The Shaking Down of America: Shrinking Packages, Higher Prices in Supermarkets

Environmentally conscious American consumers demand smaller packaging, but corporations may seize this to score promotional points for corporate responsibility and to get consumers to pay more or the same, but for less content. The shrinking product packages lining supermarket shelves and frozen food sections is driven somewhere in between higher costs, social responsibility, and profit. Since price-driven consumers often view package size and content as secondary, manufacturers can take advantage.

The driving factors for increased costs for smaller packaging as well as content is the increase in costs for raw materials, transportation and resources, forcing corporations to raise prices or reduce quantity, says Jane Dornbusch in the 2014 Boston Globe article “The Incredible Shrinking Package.” Consumers might be willing to swallow either higher prices or smaller packages (which in the end amount to the same thing). “What many find objectionable is the seemingly deceptive, or at least sneaky, way that manufacturers go about downsizing,” Dornbusch writes.

Examples in 2018 include everything from food to health and beauty aids. Chobani Greek yogurt cups downsized from 6 ounces to 5.3 ounces – a 10 percent drop. Simply Orange reduced its packaging from 59 ounces to 52. Quilted Northern went from 330 sheets to 308 sheets per roll. TRESemme went from 32 to 28 ounces. Charmin double rolls went from 154 sheets to 142 sheets, or the equivalent of just 71 sheets on a regular roll. Lysol Disinfecting Wipes dropped two full ounces. Wish-Bone salad dressing dropped from 16 ounces to 15, according to Consumer World archives.

Consumer rights watchdogs and media companies report on the downsizing in chips, tuna, crackers, and a host of other products comes off as subtle and sometimes sharp. In 2011, the New York Times reported that Chicken of the Sea went from 6 to 5-ounce cans of tuna. Bags of Doritos, Tostitos and Fritos held 20 percent fewer chips than in 2009. Kraft “Fresh Stacks” saltines contained around 15 percent fewer crackers than the standard boxers, at the same price. Canned vegetables dropped two ounces from their content, and while wheat pasta went from 16 ounces to 13.25. P roctor and Gamble expanded its “Future Friendly” products, using 15 percent less energy, water or packaging than the standard, but the consumer also got less of the product.