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April 4, 2016

Starbucks Accused of Underfilling Lattes

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:09 am

Starbucks cupA few weeks ago, two consumers sued Starbucks alleging that the company routinely and deliberately underfills their cups of latte.

The lawyers contend that in 2009 the company adopted a money-saving move that would force Starbucks’ baristas to make lattes in a uniform way. They were required to use a pitcher that contained “fill to” lines like those on detergent bottle caps so they would know how much milk to add. They then had to add a certain number of one-ounce shots of espresso, a certain number of pumps of flavored syrup, and 1/4-inch of foam on top, leaving 1/4-inch of space.

Starbucks recipe

The lawyers say that based on this recipe plus the actual physical capacity of Starbucks’ cups, their lattes can’t possibly be the full size they claim.

What are Starbucks’ size claims?

*MOUSE PRINT:

Starbucks menu

Starbucks represents that their hot lattes are 12, 16, and 20 fluid ounces in tiny letters right on their menu boards. When the lawyers tested the capacity of their cups, they found that only when filling them all the way to the brim did they hold the claimed capacity. But since they interpret the official instructions as requiring that 1/4-inch of space be left at the top, right off the bat all their lattes are short-weighted, they contend. Note: a test by Mouse Print* of a 16-ounce Starbucks cup reveals that it actually holds about 17 ounces when filled to the brim.

Even if the cups are only one-ounce short when served, multiply that by millions of cups sold a week, and that means huge savings for the company and a huge loss in the aggregate for customers. But the lawyers offer more proof based on actual store inspections. They say they “purchased and measured Starbucks Lattes at different stores, in different states, in different sizes, and in different flavors. However, each Latte was underfilled by approximately 25%.”

On the face of it, that is a rather shocking allegation.

Yet, in the very next paragraph of the complaint, the lawyers present conflicting evidence when they recount what happened when they followed the company recipe using one of the Starbucks pitchers that they had obtained.

*MOUSE PRINT:

For a [16-oz] Grande beverage, the “fill to” line comprises less than 12 fluid ounces of milk. After adding 2 shots of espresso (2 fluid ounces), the resulting beverage measures less than 14 fluid ounces at most. This falls far short of Starbucks’ “16 fl. oz.” representation.

Haven’t they just contradicted their claim that drinks were all underfilled by about 25% in their tests? In this example, for a 16-oz drink to be 25% short, it would have to be 12 ounces, not the almost 14 ounces they found. And did they really follow the recipe? Where’s the four pumps of flavored syrup? Where’s the foam? If these ingredients were added, what would be the total number of ounces in the cup?

And if cups were all 25% short, wouldn’t consumers across the country have been yelling bloody murder about the practice for years? Well, maybe not, since Starbucks puts an opaque cover on hot lattes and you drink it through a hole on the cover.

Mouse Print* emailed two of the lawyers raising some of these very issues, but we have not yet received a response.

Starbucks has been relatively circumspect in their response to the lawsuit.

“We are aware of the plaintiffs’ claims, which we fully believe to be without merit. We are proud to serve our customers high-quality, handcrafted and customized beverages, and we inform customers of the likelihood of variations.”

We have a sneaking suspicion this case may turn on two points. The first is what is the proper way to measure foam (and maybe the aerated milk) — do you just measure its height/volume and count that as part of the total fluid ounces, or do you have to wait until it settles to see how much liquid is actually contained in the foam? According to Handbook 133 of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, you have to dissipate the foam, and then you measure the quantity of liquid in the cup.

Secondly, there is an issue related to the syrup, which we won’t detail here. But, according to weights and measures rules, since both flavored and unflavored lattes are represented on the menu board to be a certain number of ounces, they must in fact meet that standard –and not by adding a whole bunch of extra foam to fill the cup.

Look for MrConsumer on the Today Show commenting on Starbucks’ practices:

Starbucks Today Show
Click picture to view video




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March 21, 2016

Outback’s “Biggest” 12-Ounce Steak?

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:46 am

Sometimes advertisers seem to make ludicrous claims.

Here’s exhibit #1:

Outback largest 12 ounce steak

The biggest 12-ounce steak? Isn’t a big 12-ounce steak the same size as a small 12-ounce steak?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Perusing Outback’s website actually provides a shocking additional fact about their largest 12-ounce steak claim.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Outback 12 oz can be 11 oz

What? Outback’s 12-ounce steak can actually be 11 ounces? Apparently so. At some locations, the largest sirloin steak that Outback carries is only 11 ounces.

I guess this is almost like Subway’s foot-long sandwiches being only 11 inches occasionally.

Eleven must be the new 12 in the restaurant industry.




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March 14, 2016

Blue Bunny Ice Cream Downsizes

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:03 am

Blue Bunny has been the white knight of the ice cream industry. When other brands downsized to 56 ounces, they stayed at half a gallon. Subsequently when the industry moved to a 48 ounce container, Blue Bunny touted that their now 56 ounce container gave you two extra scoops.

2 more scoops

Now, eagle-eyed Mouse Print* reader Richard G., the king of finding products that have undergone the shrink ray, reports that Blue Bunny has finally succumbed and downsized its ice cream and yogurt products, cutting out a cup or more of the sweet treat.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Blue Bunny 56 oz. Blue Bunny 48 oz.

In fact, some varieties are now 46 ounces, not even 48 ounces.

The company explains that it has changed its packaging to see-through plastic, and in answer to the question of why they shrunk containers, they say:

While ice cream is fun it is also a very competitive landscape! Over the last several years consumers have seen brands respond to the competitiveness with various changes to their products, from changing size of container to electing to stray from the true definition of ice cream and deliver frozen dairy dessert. While our packaging size has changed with our makeover, the quality of our ice cream has not been ignored, in fact our ice cream is better than ever! Most importantly, consumers can be confident Blue Bunny is committed to delivering an incredible ice cream experience with the best quality in all aspects – from the first opening to digging out the last scoop in the container! We are dedicated every day to ensure that we are delivering on the commitment to provide high quality ice cream products at a reasonable price for our fans to enjoy.

So, parsing all that flowery language… they are doing just what competitors did a long time ago.

They have also tinkered with the nutrition label, such as the one for the frozen yogurt above. The serving size is now 70 grams instead of the old 86 grams.

Just don’t expect Blue Bunny to proclaim these changes with a big banner like this:

Blue Bunny Two Fewer




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December 21, 2015

Here We Downsize Again 2015 (Part 4)

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:00 am

 
Note: The next new Mouse Print* story will appear on January 4th.


We end the year with our final installment of products that have undergone the shrink ray.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Gillette deodorant

Thanks to our ever vigilant Richard G. for catching Gillette deodorant going from a full four ounces to 3.8. And you still can’t carry it on an airline.


*MOUSE PRINT:

Kleenex Costco

We’ve seen the smaller boxes of Kleenex tissues get smaller over the years, but Albert L. found that they shrunk at Costco as well. In this case, each box in the 10-pack is now shy 30 tissues. Put another way, you are missing more than a whole box now from every 10-pack.


*MOUSE PRINT:

Campbell's Spaghetti

Frankie found and took a wonderful picture of Campbell’s Spaghetti, which went from 14-3/4 ounces to 14.2 ounces. Surprisingly, the can is noticeably smaller despite such a small decrease in contents.


*MOUSE PRINT:

Walmart Great Value nuts

Tim B. discovered that Walmart lopped off more than 12% from their Great Value mixed nuts, bringing cans down to an even pound from 18.25 ounces. The price also went up from a reported $7.98 to $8.84. Combined, that is the equivalent of a 26% price increase, making it not such a “Great Value.”


*MOUSE PRINT:

Soda Stream

Finally, Richard G. found that Soda Stream, which makes flavor concentrates so you can make your own soda, changed their packaging and a lot more. The old bottle made 50 eight-ounce servings of soda and cost $7.99. The new version only makes 29 glasses, but the price dropped by $2. Fair deal? Not at all. The customer is now getting 40% fewer glasses of soda, but the price only went down by 25%.

If you spot a product that has been downsized, send MrConsumer an email at edgar(at symbol)mouseprint.org . And if you can take a sharp photograph of the old and new product labels, that would be great too.




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• • •

August 24, 2015

Here We Downsize Again 2015 – Part 3

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:59 am

  In the never ending saga of shrinking products, we sadly bring you a roundup of some of the latest casualties.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Charmin

The company (P&G) eliminated 11 sheets per roll. And that is after lopping of 12 sheets in 2013. To remind everyone, the original Charmin had 600 or 650 single-ply sheets per roll. Mouse Print* asked P&G why they downsized Charmin again. We did not get a response. Special thanks to Richard G., once again, for finding this example.


Coffee is another one of those products that is subject to periodic downsizing, but this change was a big one.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Folgers

Folgers 100% Colombian coffee went from 27.8 ounces down to 24.2 ounces. That is a loss of 30 cups according to the package label. Regular users might have noticed this change because the container is substantially smaller. We asked Smucker why they downsized Folgers. Their PR person responded:

We have observed a shift in the way consumers purchase coffee. Coffee drinkers are coming back to grocery store shelves quicker and are purchasing a larger variety of products across the aisle, all while seeking a lower, more attractive price. A reduced canister size allows us to meet the needs of this evolving coffee consumer.

We responded to that spin asking if the company lowered the wholesale price of the coffee proportionately. The company responded that they lowered the suggested retail price. We asked for both the old and new suggested retail price so we could do the math ourselves, but we did not get the data.

We also checked at a neighborhood Stop & Shop supermarket, and found that both sizes were selling for the same $8.99 on sale.

old price, new price

So here’s a new wrinkle to downsizing: are stores pocketing price drops when a product shrinks instead of passing on the savings (if any) to their customers?

Thanks to Alanna K for spotting this change.


We don’t see a lot of frozen food downsizing, except for ice cream usually, so this was a great catch by Jim S.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Boston Market

No more one pound Boston Market Salisbury Steak, it is now slimmer and trimmer at 14.5 ounces.


Lastly, we have some more downsizing in the chip department, and this is a huge change.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Snyder's

Almost 25% of Synder’s tortilla chips was removed and the $3.49 price stayed the same. The company said they did this to align their products with those of the competition. Thanks again to Richard G. for this find.




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