“Woh-ho-oh, the nips are gettin’ bigger,” Mental as Anything famously sang back in a time of largesse and long lunches.
Sadly, those days have long gone.
Now, you’re far more likely to find that drink a few millilitres short of the full litre bottle thanks to the magic of modern manufacturing whereby, hey presto, less actually costs more.
This law of diminishing returns to the consumer is a world-wide phenomena afflicting the full raft of supermarket products from laundry detergent, tissues, soap and toilet paper to chips and lollies.
Dubbed the great “grocery shrink ray” by the US-based consumer affairs blog The Consumerist , this down-sizing of products and the converse up-sizing of price has been going on for decades.
Cadbury is the latest, with the recent announcement on its Facebook page that it was reducing the size of its 220g block of Dairy Milk (which in the really joyful days was 250g) to 200g because of rising production costs.
Of course it’s not just Cadbury’s. Arnott’s was the recipient of one of Choice’s Shonky Awards in 2014 for introducing its “premium” peanut flavoured Tim Tam which contained absolutely no peanut and only nine biscuits equating to 165 grams for the same price as a 200 gram – 11 biscuit pack.
Lolly lovers squirmed with discomfort when Nestle cut the Allen’s Killer Python from 47g to 24g so it resembled not so much a boa constrictor as an anorexic asp. A least in this instance the price of the slim-line individual pythons was slashed accordingly while the price of medium-sized bags of them remained the same and the net weight actually increased slightly.
Other companies which have made a virtue of reducing “portion” size to meet good dietary guidelines have not been so generous.
In 2010 Unilever, the parent company of Streets, announced it was reducing the size of Paddlepops by 15 per cent to make them “healthier” and meet school canteen guidelines. But there was no comparable drop in price, leading to claims the company was sugar-coating how they were cutting costs.
Companies like Kellogg’s are … hmm, hmm cereal offenders. In recent years it has shrunk the amount of snap, crackle and pop in its breakfast products and repriced them, resulting in unit price increases of up to 16.4 per cent in the case of Cornflakes and 14 per cent in the case of Rice Bubbles.
Across various brands you’ll find less chippies in chip packets, less fish in the can, less soap to lather, less ice cream in the tub, less detergent in the packet, less tissue in the box and even less sheets in the toilet paper thanks to bigger cardboard rolls.
Such changes usually go hand in hand with new packaging, new slogans and are often billed as “healthier” or “greener” options – either because there is less for you to consume or not so much packaging.
There is actually a logarithm manufacturers go by when they don’t want their customers to equate shrinking products to a price hike.
The Weber-Fechner law states in effect that if you present people with a product of say 1 kilo they will not notice a change in the weight if it is no more than 10 per cent – a threshold known as “just noticeable difference.”
Where will it all end?
Now that’s a super-sized question!