3 Ways To Beat The Grocery Shrink Ray

Is your supermarket the victim of The Grocery Shrink Ray, the force that is shrinking how much product you get while keeping the price the same? Here are three antidotes:

1. Look for the old larger sizes still on shelves.

2. Compare unit costs
This is the number in the upper left of the price tag. A lower unit cost means a better deal.

3. Buy based on best value.
Reposition your thinking; instead of identifying yourself as “I’m a Corn Puffs guy, I’ve got to have my Pops,” rationalize your thrift by saying, “I’m a money-saving guy, I’ve got to buy the best deal.” Be willing to brand jump.

These tips won’t completely negate the shrink ray, but at least they can partially counteract its effects.

Comments

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  1. mikesfree says:

    You could also ask the manager if they are going to lower the price now that its smaller.

  2. raleel says:

    I’m surprised that people aren’t using the unit cost more.

    I found that it helped a lot to change my diet some. In my case, I’ve been eating more vegetarian. Not that I don’t like beef or chicken or fish, just that I could handle to lose 40 pounds and it’s easier and cheaper for me to eat the vegetarian burrito rather than the ground beef one :)

  3. backbroken says:

    @raleel: Those bastards are making the chickens smaller now?!?!

  4. Tyr_Anasazi says:

    @mikesfree: Dream on–they won’t lower the price unless they need to move inventory

  5. thunderballs69 says:

    jeee-zus!

    can we let this ‘shrink-ray’ shiat go?

    It’s inflation!
    It’s rampant!

    Get over it!

  6. MickeyMoo says:

    I do most of my shopping at Costco – unfortunately, they (and presumably others) use different methods to calculate unit cost on different but comparable products, seems like some more stringent consumer legislation would be in order.

  7. RhymePhile says:

    Tips for buying meat: go shopping later at night on a Thursday, or the night before the store advertises its weekend specials (my supermarket goes Friday-Sunday, others might be different). Chances are you’ll find “manager specials” on meat that’s about to expire. I stick it in the freezer to push my budget farther.

  8. bagumpity says:

    MikeyMoo: Bring a calculator (specifically, one that can do units conversion). There’s nothing more frustrating than when the same products packaged differently have unit cost shown in different denominations. In one store I go to, they get away with murder every time products are in multi-packs. For example, a three-pack of toothpaste is shown as $/count, but individually packed toothpastes are shown in $/oz. They do the same thing for small/large/economy sizes as well. Peanut butter might be shown as $/oz in a smaller jar but $/lb in a large jar. I realize the conversion is fairly simple, but I’m not terribly adept at mental arithmetic. By bringing a calculator, I have found more than one situation where the larger size is not the best price.

  9. cashmerewhore says:

    @RhymePhile:

    I clean up when I see the managers special stickers. Then use my foodsaver to reseal them so they stay fresh in my freezer for months (hell, if not years, I had some pork chops from my last trip to base for px deals). Yay clearance chicken & steaks!

  10. cashmerewhore says:

    @bagumpity:

    16 oz in a pound. Pretty easy to do the conversion on a standard calculator. Divide the bulk toothpase price per unit by the ounces per tube…..

  11. TheLemon says:

    This is the basic “lifeskills” kind of math that every child should learn. How to calculate cost per unit.

    Personally, I appreciate the Grocery Shrink Ray info. It makes me pay more attention while shopping.

  12. Ben Popken says:

    @thunderballs69: *~El Bandit~* was here.

  13. Gev says:

    @thunderballs69: This.

    Our economy is in the crapper and no amount of whinging and crying is going to change that. There is absolutely nothing that any of us can do to bring back prices/sizes to the way they were.

    Things are probably going to get worse in the future too.

    You can either deal with it and adapt or waste a tremendous amount of energy gnashing your teeth about how things used to be.

    Your choice.

  14. cerbie says:

    2.A. Verify unit cost. With many products in separate packages (bottles, smaller boxes, etc.), I’ve found cases where product X has a unit price per each, and product Y has a unit price per volume or weight. Tricky stuff.

    can we let this ‘shrink-ray’ shiat go?

    No. The price should rise, and the per-unit size should remain the same, unless the new size is more efficient (FI, a square yogurt cup, rather than a smaller conical one).

  15. illtron says:

    You should ALWAYS look at the unit size. My fiancée was painfully unaware of what it meant until I started schooling her in the ways of saving money. I spent a few years right after college always struggling to get by, and even though money’s not as tight these days, I learned a few valuable skills at the grocery store. The unit price is your friend.

    And for that matter, Costco is your friend too. My main issue with Costco right now is that I live in a studio apartment at the moment, and I don’t have a lot of room to store bulk purchases. if you can take the bigger initial hit on bulk purchases, and if you do have the room, it makes sense.

  16. sk1d says:

    @bagumpity: @MickeyMoo:

    Metric doesn’t sound too bad now, does it? Here in Canada, most things are listed as $/100g or $/100mL. And even if they per kg or L, just move the decimal over one place, no calculator needed.

  17. mmmsoap says:

    Honestly, I don’t think that #2 is particularly good advice for a lot of people, at least those who live alone. As a single twenty-something living in the city (as are the majority of my friends) a much bigger waste of money is the food that I (we) “have” to throw away when it spoils before getting eaten. Given that I live in an apartment with a small freezer (provided by the landlord, so I have no real control over it) it’s not really an option to buy huge and freeze the extras.

    Those 5 pound bags of potatoes are SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than buying lose potatoes, but I can’t eat 5 pounds before they all start growing eyes and getting squishy (and attracting flies). Same goes for meats, fresh fruit (oh I love it so, but it’s so hard to deal with!), even dry oatmeal. The last canister I had got moths before I finished it :(

    Being a mathematician by trade (teacher, that is) I sat down and ran some figures. It’s actually cheaper in most cases for me to buy a smaller package that I will definitely consume within a week or so, than a larger package that will either go bad, or create storage issues.

    Unit prices are NOT the end-all in terms of value. Sure, this 8-oz canister of oregano from Costco is the same price as 0.5 oz from Stop and Shop, but who needs a half a pound of crappy dried seasoning? It’s certainly not going to have it’s optimal flavor in 3 years when I’m still using it.

    There are a lot of “hidden” costs in the grocery store, beyond just the unit pricing. For me, it’s much cheaper to buy food for 2-3 days, every 2-3 days. This keeps up with my lack of attention span in the meal department. Also, since the grocery store is right on my way home from work, it adds $0 to my fuel bill to stop regularly. (Obviously not true for everyone.) Buying a large package may mean I need to spend $6 on a rubermaid container to store it in, negating any savings I had to begin with.

    I probably spend a bit more per ounce on cucumbers or yogurt or whatever, compared to the family-of-four that shops with an eye on the unit prices (or from Costco, or wherever) but I spend less overall this way compared to how I would buying in bulk.

  18. Angryrider says:

    It’s either shrinkage, or it’ll get more expensive. I get the idea. Most of my diet consists of Asian territory food, and it’s already more expensive to buy that bag of rice and that bottle of soy sauce.

  19. battra92 says:

    It’s kind of odd that people still don’t shop by the unit price. Of course, my family has friends who just buy the store brand 100% of the time. She never learned (or could be bothered) to watch sales, coupons etc. and basically was always crying about grocery bills.

  20. AMetamorphosis says:

    @mmmsoap: Much of what you said makes sense to me as well. I pass the grocery store on the way home from work and I too will waste certains foods if bought in larger sizes. I guess the key, like everything else, is moderation.

  21. yasth says:

    If you are really trying to avoid the grocery shrink ray such as it, realize that unit prices are not well updated. In fact half the reason grocery shrink ray stories are helpful is that generally they mean that for a few weeks/months I have to calculate in my head unit prices.

    And if you are just trying to save money read the circulars and practice coupon banking (i.e. wait until items are on “general” sale 2-3 weeks after the coupon is released before using them)

  22. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    @Gev: Tremendous amount of energy? What? If Consumerist for one pops up these stories shaming companies trying to be deceitful about price increases, it takes me only a second to glance at the headline and an additional half second to remember never to support that brand again.

    It doesn’t hurt anyone to broadcast these things. If you don’t like it, don’t click the link?

  23. thepassenger says:

    @thunderballs69: You do have a point, there are certainly more important things in life to worry about, but the fact that producers of these products persist in this behavior suggests that they think they are putting something over on consumers, as though somehow we won’t notice the difference. As a consumer, I would prefer that companies be honest about price increases and not insult my intelligence by reducing the size of the package.

  24. failurate says:

    @Angryrider: Watch out for Beriberi!

  25. Triborough says:

    Another tip is to look at the clearance shelves. Most supermarkets have them and you can find some good values sometimes.

    Don’t be afraid of store brands, they are just as good and sometimes better than the name brand.

    Also, I have found that Trader Joe’s has some good prices compared to conventional supermarkets, sometimes being a few dollars cheaper on some of the same items! The downside, of course is waiting on line.

  26. mdoublej says:

    @Triborough:
    Yay Trader Joe’s!

    Went there for the first time this weekend visiting Long Island, and the prices there amazed me. We went for one thing, and ended up buying a cart full, because the prices were better than in my upstate town. Better stuff too. I told my girlfriend to stay away from my natural peanut butter, cuz we may not get back down there for a while!

  27. Trai_Dep says:

    Shoplift one, buy the other?

  28. Trai_Dep says:

    @mdoublej: Two words for you young man. Just two words: Almond Butter!

  29. Trai_Dep says:

    @illtron: Find a local friend or neighbor and split the costs of a jumbo pack. Better still, go into Costco together every so often to get a sense of what things you both like. That’s what I did when I was living in a small flat.

  30. spanky says:

    I don’t think I’ve seen this mentioned here yet, but the pound bags of spaghetti and noodles at Costco (Garofolo brand, I think) are 17.6 oz. I don’t know how long they’ve been like that. I only noticed it after the first and only time I was tricked by a 12 oz. pound of pasta (which, I might add, ruined our dinner and wasted my time).

  31. RhymePhile says:

    @Triborough:

    Clearance or “cans that are dented and boxes that are squished” shelves. I look there every time I’m at the supermarket. It’s damaged merchandise the supermarket can’t put out on the shelves.

    Thing is, people have an aversion to buying dented-can products, because years ago dented cans meant lead could seep into the food. Since our cans no longer contain lead, you can buy dented and smooshed cans all you want with no harmful side effects, and name brand stuff is cheap! I love getting, say, a can of Progresso soup for 95 cents instead of $2-something.

  32. Spookyooky says:

    I think the hard times makes it so that you can learn to be a better shopper. Instead of just buying things because you see it on an endcap or on sale, now might be the time to ask yourself when you are standing there in the aisle, “Do I want this or do I NEED this. And if I don’t need it, do I want it want it, or just kind of want it?” It helps a lot with junk food and such when you realize that you are buying things not because they fill any hunger or nutritional need but just because you want to “snack”.

  33. zarex42 says:

    @thunderballs69:

    Absolutely. All this “shrink-ray” stuff is utter nonsense, and hides the real issues (inflation).

  34. @thunderballs69:

    Well said

  35. @thunderballs69:

    Well Said.

  36. Inflation.

    Learn to spell it. Know what it means. Embrace the word.

  37. ChuckECheese says:

    @spanky: Your 17.6 oz package is actually a half-kilo (500 g), and a bit more than a pound (16 oz). Even with inflation, pasta is way too cheap to put in 12 oz packages, except to mess with our brains.

    RE dented cans: There is (was?) a great surplus store in the area that sold all sorts of great things from Costco, WM, Sam’s, and regional grocers. You could get Peet’s coffee, Scharffen Berger chocolate, dairy and meat and bread and an assortment of other food.

    The dairy and meat are gone. The bread is mostly gone. They have been removing shelves since they don’t have anything to put on them. I asked what the deal was. The manager says the stores aren’t getting rid of their dented or near-expired goods anymore, but selling it themselves. But at my local stores, there are no clearance shelves–the dented cans are sold with the other goods, at the same price.

  38. youbastid says:

    @RhymePhile: Not really true. Acidic or salty foods can corrode the can’s interior if it dents and the plastic interior coating breaks. That’s bad enough and introduces rust into your food, but it can go one step further and cause a pinhole leak and welcome botulism into the mix. It has nothing to do with lead.

  39. Gev says:

    @Applekid: It doesn’t hurt anyone, but at the same time it doesn’t really help either.

    Sure, you can stop supporting brand “X” when they’re the first to shrink their products in response to the lousy economy, but what are you going to do when brands “Y,” “Z,” and “A” follow suit?

    About the most one could really hope to accomplish in this matter would be to get one of these companies to acknowledge the shrinkage in some very carefully worded response to an e-mail that someone sent.

    Is the practice of changing package sizes without any kind of announcement sleazy and deceitful? Yeah, a little. Will it ever change? Probably not.

  40. lincolnparadox says:

    I’ve noticed here in Iowa that most of the store brands are keeping the old-sized packages. I’m not sure if the shrink ray is missing the Kroeger brand foods, but something to keep in mind is that most of your store brand products are the exact same thing as your brand name products. The food is all processed in the same plant, but packaging and labeling are different.

    The only time there will be a difference is in highly-flavored or spiced products. Then, there might be a more obvious flavor difference. While I will always buy store brand cereals, canned veggies/fruits, canned meats/fish, pasta, etc; I will spend a bit more on things like soups and condiments, because there is either a flavor difference or an ingredient difference (I’m still avoiding benzoate and sorbate salts).

    Do a taste test if you have to, but you’ll save yourself tons of money, and you’ll probably get the older-sized packages.

  41. P_Smith says:

    @mikesfree: You could also ask the manager if they are going to lower the price now that its smaller.

    Be careful of who’s reading your words. I said words to the same effect a couple of weeks ago and a couple of people got pissy about it. Some seem to think we should just put up with it and not complain.

  42. ludwigk says:

    #1 is currently going out of style, but a good one.

    A lot of the bigger, older sized products are EOL’ed, and grocery stores are clearance-ing them as a result. I bought 4x 24 oz boxes of Frosted Mini wheats for $6 with coupon, presumably because they’re transitioning to the more expensive 18.5 oz box, which is already on the shelves.

    I’m currently taking a long position on cereal and other shelf-stable goods whenever possible.

  43. radiochief says:

    I used to work in Stop & Shop’s Quality Control Lab, back when they still had one, ‘testing & approving’ our private label products.

    Private label products have to meet the same quality standards (whatever metric they may be) as national label products. And the supermarkets usually make the same, if not more profits than they do on the national brands (per unit of sale).

  44. trujunglist says:

    @Triborough:

    Yeah, that’s weird. I’d never been to a TJs before, but I went over to my friend’s place and they were absolutely gushing at the amount of stuff they got for the price, especially items like curry sauce and things that we eat on a weekly to semi-weekly basis (we often pool our ingredients and cook together, which is cheaper for all, fun, and extremely gratifying when you can look at your friends and say ‘this shit tastes better than a restaurant!’). I always assumed, I guess incorrectly, that TJs and Henry’s (local San Diego grocery store) were more expensive than traditional stores.

  45. orlo says:

    Since most companies operate cooperatively, avoiding certain brands is impossible. Almost simultaneously, for example, all brands of pasta sauce shrank from 28oz to 26oz, including generic brands. Any measures you take to reduce what you spend on groceries will be countered in any case by the supermarket. It’s a zero sum game. Unless the wealthy start spending their hard earned mortgage-crisis money on groceries instead of restaurant-meals the manufacturers and supermarkets and will extract the increased commodity costs from the consumer (plus an additional 10% or so for their effort).

    The only ways to save money: 1. Grow your own food. 2. Eat less.

  46. Dervish says:

    @Gev: “Is the practice of changing package sizes without any kind of announcement sleazy and deceitful? Yeah, a little. Will it ever change? Probably not.”

    Even if it did, people would keep complaining about it. When General Mills shrunk all their cereals and made a big marketing blitz about it, Consumerist commenters were still up in arms. Understandable – who wants to pay more for less? – but being open about shrinkage wouldn’t make people any more happy about it.

  47. TechnoDestructo says:

    @thunderballs69:

    No, raising the price is inflation. This is inflation PLUS other stuff.

    Shrinking the package is AT BEST wasteful…it wastes energy and other resources in having a greater ratio of packaging to product, and an individually negligible but in aggregate probably noticeable amount of energy in additional transport costs.

    Altering the package to look the same on cursory examination but contain less product, or altering the product to contain less product (aeration, for example) is an attempt at deception. Altering the package in a visible way, and calling attention to that in an attempt to divert attention from the change in size, while keeping the price the same, is an attempt at deception by misdirection.

    I was already inoculated against this by being a hardcore skeptic and questioning everyone about just about every thing almost all the time. But I don’t like being lied to. It’s insulting…and this is like being insulted every time I go to the grocery store.

    My reaction on seeing grocery prices go up while size remains constant: “God dammit!” It is unfortunate, but it is honest.

    My reaction on seeing grocery prices remain the same while size decreases: “OH, FUCK YOU!” It is unfortunate, AND it is dishonest.

    Who will be getting my money?