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Jill Cataldo, Published April 27 2013

Coupon Queen: When products shrink

The price stays the same, but the product gets smaller and smaller and smaller.

It’s called product “shrink” and it’s the result of rising manufacturing costs. As costs rise, companies must make a decision – raise the price of the product accordingly, or keep the price the same while reducing the size of the product.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed product shrink – many readers have too, and my recent column on products being downsized elicited many passionate responses:

Q: In response to your column on shrinking products, you hit on the mark as to what I personally observe as the primary food shopper in this family.

Case in point: I am a dedicated consumer of premium bourbon. Recently, Maker’s Mark proposed to reduce the alcohol level in their premium bourbon (meaning, watering it down) to keep up with their inability to provide increased demand for their quality product of the past. It takes considerable time to produce quality bourbon and alcohol level dramatically changes the taste of bourbon! There was big-time backlash. The company said, “You spoke and we listened.” They rescinded on their decision almost immediately. – Bob N.

A: I heard about this case in the news, and it was a real triumph for shoppers who made their voices known. One enormous benefit of social media is that customers can converse with their favorite brands in real time, and fans of this bourbon were not shy about sharing how they felt about the reduction in quality.

Q: Your column on groceries shrinking is so true. Half-gallon orange juice bottles went from 64 ounces to 59 ounces. Today I saw a brand of juice now has 46-ounce bottles! That is 18 ounces smaller than it used to be. And the funny thing is, when you look at the bottle from the front, it looks the same, but the bottle is only a couple inches deep. Did the price go down? No. But now it’s like three glasses of juice missing from the bottle. There was recently a $1 coupon in the paper and I was torn – do I buy it and give the company the impression I am supporting this downsizing? It was a better price than the store brand with the coupon but the store brand was still 64 ounces. – Allie J.

Q: Do not get me started on what is happening with groceries out there. Did you know that for some brands, ice cream isn’t even really ice cream anymore? Look at the cartons, and if you see it labeled as ‘frozen dairy dessert,’ it isn’t even ice cream. It has so much air whipped into it, and there isn’t even enough milk or cream in the ingredients to legally call it ice cream anymore. Have you heard about this one? I bought some once and it was such mushy, airy stuff. Never again. It’s got to say ice cream on the carton and that is something I will pay money for. But with major brands it is getting harder and harder to find real ice cream. – Mark C.

A: Sadly, I am familiar with the “frozen dairy dessert” phenomenon and I won’t buy those either. Mark is right – they can’t legally be called ice creams because they don’t contain enough cream or milk fats to meet the standards set by the USDA to qualify as ice cream under the Dairy Industry Act. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a smaller, full-fat, dense, flavor-rich scoop of ice cream than two air-filled, less satisfying, not-quite-ice-cream scoops any day!

Smart Living Tip

It may be worth sharing your feedback with manufacturers of downsized products. In some cases (like for Maker’s Mark bourbon) companies have responded by giving customers the quality they demand. When we remain silent, our silence may be interpreted as acceptance. And, contacting companies may have another positive result – you might receive coupons from the manufacturer as a thank you for sharing your opinions.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.