Food Inflation High, Package Size Low

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Food Inflation
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Food Inflation

When the economy isn't strong and the price of food inflates, as is the case right now, there's only one thing food manufacturers know how to do: Lie. Not verbally, not exactly, but according to a recent story in the New York Times, businesses feel like they have no choice except to quietly reduce the amount of food in their cans, cartons, and bags. 

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Thomas J. Alexander, a finance professor at Northwood University, told the New York Times, “Companies only have pricing power when wages are also increasing, and we’re not seeing that right now because of the high unemployment."

This prompts businesses to get tricky so that the consumer, not their own bottom line, is the one to be hit. One route businesses take is to introduce splashy new "travel-friendly" or "eco packaging," which, oh, incidentally have less food it them. Sold at the same price, of course. Sometimes they skip the slight-of-hand flair. Sometimes a can of corn just becomes a wee bit smaller, and you don't know until you're cooking dinner.

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Lisa Stauber told the New York Times that she didn't know that her packages of whole wheat pasta had dropped 2.75 ounces of their pasta, so she bought the usual three boxes to make dinner for her nine kids, but she said, "it wasn’t enough — that was a little embarrassing. I bought the same amount I always buy, I just didn’t realize it, because who reads the sizes all the time?”

Very few of us have nine kids, as demonstrated by the scarcity of triple-tiered strollers, but if you do, you have to make sure that every dang ounce of food that you paid for is present. Smaller households should care, too. If not for those two lost ounces, than for the fact that consumers alone shouldn't bare the brunt of higher food prices.

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Here are some incredible shrinking foods that the New York Times called out (the following doesn't necessarily apply to all packages):

  • Bags of Doritos, Tostitos and Fritos down 20 percent in chips from 2009.
  • Kraft is introducing 'Fresh Stacks' packages for its saltines and Honey Maid graham crackers, about 15 percent less food.
  • The new unwrapped Reese’s Minis are smaller than the foil-wrapped Miniatures, and are more expensive.
  • Heinz ketchup, condiments, sauces and Ore-Ida product prices are up, and they're selling smaller versions, as well.
  • Earlier in the recession, Edy’s ice cream went from 2 liters to 1.5 and Tropicana dropped 10 ounces down to a 59-ounce carton.

Related links:
The best new junk food the recession tried to steal
Is this the saddest food ever?
Whole Foods to offer drunk shopping
Make your own Chinese take-out tonight (with half the sodium)