Chicago Tribune Picks Up Grocery Shrink Ray

The Chicago Tribune quoted me in a piece on the Grocery Shrink Ray. Paraphrasing a food science. expert, it says, “Broadly defined, packaging costs often outweigh ingredient costs, Hotchkiss said. And a penny shaved off packaging can translate into millions of dollars in savings for a high-volume consumer product.” This is interesting because it means the greatest cost savings come from reducing package costs, rather than ingredient amount. Which means if they’re reducing ingredient amounts, they’ve got to be really hurting. Maybe if I really wanted to do my part to help the economy I should have spent that stimulus check on juice, cereal, paper towels, mayonnaise and ice cream.

Rising costs give groceries nip and tuck [Chicago Tribune]


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  1. TechnoDestructo says:

    Packaging costs outweigh ingredient costs, so they increase the ratio of package to product? Does not compute.

  2. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    Interesting article. That means, for example, the cereal companies would probably save more money if they restyled their boxes of cereal that are 1/3 air, rather than decreasing the product and/or raising the price, so the rationale given by companies that its the “cost of doing business” is BS.

  3. goodkitty says:

    The article reads like it was written by someone who couldn’t be bothered to investigate or didn’t want to stir up the waters. I agree… there’s so much air in packaging that it could be done better, but we all know from experience that this is more of a money-grabbing move using the economy as a cheap excuse than it is a real savings measure. How long until someone says they’re going “green” by giving you less packaging (and product)?

  4. SpdRacer says:

    Love Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law! Reducto sux!

  5. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    But I recall images here of what appeared to be same sized packages, but with different product weight listed on the containers.

  6. ironchef says:

    it’s only partially true…if the resizing actually increases the YIELD on a single press sheet…then there is a cost savings.

    The cost is the same if the number of packages per press sheet doesn’t change.

  7. lotusflwr says:

    Back in my day, people respected a man with a shrrrrink gun…

    I’ll make you TEENSIE… BACK OFF!

    <3 Reducto

  8. Brothernod says:

    Slightly OT, do they change the UPC when they shrink an item?


    I’ll make you fun size.

  9. @SpdRacer: @lotusflwr: “I’ll make you travel size! Who touched my ankle?! Shhhrrrrrrrink Gun!” Ah, Steven Colbert at his best. Coincidentally, for those interested, I happen to run the most popular Harvey Birdman Fan Site that hasn’t been updated in 3 years right here.

    More on-topic, I’ve introduced my dad to the “grocery shrink ray” ever since he started complaining about how his Breyer’s Fudge Ripple ice cream is coming in smaller containers with tapered walls.

  10. Juliekins says:

    @goodkitty: Kashi has already done that. Their frozen meals now tout a smaller package size with the same amount of food inside.

  11. JaguarChick says:

    The shrink ray has finally managed to push me from bothered to really annoyed. I had been planning to make some old recipes of my mom’s and headed to the store with a list that contained specific items and their sizes, only to find that none of the sizes in the recipes matched what was on the shelf. I could have a 4.5 ounce can of mushrooms or a 6.5 ounce can, but nothing that would add up to 8. I went through this with almost half the items on the list. Thanks, shrink ray, for ruining my mom’s recipes for me.

  12. floraposte says:

    Now that’s interesting–I had been thinking that the cost of changing production and packing to suit a smaller container would be significant, but it sounds like that the savings on material costs for the packaging mean that there’s savings on both packaging and contents. So basically we’re screwed.

  13. SeanOHara says:

    If this were true, wouldn’t larger packages make more sense — after all, volume increases faster than surface area.

  14. ChuckECheese says:

    @floraposte: And don’t forget, smaller packages and less contents also means cheaper shipping per package. So you just got screwed again. I wish I could print money like the mortgage companies and Cheerios do.

  15. TheBovaEffect says:

    It’s true that cutting packaging costs can save money.

    Where I work (a flour mill) our packaging machine forms the 5 pound bags from a roll of paper with the bags printed on them.

    We realized that by reducing the edges that are glued around the bags of flour we could fit many more bags on a printed roll thusly saving money.

    Although we didn’t reduce the AMOUNT of product in the bag as the shrink ray does.

    The shrink ray makes money from reducing quantity, essentially by increasing unit cost.

  16. TechnoDestructo says:


    No, because then they’d have to raise prices, because while the marginal cost of the packaging is smaller per unit of product, the total cost is higher.

    And the object here is to maintain the price without the consumer noticing the change.

  17. RodAox says:

    @goodkitty: they are already doing that, i saw the commercials for it, it is a windex type product that comes with a bottle spray and a small concentrate of the product… you are suppose pour it into the spray bottle then fill up the rest with water… when you run out you can buy the concentrate for cheap.

    This does make sense since the company can ship more concentrate in a truck and some packaging is reused…however I doubt they pass on the true savings on to the customer. BUT it is green compared to the alternative.

  18. jedipunk says:

    I think it would be cool to see cereals packaged in cylindrical containers (like oatmeal). Large volume per surface area, durable shape, and people can save the packaging to put toys (or nuts & bolts) in or bang as a drum.

    Heck, if there are enough different sizes you could build a goofy drum set.

  19. Angryrider says:

    Shrinky dink! Back off!
    Great that you’re getting recognition about the GSR. Now you have to go find that old man that was on the Today show and teach ‘im a lesson for going on your turf.

  20. mike says:

    I think I’ll continue the montra that I don’t care that the companies decide to shrink the products. Just tell us about it!! Don’t try to hide it with fine print, new “packaging”, or with lofty press releases.

    I want a sticker on the package that says, “3oz smaller, Same great taste!”

  21. startertan says:

    Reducto FTW!!!

    I know we keep seeing posts about how the shrink ray has orphans (the old size and the new size next to each other with the same price) but what about all the ones we don’t see.

    At BJs they just switched over Tide from the regular giganti-jug to a smaller jug. The jug says it’s the ‘concentrated’ formula so you use less. I called my gf at home and confirmed that our old giganti-jug and the new petite concentrated jug both claim to wash 188 loads. Is this the new subversive shrink ray?

  22. Gann says:

    @jedipunk: You mean like:

  23. Gann says:

    @jedipunk: It actually stacks less efficiently than square boxes.

  24. mariospants says:

    Well, let’s face it: this is the 21st Century. We’re supposed to have flying cars, robot slaves and weather-control devices. Food was supposed to be in pill form by now, so I guess we should be lucky we’re still able to buy recognizeable food at all.

  25. xredgambit says:

    I vote the pic as the offical shrink ray mascot.

  26. vladthepaler says:

    Then shouldn’t the desire for profits tend to decrease rather than increase overpackaging? Though I must say it seems very American that we throw away the most expensive part of what we buy…

  27. TechnoDestructo says:

    @jedipunk: Why not go all the way and use spheres?

  28. Sian says:

    Reducto needs to be the official mascot for the Grocery Shrink Ray.

  29. NickIQ says:

    Backoff, BACKOFF! When I was a kid if someone brandished a shrink gun he’d get a little bit of respect!