For almost forty years I have been protesting the failure of grocery manufacturers to make full public disclosure when downsizing or "shrinking" their supermarket shelf product. As an Institutional Food Buyer in the sixties and seventies, I saw almost the entire supermarket shelf inventory "shrink" as economic pressure affected the profit margins of corporate grocery manufacturers.
In 1989, after the United States suffered a brief economic recession, I noted that, what had begun as a small, sneaky reduction in Hershey's chocolate and the tuna industry years earlier, was now affecting mostly all manufactured grocery product on mostly all shelf space.
Here is how the deception works: Let's say you manufacture a seven ounce can of tuna fish. Your label reflects what's in the tin, the weight of the contents and, recently, the nutrition of your product.
You clear $.27/tin. Now, there's a slight recession. You're making only $.22/tin. What to do? How to retrieve that nickel? Simple! The government (The USDA and FTC) have given you the loophole you need!
Although you MUST disclose the weight of your product, no one says you have to change anything else on your label (and that means no further disclosure, other than the correct weight). So, you REDUCE the weight of your product from seven ounces to six! The consumer sees the same label logo (color, style, and form) on the shelf; the selling price hasn't changed (of course, the unit price is wrong, but who notices that or the weight?) on the shelf tag, so if you happen to be an elderly person, a housewife rushing with children through the supermarket, or a consumer with weak vision...nothing has changed--except you're paying more for less; Bingo!
There's the corporate nickel back in the shareholder's pocket - trouble is, you can't seem to make that extra sandwich you could before the change!
The FTC has an ordinance (#5) against the deceptive practice of
trying to deceive the public eye in packaging, but it has NEVER won in court. Two Congressional Committees were to sit in 1990 and 1991; never happened! So grocery manufacturers have had a field day at the American Consumer's expense...and NOTHING has been done about it.
I tried; in 1989-90, I called attention to the "Shrinking Product" phenomenon to the then New York Attorney General, and CBS'S Arnold Diaz who, today is a reporter for ABC's 20/20, where I appeared, as I have on many other numerous occasions during the past ten years on different stations here, and in Canada, attempting to curb the practice of deceit by the Grocery Manufacturing Lobby (very strong).
Many reporters and Consumer Advocates have attempted to take credit for "finding" the practice abounding in this country, but I started the ball rolling in the early sixties on this matter. Who can say how many billions of dollars have been skimmed from consumer pockets and pocketbooks, or how many cups of coffee (from 16 oz. down to 10) have not been drunk, or how many paper towels (120 sheets to 80) have not dried countertops, or how many diapers (80 to 72) have not covered baby's rear, or how much baby food has been taken from their jars (a full half-ounce) or how much food has not fed poor Americans tell what's
happening? Check the supermarket shelves (like S&W brand); see how many ounces are listed on the shelf tag for their product, then check the label, and see if there isn't a discrepancy. No, the practice isn't very prevalent today...the economy is booming--but, as for all those yesterdays and all those tomorrows; why, everyone should become a grocery manufacturer. Where else can you offer a product to the public today, and next month reduce its content, and increase your profit, without so much as a slap on the wrist for not disclosing your intention to do so at the expense of the trusting public! Don't worry; without regulation, the problem of "Shrinking Products" won't go away...It's just waiting for an opportunity to deceive you, the consumer, whenever it feels like. I can only hope,
that when it does again, you'll remember this report, and get as
angry as hell at the grocery manufacturers, and tell them EXACTLY how you feel!