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October 28, 2013

What’s the Beef?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:48 am

It is, or should be common knowledge that some supermarket chains “zone price.” That means the price of items can vary from one neighborhood to another, usually depending on the level of local competition.

Stop & Shop, a large regional chain in the Northeast, uses zone pricing so it was no surprise that one of its big featured items recently was advertised at different prices in different stores.

What seemed like a very good price reduction, 40% off on porterhouse steaks (usually $11.99/lb, now $7.19) was actually lower two towns over where it was advertised for only $4.99 a pound.

SS Choice SS Select

MrConsumer raced to the meat counter to look at the $4.99 steaks but was immediately disappointed because the steaks were not well-marbled — a sign they would not be a very flavorful or tender steak.


The reason these steaks were cheaper also became apparent — they had a “Select” sticker on the package.

Most beef sold at retail is graded by the USDA. The highest grade is “Prime” followed by “Choice” and then “Select.” While “Select” steaks may be healthier because they are less fatty, they are likely not as tasty, tender, and juicy as a “Choice” or “Prime” steak.

If you look back at the advertisements above, you will see the USDA Choice shield on the steak on the left, but it is missing from the steak on the right. The steak on the right says “Select Fresh Bone-in New York Strip Steak, …” The average person would probably have skipped over the word “Select” because it appears to be used fancifully (like “hand-picked”) rather than indicating that the advertised steak is USDA Select grade.

While one might reasonably expect the advertised price to vary from one location of a chain to another, one would not expect the grade or quality of the same advertised product to be different as well.

• • •

October 7, 2013

More Groceries Downsize – 2013 (Part 2)

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:29 am

There seems to be a sudden wave of products being downsized after a bit of a lull.

Beloved Charmin toilet paper, which believe it or not had 600 or 650 sheets on a roll when it was first introduced, has now been downsized again for the umteenth time, to just 164 sheets per “double” roll.


[Click above to see original labels]

Not only does P&G give you fewer sheets now, they also narrowed each sheet by close to half an inch.

We asked P&G why they downsized Charmin and why they made each sheet narrower. They said they downsized “to provide consumer driven improvements without raising our pricing.” As to why they narrowed each sheet, the company said:

“While the roll width was reduced 3/8ths of an inch, this allowed us to invest in some additional features:

  • Comfort Cushions to enhance the softness of Charmin Ultra Soft—a key consumer need for our Ultra Soft users
  • A more flexible Charmin Ultra Strong—our Ultra Strong users want strength without making the sheet too stiff
  • A reduced roll width to improve how easily it flushes for our most demanding users

We also added some fibers taken away from the sides back into the rest of the sheet to put more fibers where you need them most to get the job done.”

Thanks to Richard G. for tipping us off to how Charmin is squeezing the customer.

Good old Ritz Crackers, which used to come in one pound boxes, and which was downsized a few years ago, has just been downsized again.



ritz 2013

Thanks to Jamie M. for spotting the Ritz downsizing.

Lastly, for this downsizing roundup, we have Ocean Spray cranberry juice, which forever has come in 64-ounce bottles, but no longer does. They have been shrunk to 60-ounces. The old bottle on the left says “New Look,” which is usually a tip-off to a change in size, but this time it was a false signal. The new bottle also says “New Look,” and the ounces did drop. Go figure.


Ocean Spray cranberry juice

How did they do it? When looked at from the side, the top of half of the new bottle has been narrowed. Sneaky. Very sneaky.


Ocean Spray sides

Ocean Spray told Mouse Print* that it downsized some of its products because of rising costs it faced and “rather than raise the price at the point of sale.” As to the phrase “new look” appearing on both the old bottles and new bottles bottles, the company said it began using “new look” in October 2012 to differentiate its 100% juice products from its other product lines. And finally, here is their response to why the four-ounce drop in net contents was done so inconspicuously:

“The realities of the economy and the rising costs of goods mean we like many manufacturers have to make tough decisions about products and pricing. Our number one priority is making sure consumers have access to the product they want at a price point they can afford. The move to downsize our 100% Juice line from 64 oz. to 60 oz. was done in accordance with industry standards and was not concealed in any manner.” — Ocean Spray Spokesperson

Thanks to Lynnie B. for catching the Ocean Spray downsizing.

• • •

September 23, 2013

Advertised Sales Now Limited to the Diligent

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:13 am

soup saleOnce upon a time, when you looked through the Sunday advertising circulars, and saw Tide on sale for $1.99, you simply went to the store, put Tide in your cart, and paid $1.99 at the checkout. Simple.

Sales were advertised broadly, and open to everyone. And even if you didn’t know the item was on sale before you walked in the store, you nonetheless got the benefit of the sale price when you checked out. Then, maybe a decade or more ago, some supermarkets questioned why they were giving discounts or offering sale items to everyone who just walked in off the street.  So they created loyalty cards or club cards so that only customers who allowed the store to track their purchases could buy the items advertised in their circulars at the sale price.


card only

Clever. Very clever. Saves them a ton of money (at our expense). But now it gets even worse. All three major drugstore chains — Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid — have figured out a way to get customers to pay full price for sale items and only get credit for the discount price toward a future purchase.

CVS started it several years ago with “extra bucks”. That is a system whereby cardholders are shown a sale price for an item in an ad, but pay full price or close to full price for it. On their register receipt will be a coupon good for the difference between the advertised price and full price. That coupon can be used toward a future purchase.

For example:

In this case, you are attracted by the $4.97 sale price (“it’s like getting it for $4.97″ they say), but you really have to pay almost $9. You get back $4 in merchandise credit for future purchases on a subsequent visit to the store.

What’s problem with that? You are really getting a discount on something else, and not on the sale item that attracted you to the store to start with. You have to make a second trip to the store (or go back and do a second shopping on the first trip.) You only have a few weeks to use the credit before it expires, so you could lose the money (and in effect really would have purchased the original item at full price). You also could wind up having to buy more merchandise on that subsequent trip that you may or may not want or need.

Walgreens followed suit a couple of years ago offering “register rewards”, and sometime after that, Rite Aid jumped on the bandwagon with “+UP Rewards”.

To make matters worse, Walgreens will only accept one register reward per item. So if you have collected a dollar credit here, and a two dollar credit there, and want to apply them to the purchase of a $3 item, you can’t. (CVS and Rite Aid will accept multiple credits toward a single item.) And Rite Aid won’t let you use credits earned today until 6 am tomorrow, thereby necessitating a second trip.

This whole system of giving discounts only to cardholders, coupled with making you pay full price instead of the advertised sale price is all designed to SAVE THEM MONEY by getting you to spend more and potentially save less. That’s some system.

• • •

September 9, 2013

Product Dilution: Breyers Lightens More Ice Cream

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:34 am

Last year, we reported that Breyers “cheapened” many varieties of their ice cream by reducing the amount of butterfat content to the point where the product could no longer legally be called “ice cream,” but rather had to be renamed “frozen dairy dessert.”

Some stalwart flavors, like MrConsumer’s beloved lactose-free vanilla, remained untouched until now. To MrConsumer’s horror and surprise, Breyers quietly converted that ice cream variety to “light ice cream.”


Breyers old - new front
Click to enlarge

In the new packaging, the “All Natural Ice Cream” claim is replaced with the phrase “Quality Since 1866.” Of course, it doesn’t say the same quality. And the words “ice cream” are replaced with “light ice cream.”

What exactly is “light ice cream?” According to FDA rules:

“Light” ice cream contains at least 50% less total fat or 33% fewer calories than the referenced product (the average of leading regional or national brands).

Looking at the nutrition panels of the old Breyers lactose free ice cream and the new one reveals only a minor reduction in calories.


Breyers old-new

The old “ice cream” product had 130 calories and the new “light” one has 110 calories, only 20 fewer calories. It does however have half the fat. And, the federal law says that light ice cream must have EITHER half the fat OR 33% fewer calories.

There is just one problem, though. The front of the package claims very clearly that the new light ice cream has BOTH half the fat and 1/3 fewer calories.

Breyers fat-cals

Clearly, this new lactose free light ice cream does not comply with that representation when compared to their old regular lactose free ice cream. So how do they get away with this claim?


breyer one-third fewer

Tucked away on a side panel is that tiny disclosure. They are not comparing this new light ice cream with THEIR old regular ice cream, but rather with some super premium brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs as well. Those have been thrown in to up the average amount of fat and calories in “full fat” brands, and thus make Breyers’ reduction seem more impressive than it really is. (Haagen Dazs has 250 calories and 17 grams of fat per serving, while Ben & Jerry’s has 230 calories and 14 grams of fat.)

Mouse Print* asked the PR firm representing Breyers three times to explain why they cheapened some of their products, and they provided no response.

If you spot a new example of “product dilution,” please send complete before and after details to edgar [at symbol] .

• • •

August 26, 2013

Product Dilution: Cheerios Decreases Vitamin Content

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:02 am

In a move rarely ever done, General Mills actually reduced the quantity and number of vitamins (and therefore the nutritional value) of one of its cereals — MultiGrain Cheerios.


MultiGrain Cheerios

The nutrition label on the left shows that one serving provides 100% of the daily requirement of nine vitamins and minerals. The one on the right shows that these were reduced to only 25% of the daily requirement in most cases, and two were actually eliminated completely from the product.

We asked the company why they reduced the vitamin content.

“The change in vitamin levels brought MultiGrain Cheerios in line with the Cheerios family of cereals. MultiGrain Cheerios now delivers an excellent source of 8 vitamins and minerals for our all-family consumer base.” — General Mills spokesman.

As consumers, we are used to having to check the price of a product to see if it has changed. Readers of Mouse Print* have learned that you also have to check the net weight of a product to see if it has been downsized. And, who would have believed it, but now we have to check the nutrition label to see if we are getting fewer vitamins.

We are nicknaming this phenomenon of a product being reforumulated and watered down as “product dilution.” Another example of product dilution was when many flavors of Breyers ice cream had the amount of milkfat reduced to below 10% requiring it to be renamed “frozen dairy dessert.”

If you spot a product that has been diluted, please email details to edgar (at symbol) .

Thanks to Nancy W. for discovering the Cheerios product dilution, which the company says actually occurred in 2011.

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