Hidden Content Reduction Excused By Pretence
'Downsizing food packaging is hard to swallow' by C. Zinn The Courier-Mail 3/9/2008

Unit pricing will reveal the increasing deception of the shrinking of food package

I HAVE two bottles of beer cellared in the bottom drawer of my desk — for purely professional purposes, of course. They are classed [as] too special to drink because they amply demonstrate one of the great curses of the shopping classes; the shrinking package size.

Both bottles feature a distinctive Tasmanian tiger on the label and both look more or less the same size. But Foster's, the brewer of Cascade Premium, made one key feature far less obvious: the actual volume of each of the bottles.

Until late last year Cascade Premium Lager came in the Australian standard stubbie size of 375ml. Overnight it slimmed down to 330ml: 45ml gone in a flash. The alcohol by volume was also reduced from 5.2% to 5%. This came with no apparent price cut. No apologies. No obvious explanation. Consumers rightly get riled when they believe they are victim of any packaging sleight of hand. In this case,Cascade added insult to injury by claiming their market research told them customers preferred the smaller European-style slimline bottles.

Now unlike the amber stuff, that one's hard to swallow. I'll bet the question wasn't framed by asking loyal customers if they'd be happy getting less beer for the same price.

Such bogus excuses are often the standard operating procedure when your favourite packet of biscuits,take-away pizza or spread gets downsized. We are told by the marketing teams that it's what the research says we want.

There are actually some good reasons for downsizing, especially in these times of rampant increases in the costs of raw materials and energy. Producers fear that passing on increases in costs to their customers, beyond a certain price point, may drive them away.

So the feared price increase becomes a more covert product size decrease.

It's not always done lightly — changing the production line and packaging can be costly — but it is usually done quietly. Some months ago Vegemite "standardised" their range of jars which, surprise surprise, meant they became smaller. A Kraft spokesman insisted the value was still there if consumers traded up a size (i.e. paid more) but apparently not if they stayed with the size they used to buy.

One of my bugbears at Choice has been the cartons with only 10 eggs. Yes the label does say "10", albeit in very small print, but eggs have always been sold in dozens. And the explanation? Yes, another excuse about European-style packaging.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with downsizing as long as it is transparent in intent and operation and the before and after sizes are clearly labelled.

As this is usually not the case, we shall have to rely on the soon-to-arrive practice of unit pricing, so admirably pioneered in Queensland, which will show us supermarket prices by per kilogram and per litre as well as the ticketed price.

Unit pricing will truly show us where the value lies and hopefully downsize the deceptions practised in the name of the curse of the shrinking package. But until that happens, the two beer bottles will remain safely unopened in the bottom of my desk.