Grocery Shrink Ray Strikes Store-Brand Sugar

The grocery shrink ray has struck bags of sugar in two different parts of the country. Bags that a rational consumer would assume contain five pounds of sugar–since they’ve contained five pounds of sugar for as long as most Americans can remember–now contain four pounds of sugar. Somehow, we don’t think that grocers are doing this as an effort to reduce Americans’ sugar consumption.

Reader Doug in Washington state first noticed the shrunken sugar a few weeks ago. His local grocer was early enough in the shrinkage process that four- and five-pound bags were side-by-side on the shelves.


I was shopping at WinCo this morning and noticed that the bargain brand of sugar (Hy-Top) was stocked in two sizes… and one of them was 4 pounds. This seemed like an odd size, as since for as long as I can remember (probably 30 years), a 5 pound bag of sugar has been “standard”. I also honestly thought that store brands were immune to this sort of thing… and commodities as well.

Note, also the 4 lb brand is more expensive per ounce.

shrunken sugar.JPGMeanwhile, the very next day, reader Karen noticed the phenomenon in Urbana, Ill. She writes:

All my life, both sugar and flour have come in 5 lb. bags. Lately, though, local supermarkets only seem to be carrying 4 lb. bags of sugar- and something tells me it’s not because they’re making a statement that we should eat less sugar.

It’s likely that these two different grocery chains use the same distributor for their store-brand goods, and Karen’s local store has been at it longer. Like all Grocery Shrink Ray hits, the retailers depend on customers to pick up a five-pound bag of sugar and somehow not notice the missing pound.


Edit Your Comment

  1. DangerMouth says:

    You could actually reduce the sugar by 20-50% in most recipes and never miss it.

    I understand that’s not the point of this article.

    • Laura Northrup says:

      Some things actually taste better with less sugar.

    • john says:

      I wouldn’t recommend reducing sugar that much in baking recipes, since baking is a formula that requires specific proportions of fat, sugar, liquids, etc. For instance, if you reduce sugar in a cookie recipe by a drastic amount, you will not have good results. You might get a way with 10% reductions, but it depends on the recipe.

      • baquwards says:

        exactly. people who aren’t bakers don’t realize that baking is chemistry, and when you mess with it, your results will be different and sometimes failures. The same goes for those people who think applesauce=oil in a recipe, IT DOESN’T the baked goods will be more dense, less tender and the flavor will be off.

        Make baking recipes as written and eat them in moderation, I would rather have a fantastic cookie than a mediocre cookie that someone tried to get healthy with, because it is probably still unhealthy but doesn’t taste great.

        • JulesNoctambule says:

          Indeed — I’ve had more than one friend call me in a panic because their baked goods failed, and after a few questions it usually emerges that they switched a certain amount of sugar with stevia (gag), used applesauce in place of butter or something similar. Of course, they always want to know ‘why the recipe didn’t turn out like it said it would!!!’ after they’ve substituted half of the ingredients. I give them a quick talk on the science of baking and why moderation is always better than resorting to carob.

        • lchen says:

          Actually I find when baking, sugar measurements often aren’t written in stone and you can adjust to your taste. The bread recipes I use don’t require any sugar, you just need somewhat fresh yeast(not year old yeast), warm water, and time.

    • dwasifar says:

      I hesitate to try that in bread. The sugar is mainly there to feed the yeast. You don’t want it to starve to death before the bread’s done rising.

      On the other hand, did you ever stop to think that every one of those hundreds of thousands of bubbles that make your bread soft and delicious is actually a trapped yeast fart?

      • katia802 says:

        ROFL thank you, I intend to inform my son of that just as he’s taking a big bite of homemade bread. Will make his day.

    • Viciouspixie says:

      I agree I always cut out a portion of the sugar in the recipes I make for the non yeast goods and tend to use organic sugar which is less sweet than the good ol white sugar.

  2. Richardsonke says:

    Biggs supermarket in Ohio did the exact same thing and while the cost per bag is less than the name brand, the cost per ounce is noticeably more. I almost want to put a sign up warning people not to buy it…

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Really? Shrink Rays on staple foods… let me rephrase that… on the basic elements of food?!?

  4. ZeshawnWhiles says:

    I agree that things have gotten smaller recently, but do you honestly think the companies are trying to “trick” consumers?

    It’s just a matter of profit optimization for the sugar producers.

    Of course the unit price for a 4 pound bag will be more than a 5 pound bag, that’s generally how one’s individual demand curve is.

  5. Snarkysnake says:

    Uh , the OP must not do much baking. This has been the new standard for a long while now. I hate it ,because it’s easy to run out around the holidays when you are making pies and cakes etc,but thats just life.

    BTW , it’s usually the most expensive brand on the shelf ,but the King Arthur (picture above) flour can’t be beat. The quality is excellent.

    • john says:

      I was going to say the same thing. It’s been 4 lbs. for years now where I live. My wife found a 5 lb. bag of sugar at Walgreens, and I thought I had found the Lost Ark.

    • floraposte says:

      In fact, I even shop at Schnuck’s, and I can say it’s been 4 lbs. for some time.

  6. MaytagRepairman says:

    I’m curious if these stores also sell sugar in a bulk dry goods section where you place the empty bag under a hopper and fill it yourself. I’d like to know how the price has been tracking over there.

    • Bohemian says:

      I have not seen sugar at Hyvee in bulk bins but I will be checking the food coop to see if they do. I have already started buying brown rice and lentils there because Hyvee keeps raising the price on bags of those. Sometimes not only is bulk cheaper ounce for ounce you don’t have to double check the ever shrinking package vs. the price.

  7. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Crystal Lite has reduced their packages too! Now you have to buy two to make 6 gallons :( it makes me sad!

    • immaculate gaenor says:

      Really? They’ve increased their package size here in Canada. There used to be 2 packets per box and now there are 4! I love it!

  8. redskull says:

    I understand that it’s annoying to the members who bake, but honestly I probably wouldn’t go through a 5 pound bag of sugar in 10 years.

  9. hegemonyhog says:

    I still haven’t noticed this in Michigan, and I started baking heavily about two years ago. Are there regions where this hasn’t hit yet?

  10. dabarak says:


  11. Bohemian says:

    Are these cane sugar bags or mystery “sugar” (aka beet sugar). I thought I remembered reading something about a beet rotting problem at the major sugar processing plant in Grand Forks, ND. Maybe there was a commodity price increase.

  12. Coles_Law says:

    wow. Here in KS, we’ve been at 4 lb. bags for at least a year.

    • DerangedHermit says:

      I’ve noticed too at Stop & Shop in New York…kinda. They have a no-frills type 4-lb bag for $2.19 and their regular 5-lb store brand bag for $2.79.

  13. puddinhead says:

    I’ve noticed the 4 lb bags for at least 2 years. I eat a lot of sugar. .99/bag is about as cheap as it gets on super sale.

  14. The_Legend says:

    It’s been 4lbs for a while in the midwest, while Aldi still sells theirs in 5lb bags. And they advertise that fact.

  15. morlo says:

    Clearly the government is not printing enough money if the deflation of products is continuing.

  16. unpolloloco says:

    This shrink ray is solely due to sugar tariffs.

    //Why we use so much corn syrup – it’s cheaper than sugar in the US.

    • morlo says:

      Sugar tariffs were not introduced recently, so they can hardly be “solely” responsible. In fact they are probably not responsible at all since all packaged commodity products are shrinking and undergoing massive price increases.

  17. MooseOfReason says:

    Get rid of the sugar quotas and we wouldn’t have this problem.

  18. baquwards says:

    The stores here are now carrying what I call bottom of the barrel generics(Hytop, Super Value, etc..) and all of them carry a 4lb. sugar in these brands. The regular (named after the store) brand is still 5lbs. as is the Dixie Crystals, Domino, etc…

    I have gone through about 40 lbs of sugar this holiday season already (baking for profit), so I keep an eye on the sizes.

    • BoredOOMM says:

      The 5 Lb bag will soon die off like the 16 oz coffee can- replaced by 4 lb size where the same shelf now gives 20% higher profit.

  19. Jacob says:

    I’ve been seeing the Kroger Value bags of sugar at that size for quite a while now. Since the price per pound was still cheaper than any thing else on the shelf, I haven’t seen a need to complain that much.

  20. Emperor Norton I says:

    Dearborn Wholesale Grocers in Chicago went to 4 lb. bags at least 7-8 years ago.

  21. allstarecho says:

    4 pound bags have been around for several years now, nothing new. These are usually the ones you find in dollar stores like Dollar General, Family Dollar, Fred’s. etc. Wal-Mart has always carried 4 different bag sizes, a really huge bag that’s probably like 25 pounds, a 10 pound bag, a 5 pound bag and a 4 pound bag.

  22. james says:

    Worse than the shrink-ray is the disappearance of the term “pure cane sugar” from no-name-brand sugar bags. If the bag does not say “pure cane sugar”, you are certain to be looking at beet sugar, and beet sugar does some very strange things in pastry work, for reasons I still cannot fathom.

    • katia802 says:

      Problem I’ve noticed in the cheaper brands in my area is “sugar” which is really a mix of fructose and cane sugar. Doesn’t seem to hit my baking much, but the sugar looks fluffy. Weirds hubby out when he makes coffee.

  23. Blueskylaw says:

    Cue the entrance of cheap granulated High Fructose Corn Syrup
    in a new five pound bag?

  24. ginnel says:

    Notice how if there is a bonus package with a couple of extra ounces of a product they practically cover the package with this info. But they downsize packages without a word.. This wouldn’t be so bad if you could really rely on unit pricing. But the Giant store in my area will often have one packages unit price marked per pound and one per ounce making comparing products just that more difficult. Sometimes the math is just totally messed up altogether.