Leave it to the Keebler elves to come up with a devilishly clever way to downsize their chocolate chip cookies so that it might go unnoticed by shoppers.
The above picture was the traditional package of Chips Deluxe cookies until last fall. Then the company decided to refresh the look of their entire line and came out with new yellow packaging.
Savvy shoppers know when they see “new and improved” or “new look” on a package that could be a clue that the product has been downsized. In this case, however, Keebler kept the net weight of Chips Deluxe cookies the same — 13.3 ounces.
Then, not long thereafter, the company decided to downsize a few of their cookie varieties as inconspicuously as possible.
Those clever elves took out two to three cookies from each package, reducing the contents from 13.3 ounces to 11.6 ounces, but retaining the same “New Look” packaging. Even the savviest of shoppers who checked the package when they first introduced the “New Look” packaging would ever think to check again the next time they bought the item to see if it had been subsequently downsized.
Mouse Print* asked Kellogg’s, the maker of Keebler cookies, some very pointed questions about why they downsized, and whether they realized that maintaining the banner “New Look, Same Great Taste” after they downsized the product could easily mislead consumers into believing that only the packaging changed.
The company responded:
“As commodity prices and other costs increase, Kellogg occasionally adjusts package sizes and wholesale prices, and we offer a range of product sizes to meet differing consumer preferences.” –Keebler Media Hotline
Inconspicuously downsizing a product continues to be a sneaky way to pass on a price increase in the hopes that most shoppers won’t notice.
Blue Buffalo, a maker of premium pet food, proclaims in advertising that meat is “always” the first ingredients in its products and it “never” has chicken/poultry by-product meals. It even invites consumers to compare their favorite brand to Blue Buffalo.
Never say never, just in case a competitor like Purina decides to have your products tested to see if the claims are true. And that is exactly what Purina did, using an independent lab to test Blue Buffalo products.
And after getting the results, Purina filed sued (see complaint) last week against Blue Buffalo for false advertising and product disparagement. And they set up a website to tell the world about it.
While Purina says they tested Blue Buffalo products purchased from retail stores on the East and West coasts, they didn’t say how many products were tested in total. On the issue of whether Blue Buffalo contained any chicken by-products in the kibble itself, Purina seems to have only found three bags that did.
We asked Purina how many bags they actually purchased and tested, but their PR person did not return our call.
For its part, the founder of Blue Buffalo said, “We categorically deny all of these false allegations and will aggressively defend the integrity of our brand and our products.”
Thanks to Richard G. for the tip about this story.
We’ve done a number of stories about juice products that look like one type of juice, but really are primarily another.
Here’s another egregious example, Minute Maid Pomegranate Blueberry:
While the company does call this a juice blend, its primary ingredients are neither pomegranate nor blueberry juice.
Worse than the not-very-surprising fact that apple juice is the primary ingredient, is the actual amount of pomegranate and blueberry juices in the bottle.
According to a lawsuit by Pom Wonderful (not exactly a paragon of straight talk about its own brand of pomegranate juice), the actual amount of pomegranate juice and blueberry juice is tiny:
Coca-Cola’s “Pomegranate Blueberry” product contains only 0.3% pomegranate juice and 0.2% blueberry juice; it consists primarily of (less expensive and less desirable) apple and grape juices, which amount to over 99% of the juice.
What? Just one-half of one-percent of the primary ingredients featured on the front of the bottle? According to Pom’s lawyer, that is about one teaspoon in half a gallon of juice.
It seems to us that Minute Maid left out the key component of this beverage from their ingredients list: baloney!
The New York Times last week published an eye-opening story about General Mills, the big cereal maker. It noted that after being stung in court by a consumer class action, the company updated its legal terms to say that any beef you have with the company can only be pursued through informal negotiations or mandatory arbitration — no lawsuits (other than small claims) allowed.
It announced these changes at GeneralMills.com, in fine print at the top the page:
In exchange for the benefits, discounts, content, features, services, or other offerings that you receive or have access to by using our websites, joining our sites as a member, joining our online community, subscribing to our email newsletters, downloading or printing a digital coupon, entering a sweepstakes or contest, redeeming a promotional offer, or otherwise participating in any other General Mills offering, you are agreeing to these terms.
ANY DISPUTE OR CLAIM MADE BY YOU AGAINST GENERAL MILLS ARISING OUT OF OR RELATING TO THIS AGREEMENT OR YOUR PURCHASE OR USE OF ANY GENERAL MILLS SERVICE OR PRODUCT (INCLUDING GENERAL MILLS PRODUCTS PURCHASED AT ONLINE OR PHYSICAL STORES FOR PERSONAL OR HOUSEHOLD USE) REGARDLESS OF WHETHER SUCH DISPUTE OR CLAIM IS BASED IN CONTRACT, TORT, STATUTE, FRAUD, MISREPRESENTATION, OR ANY OTHER LEGAL THEORY (TOGETHER, A “DISPUTE”) WILL BE RESOLVED BY INFORMAL NEGOTIATIONS OR THROUGH BINDING ARBITRATION, AS DESCRIBED BELOW.
So, merely printing a coupon for a GM product, “liking” them on Facebook, or perhaps just buying a single package of Cheerios, Yoplait yogurt, Gold Medal flour, or a can of Green Giant peas will automatically mean that you give up your right to individually sue the company, and cannot participate as a member of a class action lawsuit.
The company is letting people opt-out of these provisions, but once you use any of the companies’ websites or print another coupon, for example, you are on the hook again.
While one could interpret the language of their agreement to only be triggered when a consumer uses their websites, downloads a coupon, or otherwise interacts with the company, the broad nature of the restriction — possibly being triggered by a purchasing a product — will surely come under legal scrutiny. How can you be held to an agreement you never saw or actually agreed to?
When asked to comment on the company’s new anti-consumer policy, all the Jolly Green Giant would say is:
However, the company had a change of heart over this past weekend, cancelled the new terms including all references to arbitration, and posted this statement on their blog:
“As has been widely reported, General Mills recently posted a revised set of Legal Terms on our websites. Those terms – and our intentions – were widely misread, causing concern among consumers.
So we’ve listened – and we’re changing them back to what they were before.
We rarely have disputes with consumers – and arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled. Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful.
But consumers didn’t like it.
So we’ve reverted back to our prior terms. There’s no mention of arbitration, and the arbitration provisions we had posted were never enforced. Nor will they be. We stipulate for all purposes that our recent Legal Terms have been terminated, that the arbitration provisions are void, and that they are not, and never have been, of any legal effect.
That last bit is from our lawyers.
We’ll just add that we never imagined this reaction. Similar terms are common in all sorts of consumer contracts, and arbitration clauses don’t cause anyone to waive a valid legal claim. They only specify a cost-effective means of resolving such matters. At no time was anyone ever precluded from suing us by purchasing one of our products at a store or liking one of our Facebook pages. That was either a mischaracterization – or just very misunderstood.
Not that any of that matters now.
On behalf of our company and our brands, we would also like to apologize. We’re sorry we even started down this path. And we do hope you’ll accept our apology. We also hope that you’ll continue to download product coupons, talk to us on social media, or look for recipes on our websites.” –Kirstie Foster, Director of External Communications
Nothing like bad press to convince a company to do the right thing.
A senior citizen friend was in need of a new TV, so MrConsumer found a wonderful deal on a 32″ Sony for only $199.99 with no sales tax and free shipping at Newegg.
Yes, it is reconditioned, but MrConsumer owns two reconditioned Sony’s and they’re fine. Using my friend’s AMEX (since it doubles the 90-day warranty that Sony gives on refurbished products while most Visa/MCs exclude such purchases from coverage) I ordered the item for him. To my shock and horror, when I scrutinized the receipt, I noticed that Newegg charged $4.99 for three-day delivery. I swear that the “free delivery” box was checked off or appeared to be checked off on the ordering screen. But, a closer look revealed not.
Despite being advertised as coming with free shipping, the Newegg system apparently defaults to pre-selecting a pay shipping option even when a free option is available. It may have been the blue arrow pointing to the free shipping option that erroneously gave me the impression I was all set.
Immediately upon noticing my error, I called Newegg. It was closed on Sundays. Drats. I tried “chat” and discovered it was down. Drats. I emailed them and heard nothing back on Sunday. Drats. I tried chat again, and this time got through and after a little persistence, the agent offered me a $4.99 credit toward a future order. She would not process a credit card refund, however.
At 5:30 a.m. Pacific time the next day, MrConsumer called Newegg, and spoke to a wonderful agent who agreed to make a one-time exception, and credit my friend’s credit card for the shipping. Great outcome, Newegg.
It should be pointed out however, (1) the item had not yet been shipped when these multiple requests to change the shipping method were made, and (2) that Newegg would better serve customers, particularly on items advertised as coming with free shipping, to have that option preselected by default.
Newegg is not alone in this gambit. Amazon also defaults to a pay shipping option even when the order qualifies for free shipping.