Fancy Feast Pricing Scheme Rewards Those Who Pay Attention

Reader T says:

This is regarding something that has always bothered me. While grocery shopping today, I decided I’d better pick up some cat food. I always buy a case of the Fancy Feast 3-Flavor Variety Pack, sliced. That’s the only stuff my cat will eat. I promise, I’ve tried everything else. So, I’m looking over my two choices, which are a 12 pack (4 of each flavor) for $8.29, or $3.684 per pound, and a 24 pack (8 of each flavor) for $17.65, or $3.92 per pound…

As usual, I become irritated because the larger box actually costs MORE than buying two of the smaller boxes. I would love to buy just one size large of the stuff, but the Purina company has made it impossible for a half-way intelligent person to do so. So, as usual, I buy two of the smaller boxes.

Once at home, I decide I’d like to email the Fancy Feast people and inquire as to why this situation exists. So I sent them a little note that read:

Shopping today, I noticed the 12 can size of the 3-Flavor Variety pack (sliced) costs less per pound than the 24 can size of the exact same product. I can buy two of the 12 can size boxes for about $1 LESS than I can buy one 24 can size. I think consumers naturally think that buying in larger quantities will save them money. I’ve noticed it has been this way for many, many months, so these are not products that are being discontinued, or are on sale, etc. Why would anyone purchase a 24 can box of your product when they can buy two 12 can sizes for $1 less. Can you please explain this pricing structure to me? It makes no sense. Thank you.

So I guess we’ll see what they say.
Thanks for the work you do.

You know, T., this sort of pricing is much more common than you might expect. It seems that retailers have realized that people take for granted that the “larger size is cheaper by the pound” and are taking advantage of this assumption.

By paying attention to unit pricing, you’ve attained the next level of Consumer Ninja-ism. Congratulations!


Edit Your Comment

  1. FilthyHarry says:

    Manufacturers know that people will pay more if they think they are paying less. What doesn’t make sense?

  2. ninjatales says:

    Must’ve been a slow day at Consumerist.

  3. MercuryPDX says:

    I have the same issue with the Pedigree packets I mix into the dry dog food. Three 8-pack boxes are about $2 cheaper than two 12-pack boxes. I’ll snap a photo next time I go shopping.

  4. Whitey Fisk says:

    Don’t stores set these prices? Not the manufacturers. Unless you are suggesting that the manufacturer is doing the same to the retailer.

  5. A.W.E.S.O.M.-O says:

    Or you could just buy a different brand and force that ingrate pet of yours to either appreciate the resources it never works for – or starve.

  6. zentex says:

    @ninjatales: you assume that everyone knows the deal?

    what about people who are new to TC, or are not Consumer Ninja’s? They must be taught as well padiwan.

  7. Nytmare says:

    Someday they’ll invent a computer that has enough space to print out the full names of most products on labels and receipts. In the meantime, it looks like they could stand better consistency with their abbreviations.


  8. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    I am curious about consumer ninjas. How many levels are there? Who at the Consumerist is a black belt? Enter the dojo…

  9. ChrisC1234 says:

    Personally, I blame anyone who buys their cat this stuff. My cat gets cheap dry food. The day he stops eating it is the day he starves to death. It’s as simple as that.

  10. Chols says:

    Oil by the case is the same way. And yes, I would rather carry 12 individual quarts of oil than pay 50 cents more!

  11. Chols says:


    Hah good call!

  12. adamondi says:

    @nytmare: You’ll notice that the tags themselves do not have enough room for full product descriptions. It is not necessarily the fault of the computer system that there is not enough room for a full description. After all, they still have to make them readable to people without magnifying glasses.

    As for the consistency, well, these things are all entered by human operators at some point. Good old human error strikes again.

  13. Ex_EA_Slave says:

    @ChrisC1234: What about the day their internal organs begin failing because you fed them crappy food full of corn filler and ash? You must be up for pet owner of the year.

  14. Hobie-wan says:

    When I was at school in Florida 10 years ago, I noticed this on many groceries at Publix.

  15. Meg Marco says:

    @ChrisC1234: Have fun when the bladder crystals start.

  16. marsneedsrabbits says:

    It could be based on the way the manufacturer structures coupons (coupons on smaller sizes are often more common); or maybe one package size moves faster than the other; or maybe they calculate profit per square inch of shelf space and the package dimensions make a difference somehow.

    Or it could be something else entirely.

    Always calculate the per-unit price.

    Because really, why should the largest size automatically be the cheapest?

  17. linkura says:

    @ChrisC1234: So you would like to poison your cat with melamine or other delicious substances?

  18. AcidReign says:

        Most carton-packing machines are expressedly designed to run 12-packs, and it’s typically fairly trouble free. 24-pack cartons are more expensive, and more prone to jamming. Line efficiency goes down on 24-packs. The cost-per-case to the manufacturer may be the key, here.

        We only feed Fancy Feast cans to our cats on special occasions. They get dry Eukanuba Lamb and Rice, most of the time, and eat it well. I always figured that greasy canned food was a recipe for weight gain and cardio trouble…

  19. cde says:

    @ChrisC1234: Tax cat might have something to say to you about that…

  20. pwillow1 says:

    I was told once by a store employee that sometimes the stores purchase items from different suppliers. So they may get the 12-pack from one supplier, the 24-pack from another.

  21. @A.W.E.S.O.M.-O: This is exactly why I can’t stand cats. My dog would eat a shoe if I smothered it in gravy.

  22. cde says:

    @AcidReign: What a gross blanket statement to make. Most are designed for 12packs? Then were they jerry rigged for 24 packs? How?

  23. cde says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: Or not even. He’d just be happy with a plain old broken in shoe. Or new shoe smelling shows. Or anything really.

  24. ChuckECheese says:

    @AcidReign: Why do cats have special occasions? Do they know? Do you send them a formal invitation or is an e-vite ok?

    The pricing of items @ retail is up to the retailer, not the manufacturer. The OP will prolly get a reply from Fancy Feast telling him/her to contact the seller.

    Those price tags look like they’re from Albertoids, home of the 300% markup. How can anybody afford to shop there?

  25. All of these false claims about corn filler and ash with nothing to back it up. For all you know the “good” stuff is filled with human organs.

  26. aristan says:

    @nytmare: Register systems are a large database. If you try to put two items in with the same description, often times it’ll yell at you that you’re duplicating records… even if every other bit of information (Price, Size, UPC, etc) is different. So it’s easier to just abbreviate things different on different pack sizes.

    I was a ‘Price Integrity Coordinator’ for quite awhile… that means I was responsible for putting all that stuff in the registers. And yes, basically prices on large packs are going up because most people think they’re supposed to be cheaper.

  27. cde says:

    @ChuckECheese: HAHAH. Nope, manufacturers can set prices. Supreme Court said so.

  28. chrisjames says:

    Or prices are going down on small packs because people prefer the larger packs. Prices aren’t just set by these complicated psychological rules intended to scam us. You have to price based on how well you can move something too. If the small packs don’t sell well, lower the price, have more sales, coupons and giveaways, whatever.

    I love going to get batteries, finding an 8-pack for $6, and 2-packs for $1 each. I used to get 8-packs because I know I’ll need more all the damned time, so they bank on my assumptions, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If I sold batteries, I’d do the same thing.

  29. uricmu says:

    Why isn’t it mandatory to include unit price for everything? Places like Costco already do it voluntarily.

  30. mac-phisto says:

    i actually buy the individual cans & save vs. the multi-packs (last time i paid $0.53/can which is $6.36/12 or $12.72/24. i only get that deal at the pet shop though, so i usually buy ~150 at a time.

  31. marsneedsrabbits says:


    We only feed Fancy Feast cans to our cats on special occasions. They get dry Eukanuba Lamb and Rice, most of the time, and eat it well. I always figured that greasy canned food was a recipe for weight gain and cardio trouble…

    What are cat special occasions? Are the milestones in the cat’s life, or yours? Like, do they get special food when they kill mice, or when you get a raise, or what?

    Just interested. My dog is having his intake interview at doggie day camp next week, so I promise I’m not making fun.

  32. AHammer says:

    While I agree that the food itself is not a great choice. I see no reason to berate the person buying the poor quality food.

  33. dink23 says:

    Mcdonald’s pricing on Chicken McNuggets is similar: $1 for 4 nuggets or $2.69 for 6 nuggets.

  34. macfoo says:

    Kitty special occasions:
    When Cat slaves (owners) make a special meal (anniversary, birthday, holiday) for human consumption, kitty also gets a special meal..

    When Cat slaves open a can of tuna, kitty gets special meal so Cat slaves tuna remains untouched

    When kitty has a good visit to the vets that requires more then some poking and prodding

    When kitty is really good and didn’t tear the house apart while the Cat slaves went away for a few days on vacation

  35. My main man has taken to spoiling my cat and buying him this fancy feast stuff.

    I REFUSE to buy this stuff. I mean, I might as well get the cat people tuna if I’m going to pay that much.

    Seriously, I won’t even go in the cat food aisle if he is with me, I don’t want people thinking that I feed my cat this overpriced stuff.

    The cat, he loves it, and is now spoilt and won’t eat the food I buy him anymore. Curses!

  36. Alger says:

    Oh, just get over it! This is exactly WHY unit pricing exists.

    Or is it too much trouble to carry two four-packs instead of an eight-pack? Some people would prefer that, since the smaller packages are easier to carry.

    So, what’s next? “I went to the store, and one brand cost more than the other, even though the less expensive brand looked better? But I compared prices, so it’s OK?”

    Give me a break!

  37. Juggernaut says:

    I’m on an aspirin therapy program, had a heart attack a few years ago, the program includes taking 1 81mg tab a day. Any quantity of 81mg tabs costs more than 325mg tabs. I’ve checked this at various pharms in Fl, SC and NJ.

  38. scoosdad says:

    @Juggernaut: So buy the 325’s and a simple pill splitter, and cut them into quarters. Profit!

  39. GearheadGeek says:

    $3.68/lb (or more) for CAT FOOD? I frequently pay less than that for fresh meat or chicken for us to eat ourselves! The unfavorable price for the supposed “large economy size” is nothing new, caveat emptor. I hardly think it would be a shopping coup to spend more per pound on a cat’s food than my own, however.

    (And yes, we have pets. 2 dogs who get Eukanuba and select people-food scraps, the older one is 9.5 and she’s quite healthy.)

  40. trujunglist says:

    You know what really fuckin blows? Like EVERY single product these days has this problem. The other day I was in Target buying contact solution, and I could get the extra large double pack for $1 more than 2 regular packs. What the fuck man? I think that companies set this up originally as you’d expect it to be… the larger ones = better value. When Price Club (Costco for ya newbs) came around, then that whole idea really really took off. Now, companies are taking advantage of it. Brilliant! Get people hooked on an idea after 20 years of it, then fuck em over! WOoo USA USA

  41. notallcompaniesareevil says:

    I am all for informing people, and consumerist does a great job of it. Not sure if I agree with all the animosity towards this kind of pricing, though. Doesn’t seem sneaky if the prices are in big numbers right on the shelf. How the store prices things is pretty much up to it. Perhaps the smaller units are easier to order, store, stock and sell? Or maybe there is just no good reason at all and it just so happens that every time this happens by design or mistake it gets blogged about (kind of like the “sale” signs that show no savings or the opened items that cost more than the new ones?).

  42. madanthony says:


    My cat would in fact eat a shoe. In fact, she has tried to eat my shoes on numerous occasions.

  43. FangDoc says:

    @AcidReign: I used to think the same thing about canned food being worse for them, and then we wound up with a diabetic cat. After he went into a coma and spent three days at the emergency vet clinic, the vet there recommended we switch to low-carb canned food. A lot of feline diabetes experts recommend that diabetic cats should never eat dry food, even the special diabetic diet dry food (like we used to feed him.)

    Apparently, diabetic cats are extremely susceptible to dehydration due to the increased urine output, and having moisture in the food helps them maintain hydration. Plus, a wet food can be much lower in carbs because it doesn’t need the dry binders. So I’m one of the saps in the cat food aisle with 50 cans of Fancy Feast, but the cat is almost completely insulin-independent now.

    The website that lists the carb content of all commercial cat foods:

  44. northwest says:

    I’m willing to accept that the retailer isn’t always trying to screw me with this type of pricing. However, when I see unit pricing that uses different units for different quantities, I get cynical. For example, if the unit price for the 24 pack of cat food was per pound and the 12 pack was per ounce. Yes, I can do the math, but I shouldn’t have to.

    In any case, I’m stuck buying the prescription cat food for my feline after his urinary tract blockage. Can anyone tell me why I need to go to a vet to buy cat food? Is there some widespread abuse I don’t know about?

  45. Nytmare says:

    The prices at my grocery are normal, so maybe the OP’s store is to blame.

    Fancy Feast 12-pack: $5.54 (2.46/lb)
    Fancy Feast 24-pack: $10.88 (2.42/lb)

    Friskies 12-pack: $5.19 (1.26/lb)
    Friskies 24-pack: $8.62 (1.04/lb)

    Friskies cans have a lot more food in them.

  46. ninjatales says:

    @zentex: Nah dude I don’t assume anything. All she had to do was email consumerist telling them that the prices don’t match. That’s it.

    Being the goody good two shoes, she had to email the company. Not that it’s wrong but I get sick when I see people like that. The kind who’re stickler for rules.

  47. eelmonger says:

    @aristan: I used to do the same thing, except I was a “Scan Coordinator” for the company where these tags are from. If I remember right, things were allowed to have the same name, but it was discouraged. You can’t do something simple like put the package size (aside from the fact that it’s already in the upper left corner), cause if the manufacturer decides to change the package size but keep the same UPC, someone has to remember to change it (and they won’t).

    As for the main point of the article, the unit price is very clear on these tags, so I guess just remember to double check.

  48. failurate says:

    @linkura: Your fancy smancy cat food was not immune to corruption.

  49. Every pet store (and even the grocery stores) in my area does this with the pricing for the cans of cat food. A lot of times, the dry food is the same way, with a smaller bag being a better deal than the larger bags.

    Though strangely enough, they do not do it with the pouches. The pouches are cheaper to buy in bulk.

  50. ChuckECheese says:

    If I remember correctly, the last time we got unit pricing was during a period when the economy was hiccuping much as it is now, back in the 70s. People were obsessed with economizing and stores started posting unit prices so people could comparison shop. We even learned about it in math class, to test our division and multiplication skills. Unit pricing isn’t in the retailer’s interests, so it’s not surprising that it has faded away or been perverted. Even Albertsons plays games with unit pricing, using different units to make equivalent comparisons difficult. Sometimes TP will be priced per sq yd, or by linear foot, or by sheet, for instance, so it’s hard to compare. That is some expensive kat food–it must be Albertsons, or maybe it’s priced in pesos. P.S. I know somebody who used to feed her cat McD’s Happy Meals–the cat died of kidney failure.

  51. cde says:

    @marsneedsrabbits: The mouse IS their special treat :P

  52. friedfish says:

    #1 it’s a cat, who cares
    #2 ALWAYS look at unit pricing
    #3 note to writer; you have been
    trained by a cat

  53. @friedfish: They really are quite clever creatures, aren’t they?

  54. choinski says:

    “The only stuff my cat eats” Really? If you gave the cat no alternative, would it really starve itself to death?

  55. mk says:

    I’ve noticed this same thing at Target. I buy Target brand multivitamins and two of the 100 count bottles is less expensive than one of the 200 count bottles. It seems the larger count bottle should cost less because there is (a) less packaging (b) less manufacturing cost (c) less time/money spent shipping and placing on a shelf.

  56. milk says:

    They recently closed the Albertson’s by my house and replaced it with the chain store in our area (HEB). Thank goodness, too. Albertson’s is such a rip.

    @choinski: My cats used to only eat generic cat food until I bought some Purina One for indoor cats with hairballs. They didn’t eat for about three days before they finally gave in. Now they won’t eat anything other than Purina One.

  57. ShortBus says:

    @no name: That’s why you gradually intermix the food over about a week when you switch a pet’s food. Day 1: 20% new stuff, 80% old stuff. Day 2: 30% new stuff, 70% old stuff, etc.

    (It’s good to know that my previous life as a pet food store worker still comes in handy)

  58. Beerad says:

    This thread reminds me about how when I woke up this morning and trudged through the dark apartment in my slippers I slipped and almost fell in a large pile of cat puke carefully placed in front of the bathroom. Thanks “Purina Pro-plan Total Adult Formula”!

    Stupid little furry vomit sacks… grumble grumble.

  59. jenl1625 says:

    @friedfish: “I’ts a cat, who cares?” If you have a cat, I pity it. What’s the point in having a pet, then treating it like it’s just another possession?

    Personally, I used to feed my cat only dry food. But then she started losing weight, and just kept losing it until she was too thin and she was having hair and skin problems.

    So I switched over to the canned stuff, and she got right back up to a healthy weight and got back to being healthy. In a way, I really did have a choice between feeding her the canned stuff and letting her starve to death – given that I’d had her for 11 years at that point, letting her starve to death was never an actual option.

  60. gmss0205 says:

    This is news?

  61. Veeber says:

    @scoosdad: Just be careful with the splitting. A lot of times it doesn’t split cleanly and you’re left with a bunch of dust. And splitting 325mg into 81mg is not really easy as you’re trying to split the pill into quarters.

  62. ChuckECheese says:

    @scoosdad: and @Chris Vee: Friends of mine tell me the dollar stores are selling cheap 81 mg aspirins now. You might want to take a look.

  63. alejo699 says:

    Ever noticed how any post that even remotely mentions cats will inevitably bring out all the “I hate cats” comments? Ever noticed that it’s perfectly acceptable, but nobody ever says they hate dogs?
    Just for the record, cat haters, we don’t care. Really. We know you exist, we know you hate cats, let it go. You’ll feel better, I promise.

  64. l_d says:

    choinski, a sick cat who gets into the “habit” of not eating will, indeed, starve to death without being coaxed to eat again.

  65. jimconsumer says:

    That’s the only stuff my cat will eat. I promise, I’ve tried everything else. — Not hard enough, apparently. Let him get hungry enough, he’ll eat what you put in front of him.

    When Cat slaves (owners) — This comment is very disturbing. Cat slaves? Are you fucking kidding me?

  66. Eltigro says:

    I noticed a similar thing at Target once. The regular size (two cup) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups was less than half the cost of the King Size Reese’s. I bought two of the smaller ones, but said something to the manager that was near the checkouts. What did I notice the next time I was there? The King Size cups were the same price, but the regular size had increased in price. D’oh!

  67. MommaJ says:

    Vets now pretty much universally recommend that cats NOT be fed dry food–the high carb content leads to diabetes. Cheapo wet food is the way to go.

  68. nygenxer says:

    To protect your pets from contaminated food, I suggest buying several months of food and storing it.

    It seems to take 1-2 months for a recall, so I keep enough food on hand so that it’s at least six months after purchasing before I have to open a bag (or can). Check the dates – it’s usually good for about two years so spoiling isn’t an issue. I also tape receipts to the bag and hold on to empty bags until all the food is eaten. If there’s a recall, I probably haven’t even opened the bag yet and if I have, I still have the bag with all the identifying information.

    I blend kibble from several different manufacturers together for my cats, using a clean kitty litter bucket with a lid for storage. I like to very their protein sources from as wide a variety as possible.

    Yes this increases the risk of feeding them bad food from any one single manufacturer, but it also minimizes their exposure: a lesser amount of ingested toxin(s) being enough for them get sick – and get medical attention – but not enough to kill them before they’re beyond treatment.

    However you decide to feed your pet, waiting at least 3 months before opening a bag (or can) is a good way to protect them from bad food.

  69. nygenxer says:

    Cheapo food of any kind is to be avoided. Protein is expensive and that’s what cats need. There’s no way around that. ALWAYS read the ingredients. The first three ingredients should be protein, NOT corn and NOT by-products!

    High quality food is high in protein and low on carbs. Most cats normally won’t overeat, but they will eat as much as it takes to satisfy their protein requirements – which means eating a lot of fattening high-calorie cheapo food tol get what they need.

    Also, the cheapo food tends to have a high salt content. Cats, like us, love salty food, but because cat urine is already so concentrated, excessive salt can lead to the formation of crystals that eventually will stop urine flow. (For male cats, the only recourse is amputation!)

    I give mine canned food on occasion as a treat; wheat grass for digestion; and catnip for getting high. :)