M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Saturday, January 31, 2009  

Less Is Less

One of the effects of this craphole economy that gets on my nerves is how it's quietly Sovietizing the contents of our pantries.

I don't mean Soviet in the political sense, but when you take the wrapper off a "chocolate chip" granola bar and it looks like something pressed together from the bottom of a hamster's cage -- complete with all of two "chocolate chips" the size of you-know-what -- it's a little tough not to flash back to the food stories that came from behind the Iron Curtain back in the day.

Okay, obviously I'm trivializing the hardships that people went through in that place and that time. But hey, that's what I do.

After all, have you bought a container of hummus lately? I was enjoying some last week, until somehow, about halfway through it, I'd already hit the bottom. I flipped it over and saw that the disk-shaped container, a little bigger than a hockey puck, had a big divot in the bottom of the package that would have almost accommodated another hockey puck. It wasn't so much a disk of hummus as a ring.

Once you notice it in one product, you start to notice it elsewhere. Like how a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter is suddenly 11.3 ounces, probably due to the fact that the bottom of the jar is as concave as the dish at Aricebo. Or the fact that a Hershey bar, once a hearty slab of decadence, is now thin enough to get swallowed by an ATM. And that's just the stuff that's physically smaller. There's no way of telling how much of what we used to buy in a box of food has been replaced by air and melamine and salmonella germs.

I think it started last summer, when four-dollar gas was affecting everyone's supply chain. One could look at the distinctive narrow lettering in the corner of the package and see that the nice round numbers between "NT WT" and "OZ" had grown a couple of decimal places. And it's not like anyone was going to announce it with big lettering on their labels: "Same great taste! Same great price! Not as much!" Some might have tried to sell us on the "convenience" of the new packaging, like everyone's been waiting for a jar of cooking oil that you can carry around in your pocket, but for the most part they tried to sneak it past us wherever possible. It hasn't happened to everything, like stuff where everyone knows how much is supposed to be inside, but I suspect it's only a matter of time before we start seeing that a gallon of milk contains 59.543 fluid ounces, or that it takes four one-pound butter packages to make three pounds.

I'm sure that won't be the case if the trend ever reverses. One day, huge red-and-yellow letters will be screaming at us from every shelf on every aisle, "NOW 3.8% MORE --FREE!"

But now that gas is cheaper, there are other reasons not to restore stuff to its previous amounts. Or cut prices, for that matter. I just don't know what they are. My economics classes were a long time ago, which is probably why I had the harebrained idea that when everyone got poorer, stuff would get cheaper. Do those supply-and-demand curves really only go in one direction?

I've been trying to think of a way to make money off this economy for a while now, beyond the obvious bit about how cheap we're getting the units in our 401(k) accounts lately. So far all I've hit on is the idea to hold onto some of these shrunken packages until they become collectors' items, like Depression glass only more cynical. One way or another, those ounces are going to be written in whole numbers again. I just hope they get rounded up instead of down. Otherwise nobody will be able to afford to buy my collectors' items from me anyway.

posted by M. Giant 9:55 AM 6 comments


Fewer Girl Scout cookies per box, too! What's the world coming to?

By Blogger Dan Mac, at January 31, 2009 at 11:35 AM  

It's not like this is exactly new. I remember (and I'm not OLD old) when a whoppin' big Three Musketeers bar was 5 cents. Now a relatively small TMB is 55 cents.

Although Wal-Mart has at its core the principle of forcing its suppliers to give them more for less, so they can charge less making it seem like they're giving you better prices.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 1, 2009 at 6:51 PM  

I always buy Reynolds Wrap in 200 ft. rolls, which means that I go for great lengths of time between purchases.

And I say "Reynolds Wrap" specifically. When I had my first apartment many, many years ago I tried buying generic aluminum foil and found it to be of vastly inferior quality.

Well, the other day I opened a new roll of Reynolds Wrap and noticed that it was of inferior quality. Very thin.

Then I looked at the box, which boasted that, although it was the same length, it was a "new, space-saving roll." In other words, since it was now crappy, it took up less room.

Nice going!

By Blogger floretbroccoli, at February 2, 2009 at 9:15 AM  

You're not the only one who has noticed that particular phenomenon. The Consumerist blog calls in the "Grocery Shrink-Ray." Suddenly you're getting less product for the same price (or more). Check out a 'gallon' of ice cream the next time you shop. Or OJ, or Pampers, or breakfast cereal... The list goes on.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 2, 2009 at 12:10 PM  


Are lines far behind?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 2, 2009 at 1:06 PM  

I need to have coffee before I read blogs. I just read your first sentence as:

"One of the effects of this craphole economy that gets on my nerves is how it's quietly Sovietizing the contents of our panties."

At least it woke me up quickly!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 2, 2009 at 5:00 PM  

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