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June 9, 2014

To Increase Profits, Product Makers Just Add Water!

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:49 am

  We all know that product downsizing occurs when some amount of the product has been removed from the package inconspicuously, but the price remains the same.

A close relative to product downsizing is what we call “product dilution.” The product is formulated or reformulated in such a manner as to make it less expensive to manufacture.

Exhibit A:

A classic example is Tropicana’s “Trop50” drink that boasts 50% less sugar and calories. How did they accomplish this? It only has 42% juice and the rest is water and flavoring.

Exhibit B:

And if you have poked around the meat counter lately, some whole chickens and boneless chicken breasts have been plumped up with up to 15% of “broth” (aka water). [Note how “fifteen percent” is spelled out to make it less obvious at a glance.]


chicken broth

Exhibit C:

Procter & Gamble recently has been “diluting” some of their products to come out with a new “value” line. Witness the introduction of Charmin Basic and Bounty Basic, a cheaper single-ply product compared to regular two-ply rolls. And then there is the new Tide detergent in the yellow bottle. Priced less expensively than traditional Tide and presumably with a less effective formulation, it is designed to complete with other bargain detergents.

Exhibit D:


DawnAnd P&G’s newest product, Dawn “Simply Clean” is just beginning to hit store shelves. It caught regular Mouse Print* reader Tim B. unaware, who bought a bottle of the new stuff thinking it was regular Dawn Ultra.

“I didn’t notice the label until I went to use the soap. Very watery and very runny. As expected, it does not perform as well as the Ultra so I have to use more. My problem when I shop, is I expect things to remain the same. And these companies continue to get me. Gwaltney bacon, I purchased a pack of that only to discover I got 12 ounces instead of 16. Anitfreeze that was “pre-diluted” which means I bought a half gallon of water and half gallon of anti-freeze. Packaged meat with “water added”. And now “Non-Concentrated ” Dawn, AKA more water added. I thought the “Simply Clean” was just a new slogan.

Sad part is years ago, companies would improve their product to get you to buy it. Now it seems everything is going the other direction, to make cheaper products.”

Our intrepid consumer is a technician by trade, so he decided to test both old and new Dawn to try to determine how much the new non-concentrated Dawn had been watered down. The old one was thick and gloppy, while the new one was much thinner. In fact, he says the new product only has one-third the “solids” as the old one.

So how do you feel about “product dilution?” Sound off in the comments.

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  1. Congratulations on being the “Paul Revere” here, seeing the light and warning the public. I, too, expect things to remain the same, and manufacturers seem to be preying upon us. Thanks for the testing and the warning. It is a sad commentary on our current state of capitalism and marketing that it is all so sneaky and predatory!

    Comment by C.Moore — June 9, 2014 @ 7:09 am
  2. Unfortunately, it is what consumers want. They want big things in big packages, and it takes a good deal of education for them to think otherwise. A good example is laundry detergent and fabric softener. For example, P&G tried for several years to shrink the size of Downy with a more concentrated mix, and position the smaller packaging as good for the environment. Sales went down, so they backed off. It wasn’t until Walmart forced nearly all the detergent companies to shrink their packaging that the more concentrated mixes became standard.

    Comment by Marc — June 9, 2014 @ 8:02 am
  3. Enhanced? ROTFLMAO! That is right up there with “Pre-owned vehicle.” Love the linguistics used.

    Comment by rick — June 9, 2014 @ 8:54 am
  4. I’m afraid Marc is correct regarding trying to satisfy what consumer wants. But, I’m okay with this as long as companies can manufacture both watered down and concentrated products side by side and let us make the choice to which one to purchase. My only concern is how they label the packaging. They need to be more straight forward and less deceptive to allow us to understand what is actually inside the package.

    Comment by Frankie — June 9, 2014 @ 10:29 am
  5. I think Marc is on the mark with this one. Consumers tend to avoid the hassle of counting when they are shopping. A smaller package does not necessarily mean less product, but in the eyes of many consumers, bigger equals more. A good example of food dilution is when bags of chips look to contain the same amount but actually one has a more air than the other and the weights are different.

    The thing that bothers me most about product dilution is when the higher concentration item is no longer offered. Producers should give consumers diverse choices when it comes to buying “value” or “quality” products. As long as the choice remains I am okay with manufacturers allowing other consumers to be fooled. Let that one-ply tissue go to public restrooms. I want the good stuff.

    I do love it when producers use the word “enhanced” to be deceptive. It’s enhanced alright. Enhanced filler.

    Comment by Wayne R — June 9, 2014 @ 11:12 am
  6. If you have to use more product does is really make it a better value??

    Comment by richard — June 9, 2014 @ 11:37 am
  7. I too hate to be taken advantage of by these greedy manufacturers. I first noticed it happening with the deceptive downsizwd containers of Breyer’s ice cream. I wrote to them but received no reply (I know, shocking!). My latest discovery is the much smaller squares of many of the major brands of toilet paper. Sure, they claim the same number of squares – but neglect to tell you you’re actually getting a much smaller square. Notice how your roll of toilet tissue flops around on the holder with lots more room at the sides. Pretty sneaky! I’ve been shopping much more carefully and actually reading the labels recently. Thankfully the large discount stores such as Costco seem to be keeping the past standard and I’ve switched to buying the store brand toilet paper and ice cream at Costco.

    Comment by C.J. — June 9, 2014 @ 12:28 pm
  8. I think manufacturers have no integrity and are busily trying to find out how to dupe the public instead of giving them better products. They are dishonest and are just another example of the lack of character one finds nowadays in our society in general.

    Comment by Karen Linett — June 9, 2014 @ 12:47 pm
  9. Frankie Said:

    >>>But, I’m okay with this as long as companies can manufacture both watered down and concentrated products side by side and let us make the choice to which one to purchase. My only concern is how they label the packaging..<<<

    Totally agree. I have been buying a certain type of casual shirt made by Red Kap for years. With my last purchase, I noticed a different fit. Much tighter across the chest(no, I haven't gained any weight). So I pulled out one of my old ones and measured. A full two inches had been removed from the width of the shirt! If the shirt was not already generously sized, it would have been like moving from a LG to a MED. Complained to the distributor, and they agreed to a refund. But they wanted me to pay to ship them back, claiming that manufacturers frequently change the sizing on the products, and that I should have checked the sizing chart before ordering.

    I sent a scathing e-mail back to them saying I had been buying this same shirt for 5 years, and their expectations were ridiculous. Why would anyone think to check a sizing chart on shirt they had been buying for years that was being sold under the same SKU #? They relented and paid the return shipping.

    Then I sent the same critical e-mail to the manufacturer, Red Kap, which is now part of the huge multi-brand apparel corporation, Vf Imageware. Their response? "Customers asked for a trimmer fit shirt." Complete BS. In a country in the middle of an obesity epidemic? Not likely. Bean counters asked for higher profits, more likely. Or faced with a price increase from their third world sewing company, they hid it by using less fabric.

    Changing the size of the shirt was OK if they indeed wanted to hit another market segment. But selling it under the a same SKU is unforgivable.

    Comment by rjdriver — June 9, 2014 @ 1:10 pm
  10. Try canned Tuna (in water). First they lowered the contents from 6 oz. to 5 oz. Now there is even less of the Tuna – and MORE water!
    Recipes that used to call for “One 6 oz. can of tuna”, now take TWO cans of drained Tuna!!!

    Comment by Raymond Combs — June 9, 2014 @ 1:41 pm
  11. We all acknowledge that downsizing/dilution/etc is a problem. What can a consumer do about it, though. Refuse to buy the product? You need toilet paper, etc. If all the manufacturers play the same game, how do you win or least break even?

    Complaining to the store, distributor, or manufacturer will only get you a “sorry about that” type letter. We thought that “you consumers” wanted the lower priced items. and really didn’t care about how we provided it to you.

    Individually, we have no recourse. You need the product. Could/Would/will the newly formed consumer protection agency do anything? I doubt it. The readers of Mouseprint are a relatively small group. Even if we were to raise our collective voice, it wouldn’t get heard.

    Like RaymondCombs said, you can’t count on package sizes anymore. A recipe that calls out a certain sized package is probably not available anymore, forcing you to buy more than is required. Some open packages don’t keep very well, especially if it is an infrequently used ingredient.

    Comment by bobl — June 9, 2014 @ 7:21 pm
  12. I’ve had it with these sneaky downsizing companies. I’ve written “Big Pharma” about downsizing meds in tubes and received a form letter stating it is “what the consumer wants” – I never have met “that consumer,” written a dog food company about same size bag – smaller amount, got another form letter, contacted a manufacturer and store about a faulty box spring for our bed – letters sent to both corporate and factory and contacted store we purchased it from -never got answer except from the store which said “they couldn’t do anything without approval,” just used up a brand of dish soap that I’ve used for years that “has suddenly lost it’s cleaning power” – “had to use a lot more to get a little suds.” Don’t even get me started on toilet paper, kleenex and paper towels, and I do not buy tuna anymore!

    Oh yes, I’ve heard that if you really take them to task on the Internet, they will take time off from busily off-shoring their enormous profits, to sue you. Remember when “the customer was always right?”

    Comment by CMH — June 9, 2014 @ 7:21 pm
  13. Unfortunately its not just big things that are being downsized. Yesterday I noticed that my favorite Maybelline mascara had been downsized from .8 to .4 oz. Thanks to mouseprint the new and improved logo clued me in. Plus the old size was right next to it.

    Comment by Angie Baker — June 9, 2014 @ 10:52 pm
  14. Huggies has joined in on the parade. Their “before” package of diapers for premies had 36 diapers for $9.99. Their “after” package is now 32 diapers for the same amount of money.

    Comment by Pat Rochester — June 10, 2014 @ 1:58 am
  15. I think pre-diluted antifreeze is a great idea, and I choose it on purpose. Much more convenient and it is a bit above half the concentrate price in my area, which makes sense to me.

    Comment by Jon Fleming — June 10, 2014 @ 8:48 am
  16. Jon: If you bought one gallon of undiluted antifreeze and one gallon of distilled water, it’s likely that it would be cheaper than buying two gallons of 50/50.

    Comment by Bearcat44 — June 10, 2014 @ 11:51 pm
  17. The downsizing and diluting is bad enough, but couple that with rising prices and it’s insane anymore. If I don’t shop in Target or Walmart for my groceries I pay at least a dollar more for every item. And even so on an average week I can’t seem to get out of the market for under $100 for just the bare bones stuff (even with coupons!) for my husband and I. Every little item in the supermarket is around $5.00 now where I live (Connecticut). Even ricotta is $5.00 now unless you buy the house brand (which I do). It’s completely out of control and not too many people seem to be noticing it or doing much about it. I hate to say it but Marc is right. I tend to see the average American consumer as dumb, otherwise they would notice and complain about this crap to companies. I do all the time. I’m getting to be one of those “crotchety over 50 people”. Well, perhaps I am but I’d rather complain than let those companies think I’m just accepting their garbage. I have a sneaking suspicion they get a lot of complaints but don’t care what consumers think. They know they have us because we need their products. It really sucks.

    Comment by Renée — June 11, 2014 @ 1:42 am
  18. USA is just getting worse with all its products. No matter what I buy it seems to have a sizeable problem, I even went to Dunkin Donuts and their bagels and donuts are much smaller with prices higher.

    Comment by Richard G. — June 11, 2014 @ 4:48 pm
  19. @bearcat44

    In your response to Jon, it is most likely that it would be cheaper to buy the gallon of undiluted antifreeze and a gallon of water, but Jon noted “convenience”. To mix the two gallons of liquids correctly, you need a two gallon container to pour them both into and then to transfer back to the more easily handled one gallon size. For Jon, he is apparently willing to pay for the convenience of only buying what he needs. That is his choice as a consumer.

    Comment by bobl — June 11, 2014 @ 5:51 pm
  20. Non-concentrated Dawn has been around for years. It is actually the “original” Dawn that existed before the smaller (allegedly concentrated) detergents were introduced. It is not just now hitting the shelves. It might be a crappy product (the green apple one smells great) but a mouse print is not an issue here, as “non-concentrated” can be easily read under the brand name. I try to avoid any P&G products by default…

    Comment by Sofonda Cox — June 12, 2014 @ 1:10 am
  21. I just noticed the same with Cheer laundry detergent. We got a new jug and it seems a lot thinner in viscosity than the previous ones. I didn’t see any notice about it being watered down…maybe I’m looking in the wrong place.

    Comment by RobS — June 17, 2014 @ 1:19 pm
  22. I guess I would like to comment on all of the “downsizing”. My husband was career military and trust me the military does not pay a lot! Being a comparison shopper was a given so just carried over to “civilian” life. Knowing what you get for the price is how I have always shopped. I am sick of it!!! From toilet paper to cleaning supplies, from chicken to crackers, frozen to fresh we are being cheated on all fronts. There doesn’t appear to be anything we can do. We use the products and the manufacturers know that even if we change most people wind up going back to the old tried and true products we know. Sometimes the “Generic” brands are just as good but they can also be of such a lesser quality that it isn’t worth it. Why change to a paper towel that is less expensive if (1) there are less sheets, (2) they are 1 ply, (3) not as strong so you just wind up using more which ultimately cost as much if not more than the product you used to use.? We ladies have know for quite a while that the sizes just didn’t seem to be the same as they used to be. You find yourself having to buy a larger size when you haven’t gotten any larger. There is quite a bit of difference in the sizes compared to just a few years ago. Gas prices go up 25 cents we all gripe and gripe (but let’s face it we NEED gas). Then the price goes down maybe 5 or 10 cents and we are so happy but then before long it goes up maybe 20 or 25 cents or more and we start the complaints all over. But look at the prices now start at $3.50+ per gallon. The price got this high just by raising and then lowering just a little bit at a time folks! I guess I will stop with the complaints. I have to because it just makes me angry all over again when I think about how we consumers are being cheated. I am a widow and live on a fixed income with Social Security so my shopping is done very carefully just as my car isn’t started to go somewhere unless I can figure if I have enough gas and if it will last until the next check. I don’t know what families or retirees either are going to do. Thank you to Mouse Print for giving all of us the info they do.

    Comment by R.Fox — June 19, 2014 @ 7:07 pm
  23. Hi,

    Just found this site after grocery shopping earlier and so glad there’s a place to come and ‘vent’ but I doubt it will do any good because now that I’m an older gal, I see things for what they really are and that is true corporate greed. When I was young I really believed that there were some good and ethical companies in the US but not anymore. I think any of them would sell their mama to make a fast buck and probably have!

    When I went grocery shopping a couple hours ago, I was in the grocery aisle looking at yogurt and was looking at the size and now just about all brands of yogurt have gone from 6 oz to 5.3 oz. This has been very recent. I remember a few years back when most yogurt brands made 8 oz containers whereas Yoplait was at 6 oz. It wasn’t long before the other brands fell in line and also started putting their yogurt in 6 oz containers. Well, now there’s more down-sizing and it’s now at 5.3 ozs. However, don’t think that the cost has decreased as it hasn’t. There’s still a couple of brands that are hanging on to 6 ozs but I’m sure it won’t be long before they’re also at 5.3 ozs.

    All I know is that we have to vote with our wallets and either cut way back on items we used to enjoy or not buy at all. There will be some items that will be necessary but just buy in bulk when any of those types of items are on sale. I’ve cut back on eating out and now trying to cut back on only getting necessities but I hope that if we all get together and collectively just stop buying things that aren’t absolute necessities that at least some of those companies that are affected will start to see that the consumer still has voting power.

    Anyway, I wish you all well and now I’m going to go drink some calming tea to help alleviate this angst.(This tea is a necessity btw!). LOL

    Comment by MizBellaTru — June 22, 2014 @ 11:29 pm

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