Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Six of One a Half Dozen of the Other

Could You Give Me Two Dimes For a Nickel?

There was an old joke when I was in school where you'd go up to another kid and say "Give me two dimes for a nickel?" and the other kid so used to being told there were two nickels in a dime and just hearing the "two" "dime" and "nickel" assume that you were just asking for change rather than trying anything tricky. I figure it probably never went so far as to anyone counting out two dimes to give for a nickel, but perhaps it got a person thinking that things might not always be what they sound like and to be a bit wary in life.

I was just talking about vitamins in email with a friend and how I finally decided last time I was buying my multivitamins on which I was going to buy. I just turned 50 and pondered whether to buy "Senior-Over 50 Forumula"or "Men's Forumla" or just stick with the "Extra Strength". I know that one main difference with the Men's Forumula is that they don't have any iron in it and that this is appropriate for men. I am not sure about the difference for the Over 50 Forumla. What finally pushed the direction of my decision was a matter that the Extra Strength came in bottles of 100 pills and I get my prescriptions renewed every 100 days and that is so very convenient to me. The other two forumula come in bottles with 90 pills in them. They come from the same company, but those ever so slightly more specialized formula come in so slightly smaller sizes. That makes them less convenient meaning I would have to come in 10 days earlier for vitamins each time...

I got to thinking about it. "Why in the world do the other sizes come in smaller sizes?" I realize that the more specialized formula are more expensive, though I imagine too that the cost of manufacture, and transportation doe not change significantly with the different formula - it is all economics and the price the market will bear. Ie. They charge what they believe will give them greatest profit. If they charge more they will sell fewer, though at the higher price and if the charge less they will sell more but at the higher price. It is a matter of balance and checks and balances and I did tons of problems like that in my applied mathematics courses in university among other places.

(Did you know one of the most complicated actual mathematical operations that you ever do is the "quadratic equation"? More complicated stuff just breaks stuff down so you can solve it using simpler stuff, trigonometry, and the quadrtic equation. Of course you have to learn how to break things down and apply them, just like a carpenter needs to know where to hammer and where to saw.)

I do not "know" this, but I figure the whole thing behind the 100 pills for regular and 90 pills for the special vitamins comes from profit margins. They figure they can get away with charging a bit more for the speciality, but they want a bit more than that so they realize that they can also get away with a slightly different size. They get customers coming back 10% more often. It doesn't have to do really with the cost of the product, just the money coming in. Most costumers just by "a bottle of vitamins" and they are nearly the same size -- right?

I remember in my youth that they used to call it scandalous when companies would shrink the size of products while keeping the price the same. I am sure that they have recently reduced the width of a toilet paper roll. Actually I have an empty spool from before I noted the shrinkage and comparing it to the current size find that they are currently at least 1/4 inch narrower than before! (Probably 6.7mm or 1/3cm) Now when you consider the paper companies cut the rolls to the width they want and aren't slaves to buying the spools at the finished width, you have to figure they were behind the shrinking. It means that they can keep the rolls with the same number of squares per roll and the rolls will have the same diameter, but they can have more rolls to sell per tree harvested or per ton of pulp processed or recycled*.

I think the whole thing is a psychological-economical game. They want customers to feel like the are not spending more money even as they are actually spending more for the product they are getting.

I have seen pictures showing how some products that are sold essentially by the item rather than by the gram or millilitre have shrunk over the decades. As I recall many are things like chocolate bars. While they do have the mass in grams listed, I think few actually used to read that and so didn't notice the slow shrinkage. Some products I think once were packaged where they gave you a bit more just to guarantee that you got the amount listed, but now they have trimmed down so they that give that amount and only that amount or averaging that amount rather than a bit over.

Mostly though they simply change the numbers on the packaging to reflect the now downsized product and don't advertise "Now less for your money!"

I went looking to see if I could find a few quick images to link articles to, but figured maybe I would just share the Google Search for "shrinking products". So just click the link for Google Search: shrinking products and have a look for yourselves.

I think that perhaps it might fit the companies' bottom lines, but I think that it is morally deceptive just like "two dimes for a nickel". They aren't lying, but they are implying something by not indicating their products are of less and less value for the price you pay.

I know I found myself going to the store more often for toilet paper, that bars of soap don't last as long, that bags of chips just can't be shared as far, that there aren't so many bowls of cereal in a box or bowls of ice cream in a carton. I read in an article on

* * *

Few track this and those who do, such as The Nielsen Co., are tight-lipped about the data except to their clients, who pay big bucks for the proprietary stats. But Nielsen's executive for consumer insights says up to 30% of packaged goods have lost content over the past year. Some prices went down, others did not.

"I don't think we've seen anything like this since I've been in the industry," says Todd Hale, who has been with Nielsen for 29 years.

In an unscientific visit to a supermarket this month, Lynn Dornblaser, new-products guru at market tracker Mintel, looked at 100 products and found about 10% appeared to have shrunk in contents, but not in price.

* * *

Shoppers beware: Products shrink but prices stay the same -- USA -- by Bruce Horovitz, USA Today 2008/06/11

So when shopping it is like listening for the kid offering a nickel for two dimes. It was bad enough comparing one brand with another using unit pricing, or one size or packaging with another. It is even harder if trying to remember just what the price was a few months ago... on the other hand, just what can you do when all the producers are offering you nickels for two dimes?

~ Darrell.

*At the Gnomestead we use paper products like toilet paper -- where practical and possible -- that are made from recycled materials. Our toilet paper is a brand made from recycled paper products. It is inexpensive and still soft and strong. It doesn't have any cute kittens or bears dancing on commercials, but perhaps leaves a few more trees for the bears to dance in when the do what-not in the forest.


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