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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.

• • •

August 19, 2013

Smart Balance Butter Blend Helps Block Cholesterol?

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

Many consumers switched from butter to margarine decades ago to help reduce their intake of cholesterol. Now Smart Balance has come out with a combination product that blends butter with canola oil, impliedly claiming that it is a healthier version of butter. Some would say that is kind of like sprinkling vitamins on Twinkies and calling it a health food. But wait, there’s more.

The product label says it “helps block cholesterol.”

Smart Balance

Huh? Eat butter to block cholesterol?

The label says it contains 100mg of plant sterols, which according to the company’s website helps block absorption of the cholesterol that is contained in the butter.


According to Shop Smart magazine, Consumer Reports’ sister publication, you would have to eat 13 tablespoons of this butter everyday to help lower your risk of heart disease. That is 1300 calories and almost the whole container.

The makers of Smart Balance failed to answer questions about their product when asked.

To be fair, the company is claiming in essence to only reduce some of the cholesterol in each serving of their butter blend and not to lower your cholesterol. In any event, eating products with no cholesterol to start with is still a healthier idea.

• • •

August 5, 2013

The Little Secret Inside that Big Pill Bottle

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:56 am

A couple of years ago, MrConsumer’s doctor recommended that he take 1000 iu of vitamin D a day. Recently he switched from tablets to softgels, and got quite a surprise when he opened the bottle.

Here is the CVS pill bottle with contains 300 softgels:


Upon opening the bottle, MrConsumer discovered that most of the bottle was just filled with air, with the softgels way at the bottom.


CVS fill line

In this roughly five-inch high bottle, the pills only occupy the bottom one-and-one-quarter inches.

Had MrConsumer had his trusty x-ray device with him at the store, he would have seen this:


CVS D3 x-ray

Presumably there really were 300 softgels in the bottle, so that is not the issue. This is, however, an example of over-packaging or “slack-fill” as it is known. Slack-fill is the difference between the actual capacity of a container and the volume of product contained therein. If the extra space is really non-functional and not required for filling machines to operate properly, the product can be deemed misbranded under federal law.

It certainly would be cheaper for CVS to use a smaller bottle, and better for the environment. One has to wonder, then, why they continue to sell pills in oversized bottles. So we asked them.

“The front label on our over the counter products clearly states the number of pills/capsules/tablets contained in the bottle, as evidenced by the sample photo you provided, to ensure that customers are aware of the quantity being purchased. We also need to ensure that the container is sufficient in size to accommodate the required drug fact information. Generally speaking, manufacturers choose the container size.” — Public Relations, CVS/pharmacy

Coincidentally, Consumer Reports in its August issue shows more examples of air-filled pill bottles and gets other explanations of why this is a common practice.

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