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Country Crock 3-lb Margarine Tubs Stick It to Shoppers

There are certain things we take for granted when it comes to product sizes: a carton of eggs will have a dozen eggs; milk comes in quarts, half gallons, and gallons; and margarine and butter are sold by the pound.

Cross off margarine from that list. These two “3 pound” tubs of Country Crock margarine look identical:

Country Crock

However, checking the net weight statement reveals a surprise.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Country Crock nets

The three pound tub is now three ounces short. Mouse Print* asked the company why they downsized the product. They replied:

Unilever Foods takes great pride in offering the highest quality products at reasonable and fair prices, and we apologize for the inconvenience our recent packaging change has caused.

In order to maintain price, we have reduced the size of the container for several reasons:

– Increased costs of raw materials, including ingredients and packaging materials
– Transition to Trans Fat Free products
– Tamper resistant containers

[In a separate letter, the company added:] A redesign of the product line was undertaken which involved packaging changes that had an impact on the net fill weight of the products. Prior to implementation, the changes were thoroughly tested with consumers to ensure optimal consumer satisfaction.

Of course, I am sure consumers applauded the company for removing three ounces from the container and not calling that fact to their attention. This is how some sneaky manufacturers opt to pass on a hidden price increase by just shrinking the product a little, and keeping the price same.

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29 thoughts on “Country Crock 3-lb Margarine Tubs Stick It to Shoppers”

  1. What I love the best, though, is their long blowhard explanation/excuses. I wonder how many lawyer/hours
    they had to pay to get that drawn up.

  2. So Edgar: Are they actually saying anything in that reply you got? To me it just looks like a bunch of advertisement slogans. Let’s parse this.

    “Unilever Foods takes great pride in offering the highest quality products at reasonable and fair prices”

    D’uh!

    “and we apologize for the inconvenience our recent packaging change has caused.”

    Did you complain about an inconvenience? Most likely you didn’t.

    “In order to maintain price, we have reduced the size of the container for several reasons:”

    Ah, and announcement of the anser.

    “- Increased costs of raw materials, including ingredients and packaging materials”

    Increased cost of materials: good point for *reducing* the package size.
    Increased cost of ingredients: again, good point for rasing the price, or reducing the package size
    Increased cost of packaging materials: the packaging is the same size, so they ignored that.
    Lastly, why don’t they just increase the price?

    “A redesign of the product line was undertaken”

    What redesign? There was no redesign! That’s what you were asking about.

    “which involved packaging changes that had an impact on the net fill weight of the products.”

    What packaging changes? You point is that they *did not* change the packaging, but put less product in there.

    “Prior to implementation, the changes were thoroughly tested with consumers to ensure optimal consumer satisfaction.”

    This is wasted-air-speech. It means nothing. What do changes have to do with optimal customer satisfaction? Aren’t customers mostly interested in the taste of the product? And then in the price? Packaging comes last, although it remains important. How does reducing the amount in the same container keep consumers satisfied? It can not!

    These kind of letters tick me off so much. They sent you something back, but only be hitting the ‘random letter #13’ button. Why do they do that? Is it really that hard to just answer truthfully or just ignore the letter? Wouldn’t it be more polite to be ignored than to have your intelligence be insulted by such non-answer?

  3. Does the new size claim to be 3 lbs? It does not appear that this is so, so they have not really done anything wrong per se. Many manufacturers have done this over the last several years. have you noticed that 1/2 gallons of ice cream are 56 oz now? And spaghettis sauce used to be 32 oz, then went to 28 oz, and now are mostly 26 oz. It’s the choice between making it cost more or make the container slightly smaller and maintain the same price. it’s a tough choice for them too, given the rising costs of everything (fuel, grains, produce, labor). i would rpefer that i could always get the same size product at the same price forever, but it’s unrealistic. So do we pay the same for less, or pay more for the same?

  4. Did they really think this was a BETTER idea than just raising the price 15 cents? That’s about how much 3 cents of product is worth.

    Of course, raising the price would have been the more honest, transparent, we’re-not-trying-to-get-away-with-anything option, which may explain why they never considered it.

  5. My point was, those were their two options. If you want to single this one company out, at leats state your problem with them versus calling out all companies that are doing the exact same thing. As long as they do not advertise it as 3 lbs. they have really done nothig wrong. Pleasw rite to them and let them know your preference of having prices raised rather than volume decreased, and make sure you call or write every single other company that is doing the same thing.

  6. If it makes you feel any better that small weight change resulted in a SKU change which generally requires the company to pay new shelving fees to each and every store that stocks their product. This can easily cost a large company millions of dollars …. they probably had a need to make the change … more than just decreasing the weight of the product …

    Also, they may have made changes that really did result in a weight change of the product without actually affecting the amount of product the consumer would use … I know that sounds strange .. but for example the incorporation of more air into ice cream makes the product smoother … and to some consumers more desirable … this makes the product weigh less … but it still takes up the same amount of space .. and is thus the same amount of product … just my 2 cents – but there is probably more going on here than just reducing the weight … but product reformulation is generally a trade secret and they are not going to give just anyone that information!

  7. Inilever, and other manufacturers, if you want to increase my confidence in you, be up front and honest and tell me you have made a price increase in you product. Don’t try and sneak it by through a change in the container size.I know price changes are inevitable and I asm willing to accept them. I object to hidden price increases and will change brands when I discover them.

  8. to imagoii:

    Usually if a manufacturer adds air to a product (like your ice cream example), they are the first to sell it as an improvement to the product and by extension, the price increase is justified by the increased enjoyment the consumer will experience. That does not appear to be the case in this situation.

    The best (worst) example of the “adding air” idea is the “Yoplait Whips”. They have added air to a 6 oz cup of yogurt and increased the volume and decreased the weight and the calorie count. The reduced calorie count is embraced by women who think they are doing a good thing and they pay the extra price for a smaller amount of product. My wife purchased some of these for me to take for lunch. It’s like eating air. No sense of having eaten anything. I told her to go back to the cheaper store brand which I liked.

  9. If this deception was accepted industry-wide just to maintain price, then today we would have 4/5 gallon milk bottles, 11 eggs carton, gas stations advertising $3.50 per 9/10 gallon (next week it’ll be $3.50 per 8/10 gallon – no, we won’t raise the price of gas!), 4 lb, 12 oz sacks of potatoes (unless you want larger 9 lb, 10 oz sack!, etc, and so on…..

    Raise prices if it’s justified, but don’t cheat me out of the product!

    If I mention the word “pounder”, does anyone remember these as M&Ms?

  10. I’d have more respect for them if they’d just come out and say, “Well, we wanted more money.”

  11. What really gets my gall is the companies that decrease the product in the
    container AND raise the price. I would love to know how they would justify
    THAT.

  12. Lou,

    They justify it by the fact that they are in business to make a profit! These companies are not in business to make your life easier by providing you cheap food. They are in business to make money for their shareholders.

    Price point is a very big factor in how these products are marketed and where these product end up on grocery store shelves. This is a highly competitive industry, so if a competitor “shorts” a product to increase their profits, without “raising the price”, others selling the same type of product are going to be forced to follow suit. This is a typical industry practice and Unilever Foods is not unique here.

    I think the moral of the story here is to be a more educated consumer. You can’t assume just because a product is in the same size container that the same amount of product is inside. Food prices, along with gas prices, are increasing almost daily. So unfortunatley, you are probably going to see a lot more of this and not less. The only effective way to combat it, is to take on the responsibilty yourself and be that educated consumer when the manufacturers are banking on the fact that you are not.

    Peace Out!
    Shawn

  13. I agree with Blasher; where did people get the idea it’s good to pay more for less?

    It’s interesting to note how few people consider the labels. Maybe people don’t understand them. Could a regular person explain what a Calorie is?

    Lets say someone makes $20/hour. Can they then legitimately claim that it is a waste of their time to fight for 12 cents an hour reading these labels?

    Just thinking…

  14. “the changes were thoroughly tested with consumers to ensure optimal consumer satisfaction.”
    So, they tested it with consumers to see if anyone picked up on the fact it was less product. When no one noticed they said ‘Hurray!’ and released the ‘new size’.

    Maybe a good thing though….. THREE pound tub? Gee, my mother has a blocked carotid artery from eating such, um, food.

  15. While I can see that some folks are frustrated at this, I have to say that this is nothing new at all… not even in the slightest. A very basic understanding of economic principles and inflation would demonstrate that. While often, a manufacturer partakes in these actions as a route to higher profits, during times of an economic slowdown this is often used a a matter of profit stabilization… after all, the home consumer buys goods just as a manufacturer does. At a time when the economy is in the news 24 hours per day, I would expect that people would pay more attention to the details of such things. The cost of product is rising for everyone, all consumers and manufacturers, so prices will rise. We feel it if the purchase price rises and we feel it if the package is smaller. To ask a company to promote the fact their prices have risen is absurd, and in the current state of the market, to do so would require further price increases because of the frequency this would happen. As Tom questioned earlier, “do we pay the same for less, or pay more for the same?” The prices will rise, it is up to you to be informed and make the frugal choice… shop smart!

  16. Don’t you all remember the comercial where a company said they “saved” millions of dollars by putting one less olive in the jar? They of course did not say they ripped consumers off by one olive per jar…

    Everybody! Big corporations hate you. They love money. The reason for their entire existance is to take your money. Ever notice when a company needs to cut expenses, they never cut executive pay and golden parachutes? Every time a company outsources to some third world county to save executive pay scales, they rob America of crucial jobs, and they don’t understand in their own greed and shortsidedness that if we all do not have jobs here in America, how can we buy their overpriced, low quality goods? How can they even be called an American company when most of it’s workers are overseas?

    The American middle class is being destroyed and soon we will all be slaves to corporate America! So pay more for less, and don’t complain!

  17. I’ve blogged extensively about shrinking products at routingbyrumor.wordpress.com.

    Regarding Frankie’s recalling M&M’s “Pounder” bags…

    Yes, M&Ms manufacturer, Mars, Inc., actually used to print that phrase on their 1-pound bags of M&Ms. (I’ll admit that I was addicted to peanut M&Ms.) I guess updated and downsized nicknames like “The 11 Ouncer” or “The 11/16th Pounder” just don’t have the same cachet to them. “The Half-Pounder” is the new “Pounder”.

    If manufacturers had their way, there would be three quarts in a gallon, 13 ounces in a pound, nine inches in a foot, and five ounces in a cup.
    I think I’ll run for office on the platform “Three-quarters of a chicken in every pot, and 1.5 cars in every garage”.

    – Routing By Rumor

  18. The costs include millions of dollars paid as bonuses and executive perks. Its not just the cost of raw material etc etc. The consumers are nickeled and dimed to pay for all those fancy offices and executive excesses. Thats where the need comes to be dishonest about the size and pricing.

  19. Of course the environmental impact of the additional trash created by packaging less in the same packaging is affecting us all as well. Too bad these companies don’t have to pay a penalty for that when they reduce the size. Edy’s ice cream just went to 1.5 qts (vs. 2 in the half gallon we “expect” for ice cream). They create 33% more trash when you pay the same quantity of product (if I buy 6 gallons, I have to buy 4 instead of 3 cartons.) Do they get penalized for that — no. It is all profit and we just have to grin and bear it. I would rather pay more for the same amount, personally.

  20. Yeah I don’t know why companies pull this. I only shop at stores that give you price/ounce though so it really doesn’t effect me.

  21. Unfortunately, this is a bigger scam to their regular customers than new customers. Loyal customers take for granted that the products they see in the same (or what APPEARS to be the same) container should be the same. New customers are more likely to examine the product to see what it offers.

    In that vein, a fairer solution would have been to change TWO variables…not just the volume, but also the price. For example, rather than keep the price the same and lower the volume without notice how about: “New 3.5 pound container” and set the price of that according to the price increase that is now being applied to the 3 pound version. The benefit of this to existing customer is that they can actually evaluate the product to see if they need a new larger size for a little more. The benefit to the company is that they can then start offering the “New 2 pound container” and later: “New smaller container, still 3.5 pounds–more environmentally friendly” (and cheaper for them to produce!

    Not really a win-win, but at least it allows both side to continue to play the game on a fairer basis.

  22. I suppose they really care about the inconvenience of recipes being all messed up. You know, a 14.5 ounce package doesn’t work well in a recipe that calls for 16 ounces of an ingredient.

    Give me the honest price increase.

  23. the answers are always politically and of course legally correct. i never waste time with inquiry. obviously they are trying to dupe the customer. people are not stupid. you can only fool so many for so long. we are all catching on.

  24. Most Americans are obese and like to eat huge portions so I can understand the anger at have a smaller amount of food to eat (the nerve!)

  25. I personally dont have a problem with them changing how much product is in the container as it is clearly listed on the container and I always look at what I am buying and compare it to the competition.

    I am surprised no one else has brought this up. What really urks!!! me is that they are using the same size container with less product. This equates to Unilever not caring at all about our environment. Less product with same size container means more empty containers in land fills. Of course most large corporations care more about profit for their shareholders but they should at least give the impression that they care about the environment.

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