The Incredible Shrinking Food Packages

Photo: iStockphoto

No, I don’t mean smaller packaging for environmental or transportation-cost purposes. I mean less actual food. The other day, I noticed that the half-gallon of orange juice we buy had been downsized to 59 ounces. But, importantly, the box’s footprint was the same size so that it still fit snugly in the ‘fridge door.

The Times has a rundown called “Food Inflation Kept Hidden in Tinier Bags.” It’s well worth reading. The funny part is that if the intention of the smaller packages were to fight obesity, the article might have been more complimentary.

Paul Clapham

But this is hardly a new phenomenon, is it? I'm sure it's been going on for at least 50 years. (Research left as an exercise for the student.)


Don't get me started! Friendly's Ice Cream "half gallon" size is now only 1.5qt. At least Stewart's (my local convenience store chain) still puts 8 cups in their half gallon!


Smaller single-serve packages (potatoe chips, candy bars, soda) is great. Does anyone really need 20oz or a liter of soda at one sitting; I love the smaller cans and bottles of soda I see now and then. But when you downsize a half gallon to a few cups, you're trying to deceive your consumer, there's no other explanation.

SM Fishman

Yes, Tropicana has slowly been moving toward 59oz. Our store brand (Harris Teeter) thankfully hasnt. I've also noticed smaller cracker sizes, cereal, tuna fish, etc. Remember when half-gallon ice cream really was a half-gallon? Lots of micro reductions too (before: 16oz, now 15.25 oz)....


My question is whether the packaging change is fooling the BLS.

Bill Culbertson

I have noticed this with toilet paper, but not quit the way you might think. It doesn't appear that the # of sheets is reduced (but I haven't checked, either). I think the rolls are narrower. It has become easier to get a roll to fit on the holder because there's more room between the edge of the roll and the end of the holder. Has anyone else noticed this? (Yes, I'm a married man and I actually replace the empty roll - although I've sworn my wife to secrecy).


Why raise prices when you can reduce content in a way the average consumer hardly notices?


This is nothing new. Consumer Reports has a section on this several times a year in their publication.


With the obesity epidemic, everyone has blamed the "super-size" mentality and availability surrounding food. If food starts coming in smaller packages, maybe this will help to curb the obesity growth?


The food industry caused the obesity epidemic.


Enter Europe's mandatory price marking rule. Each item must have a marking on the shelf which details the cost per 1 kg. Makes it an eye-blinkingly fast exercise to compare two similar but different packages or brands.

The article would have been more complimentary no doubt if the shrinkage was advertised as "to fight obesity". Instead I'm assuming it is not advertised at all and so veers towards fraud, gradually diminishing the amount of the product you get for the same money.


Most grocery stores in the US do this as well, though they usually list the price per ounce.

Joshua Northey

While I agree this annoying, I am not sure what the harm is.

Surely many people could use smaller portions, and many people could also stand to spend less money. So paying the same for slightly less seems a better solution than paying more for the same.

That said I agree it drives me crazy when something is in a standard size container but does not have standard sized contents.

eileen beyer

How about paying less money for less producT? Do they think they are fooling anyone?


Just last week I saw a package that said Pound Cake -- 14 ounces.


My wife has been very quick to notice the rip off. Keep up the good work. It's weird how big business rips us off in such a sneaky way, BTW, can you explain the increasing usage of elongated photos? (evident on your home page) Who started this?

Steve P

That's nothing mate, you should see the size of an Imperial gallon compared with your dinky American gallons.

You've been had!


Yes, Americans are being treated like us Japanese. In Japan everything is smaller, Really smaller and cost more. 10 years ago when we came to the US we were shocked at the huge boxes and the lower price than our tiny food items.
So you Americans are being fooled by "shrink-onomics " Pay the same price but get less food.
OJ used to be half a gallon. Now 59oz
Serial is the biggest joke. Same size footprint but the box is super thin. Then they took the thin boxes and made them smaller and then advertize that the large thin box is 33% more.
Condensed soup. Same thing. They made a 33% smaller can, then once and a while they bring back the original can and say 33% more.
I'm not a fool. I stopped buying cereal all together because If I do I feel they think I'm stupid and fall for their scam.
McDonalds fish sandwich. Now 2 bites and it's gone.
Fish sticks are the size of my pinky.
yogurt has made a 4mm air pocket on the bottom.
The worst one was a glacier water that like like a gallon. When I picked it up there was a huge undent like a wine bottle on the bottom to put less water in it.
However the scam must be working because things are still getting smaller.