Watkins Sues McCormick Over Pepper, Makes Federal Case Out Of Grocery Shrink Ray

See the difference? No? That's why Watkins is suing.

See the difference? No? That’s why Watkins is suing.

You know what a McCormick ground pepper tin looks like if you’ve ever bought pepper or browsed an American spice aisle. They’re rectangular and have spouts on each end for sprinkling or pouring the contents. Yet have you noticed how much pepper there is in the container? Competing spice-seller Watkins is paying attention, and it’s accusing McCormick of shrinking all sizes of its pepper containers by 25%.

Their visual aids that are part of the complaint will look familiar to any regular follower of our Grocery Shrink Ray posts. Maybe their attorneys could have used our help, actually: We added the insets with the larger version of the product weights here. In the photo, you see a McCormick 8-ounce container at the left, the shrunken 6-ounce McCormick container in the center, and what 6 ounces of pepper looks like if you actually resize the container, since Watkins sells a container in that size.


“On information and belief, for decades, McCormick has sold ground black pepper in metal tins that have become widely recognized by consumers,” lawyers for Watkins explain in their initial complaint. The company believes that the spice giant began, to use their term, “slack-filling” the containers at the beginning of 2015.

McCormick is so dominant in the American spice business that smaller and store brands will have to follow their lead or charge higher prices, or look like they’re selling less pepper by comparison. You can see this in action in the photo above — which container would you choose?

Here’s another comparison, where the McCormick 3-ounce container is on the right, and 4-ounce containers from Watkins and the previous McCormick container are on the left and at center. Would you notice? You might even have the shrunken container in your house, and didn’t notice when you bought it.


The Minneapolis Star-Tribune sent a reporter out to local grocery stores and discovered that in one-third of these stores, shelf tags haven’t caught up with the actual amount of pepper in each tin. The newer versions are on the shelves, but the old sizes remain on the shelf tag.

Watkins is a pretty small spice-seller, while McCormick controls 46% of the market. This lawsuit serves two roles: To let people know that Watkins sells spices, and to call authorities’ attention to this Shrink Ray blast.

Watkins sues spice giant McCormick & Co. over pepper tins [Star-Tribune]
Complaint [U.S. District Court]

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