Ben Popken On NPR Talkin' 'Bout Grocery Shrink Ray

NPR’s Michele Norris on “All Things Considered” did a nice interview with me about that deadly Grocery Shrink Ray sweeping supermarkets across America. It looks like it just aired, you can listen to it online here. If you want to look at previous stories in the Grocery Shrink Ray series, check ’em out here. And if you have a example of a product that is shrinking in terms of volume or net weight and you want to submit it to us for a possible post, just send it on in to tips@consumerist.com.

UPDATE: Transcript added, inside…

Grocery Items: Same Price, Smaller Size [NPR]
(Partial image credit: hellochris)

TRANSCRIPT

Michele: Now we go from rising prices at the pump to shrinking products on grocery shelves. Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. Cereal boxes, juice containers, bars of soap, jars of mayonnaise. All these products and more really are getting smaller. But here’s the hitch, you’re buying less, but not paying less. Reducing the size of products is one way that manufacturers can cope with their soaring costs. Ben Popken is the editor of a consumer advocacy blog called Consumerist.com. He’s been closely monitoring this trend, and he joins us now. Mr. Popken welcome to the program.

Ben: Hi, thanks for having me.

Michele: Now I’m just curious, have you been skulking around grocery store aisles looking for examples?

Ben: No, unfortunately, I sit in my blogging chamber upon high and I just receive reports from the readers, they dispatch what they’re finding out at the supermarket.

Michele: And what are you hearing from the provinces?

Ben: I’m hearing the sound of shrinking, basically. What we call the “grocery shrink ray” is in full effect across America. Leaving all sorts of shrinking boxes and products in its wake.

Michele: Can you give me a few examples?

Ben: Definitely. Kelloggs, a wide variety of cereals are down 2.4 oz. Breyers Ice cream, 56 oz to 48 oz. Edy’s Ice Cream, 1.75 quarts to 1.5 quarts. Dog Food… Butter…Country Crock is down 6%. It’s just all over the board.

Michele: Now, these changes sound slight. I mean if you weren’t looking out for this, would it be evident that the Country Crock tub is smaller than it used to be?

Ben: Probably not, unless you are some sort of savant who is able to memorize the net weight of all of the items that you purchase in your grocery trips, you are probably not going to notice it. But, right now we’re in a crossover, a threshold phase where there are still a few of the old products left on the shelf, and when you see two different sizes being sold for the same price right there in front of you, that’s when you notice.

Michele: You know there’s always been talk about not wanting to break these benchmark amounts for product manufacturers. A gallon of milk for instance, or a pound of bacon. But it seems like we’re seeing them cross that threshold now. I’m thinking of the half-gallon of ice cream, that was always the standard. That rectangular brick of ice-cream that you used to see in the frozen food section.

Ben: That is definitely no longer the case. There’s a whole sort of secret underbelly in the ice cream world of who’s delivering less and how much air is in it versus, you know cream and milk. Some brands even make it their marketing distinction, and they put it right on the label. Like, Brigham’s Ice cream and Blue Bell Ice Cream they proudly state “Never Shrunk.”

Michele: Do manufacturers ever alert customers? Or at least provide some information in the fine print that they’re doing this? Does Wrigley for instance, note somewhere on the label that the 17 stick “Plenty Pack” is now a 15 stick?

Ben: The only disclosure that they are giving people is the different net weight and the amount of servings per package. The newest victim of the Grocery Shrink Ray that we saw today were these Kraft slices of swiss cheese and they’re now giving 10 slices instead of 11 slices, and they’re doing a different package. In this case there’s a slight disclosure, but it has a little spin on it. There’s a little green label and it says “sensible serving” so they’re trying to tap it into the whole obesity crisis, and think that by giving you less for the same amount of money, decreasing your purchasing power, they’re actually helping you out, fitness-wise.

Michele: Now, the food manufacturers will say that they’re trying to get by too, they’re facing rising fuel costs, rising commodity costs. So, they may be shrinking the package but they’re doing that instead of raising costs, which might be much worse.

Ben: Well, I don’t think that they’re trying to do it to do anyone any favors, except for themselves. I mean everyone’s got to get by. The economy is getting tighter, and I think everyone recognizes that. The problem is that they’re trying to, you know, sneak it across the table without people noticing. So, when that works on the large swath of myopic consumers, that’s great and that works out for them. But, when you have people who are actually paying attention to these things, then it’s going to be a problem for both the consumer and the manufacturer because then people feel like they’re being tricked. I think more and more people, as times are getting tougher, as people are watching their pennies more, they’re becoming much more sensitive to value and these manufacturers maybe biting themselves in the butt.

Michele: Buyer Beware.

Ben: Definitely. Caveat Emptor.

Michele: There you go.

Ben: I mean the fact that the Romans were able to invent a word, it’s nothing new.

Michele: Ben Popken, thanks so much it’s good to talk to you.

Ben: Thanks Michele.

Michele: Ben Popken is the editor of a consumer advocacy blog called consumerist.com