our consumers – and may introduce new package sizes or adjust package sizes of our base products (upward or downward) based on delivering the right value,” Lynne Galia of Kraft Foods Corporate Affairs wrote to ABC News in 2012 when they covered this topic. Come again?

Sometimes, with government or the courts behind them, consumers can win. Consumer Reports noted a 2015 settlement in a class-action suit in California in which StarKist was accused of underfilling cans of five-ounce tuna for over five years. The company denied wrongdoing, but agreed to distribute $8 million in cash and $4 million in vouchers to customers who filed a claim. The magazine reported similar outcomes against Coty, CVS, Hershey, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, and Walgreens. But such victories are rare.

So what can you do? Be aware of these practices and pay attention to the net contents and unit price rather than the size of the packages. Don’t fall for the package advertising, either. A frequent tipoff is a package redesign, especially if the lettering touts the contents as “new and improved,” or “(something) % more,” or such similar claims. And, as always, stick with Billshark to help you save money every way we can.

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