Hellmann’s Mayo: Introduces the 30 oz. Quart*

hellmans smallSome things always come in quarts: milk, motor oil, and mayonnaise, for example. You don’t have to look at the net weight statement, because a quart is 32 ounces, and that is what you always get.

Next time you go to the supermarket and pick up a quart-size jar of Hellmann’s (in the east) and probably Best Foods (in the west), you are going to be in for a little surprise.

*MOUSE PRINT:  The net weight statement now reads “30 oz.” instead of 32.

While the size change is apparent looking at the old and new jars side by side, you don’t have that comparison in the store. You see a dozen identical jars that look like the regular quart jar, and priced like the regular quart jar. You grab one, and you get snookered because they all have two ounces less in them.

All mayonnaise has come in quart jars for decades. Unlike tuna fish that has been downsized multiple times, this is the first time it has happened to mayonnaise. That’s what makes it so surprising, and why it has gone virtually unnoticed.

Why did Unilever Bestfoods do this?  Here’s what customer service said:

“At Unilever Bestfoods we have always taken great pride in offering the highest quality products at reasonable and fair prices.

Recently, inflationary pressures have brought about by the increased costs of raw materials. Rather than raise our prices, we chose to slightly reduce the size of the 32 oz quart and 16 oz pint. This is the first time in over three years that we have had to increase costs to our consumers.”

As with other categories of items that have been downsized, it is a sneaky way to pass on a price increase. Expect competing brands to trim their jars sometime soon.  

Tide: Same Box, 17oz. Less*

Tide smallThese boxes of Tide look identical, but they are not. One has 17 ounces less detergent than the other, and costs the same price. How can this be?  It is called “downsizing.”

Product downsizing has been a fact of consumer life since the nickel candy bar. Rather than pass on a price increase directly to consumers, many manufacturers simply and inconspicuously make the product a little smaller, while keeping the selling price the same. Effectively, this is a hidden price increase. Historically, paper towels, detergent, candy bars, toilet paper, coffee, and tuna fish have been common items that keep shrinking in count or net weight.

Manufacturers virtually never call the consumer’s attention to the fact that you are getting less for your money. In fact, they often direct the grocery shopper’s attention away from the small net weight statement by proclaiming something new about the product, like a new fragrance or improved formulation.

Tide powder appears to have just downsized the contents of its boxes significantly, while leaving the packages the exact same size.

*MOUSE PRINT: Old box: “87 OZ (5.43 LB)”; New box: “70 OZ (4.37 LB)” [Packages on store shelves July 8, 2006. Click on packages above to read net weight statements. ]

Despite the fact that you are getting over a pound less of product for the same price in the same size box, you still somehow get “40 uses” from each package. Did they make the scoop smaller?  Did they fluff up the powder?  Did they change the formula? Does it still work as well?  Tide customer service responds:

“You are still getting the same number of uses per package of Tide. By removing non-necessary materials in the manufacturing process, we improved the solubility and improved the cleaning performance. The changes we have made are so that less weight can do more. Keep in mind, you aren’t measuring the amount by weight. You are using a volume measurement on the scoop. If you fill the scoop to the lowest fill line (the amount recommended for an average wash load), you will get the number of uses printed on the package.”

Also surprising is that except for the inconspicuous change to the net weight statement in the bottom right-hand corner of the box, the packages are absolutely identical in size, wording, and graphics. Unless you are in the habit of checking the net weight of the product every time you shop, you could easily have been completely unaware that over a pound of Tide had inconspicuously been removed from the box.

The lesson: check the net weight and net count of products you regularly buy so you can spot these sneaky changes.