Blue Bell TV spot touts its refusal to downsize its ice-cream carton.

Blue Bell TV spot touts its refusal to downsize its ice-cream carton.

Food packages keep shrinking

“Downsizing” of food products is continuing apace, with mainstream food processors like Frito-Lay, Kellogg and Nestlé joining or continuing the practice.

Downsizing in this context refers to reducing the amount of product in a package while charging the same amount for it. It’s a way to increase the price of food without raising the cost of a package-a gambit that food companies hope will go down easier with consumers than a per-package price increase.

“Because their costs are rising, manufacturers can raise the price and possibly lose sales, or they can take out some of the content and hope the consumer doesn’t notice,” Edgar Dworsky, a former Massachusetts assistant attorney general for consumer affairs who now edits two consumer websites, told the Arizona Republic.

Lynn Dornblaser, a new-products expert with Mintel, told USA Today that, in a recent supermarket tour, about 10% of the products she examined seemed to have shrunk in size while maintaining the same price. Examples include:

• Frito-Lay cut some bags of chips from 12 ounces to 10, keeping the same price on most of them (although raising the price of some).

• Unilever cut its Hellmann’s mayonnaise from 32 ounces to 30.

• General Mills is putting up to 1.5 ounces less cereal in boxes of Cheerios and Wheaties.

• Kellogg has reduced some cereal packages by an average of 2.4 ounces.

• Dreyer’s and Edy’s ice cream, produced by Nestlé, are among several major ice cream manufacturers
that have shrunk standard sizes from 1.75 to 1.5 quarts.

Dreyer’s received several thousand complaints and drafted a standardized response that says in part, “We felt it was better to openly reduce the package size than to take the price of the package up and make ice cream unaffordable.”

At least one company is trying to take advantage of this situation. Blue Bell Ice Cream, the No. 3 branded ice cream in the United States, started airing TV spots this summer tweaking its rivals for downsizing. The commercial, produced by agency Roger Christian & Co., shows people trying to cope with “downsized” rulers, shoes and TVs, and ends with the voiceover, “Don’t be a pint short of a half-gallon. Take home all you pay for.”