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Bottom Line: Product Downsizing, Part 1

Updated: Friday, August 2 2013, 09:17 PM EDT

ALBANY  -- You know the old saying that "looks can be deceiving."  Well it's not outward deception, but some of the products you're picking up off supermarket shelves are definitely worth looking at twice!
While they might "look" the same over the years, there's one very small yet very big difference - one that's hitting you, right in the wallet.
If you don't look closely, you'll miss it - but Dori Marlin gets The Bottom Line for you, by focusing on the fine print.
Here's one example:  Two boxes of Pillsbury cake mix.  They might look the same - until you focus on the fine print.  The older box has a net weight of 18.25 ounces.  The newer one, a net weight of 15.25 ounces.  A whole three ounces less, for the same price - so the prices stay "affordable" according to experts, but it really isn't because you have to go back to the stores many more times.
Welcome to the growing concept, of product downsizing.
Edgar Dworsky is the Boston-based founder of the website "Consumer World," and has been following the trend for nearly 20 years.
"Just myself buying a particular product, noticing 'Wait a minute, this product is running out sooner than it should be,'" he says.
And maybe you noticed it, too.  Items dialed down in size include cans of tuna fish, jars of mayonnaise, boxes of cereal.
"Paper products are big - paper towels, tissues, toilet paper," Dworsky says. "Candy bars, how often has the size of a candy bar changed over the years?"
Or, for that matter, a carton of ice cream?  Check out the history of Breyer's biggest size:
"Breyers was 64 ounces - that was the standard half gallon of ice cream," he explained to Dori. "Then they took out a cup, and it went to 56 ounces.  And the most recent incarnation has another cup taken out, and we're down to 48 ounces."
He also said that it's perfectly legal for companies to do this, as long as they clearly display the amount you're getting on the product.
Just like some bags Lay's potato chips, newly downsized just last month.
It might be way down at the bottom, but the bag clearly shows its net weight went down by half an ounce.
The manufacturer, Frito-Lay, tells Dori: "We periodically adjust the sizes of the snack packages we offer, based on things like rising costs of commodities, energy, production and distribution."
All of those factors are common components among the corporations.
"In the end, this really comes down to dollars and cents that the companies think we're willing to pay for a product," says Dr. Brian Wansink, a marketing professor at Cornell University, where he also directs the Food and Brand Lab and works closely with the companies.
"Prices of everything have gone up, whether it be prices of gasoline or salaries, and the prices of food go up too.  So they've got an option - they can either charge more for the same amount they're giving, or they can give you less for the same amount of price."
Dr. Wansink is also an expert when it comes to the "psychology" behind packaging - why we eat what we eat, and buy what we buy - and that's a big part of what plays into this trend.
Dori will get The Bottom Line on that part of the story - plus, how you can spot these subtle changes in the stores - Wednesday night on CBS 6 News at 11.

Bottom Line: Product Downsizing, Part 1


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