We are all too familiar with the term downsizing. The context is usually regarding corporations reducing staff to achieve greater economies and to reduce overhead. Of course that frequently means that they are out-sourcing their work to Asia.
There is another form of downsizing that almost never makes the news- namely, Product Downsizing. For those of you who consume alcohol you must have noticed that a pint is no longer a pint and a fifth is no longer a fifth. That change occurred years ago. We have also seen the weights of candy bars reduced, even though every attempt is made to make the packaging look the same size or even bigger. Chip bags hold fewer chips, there are less crackers in the box, vegetables are now 15 ounces instead of 16 or some other strange weight. I suspect if one kept records of this sort we would find that overall, while prices have gone up, portions have gone done.
During the summer it was very warm and humid in Maine so we decided to get a half gallon of ice cream. We always compare prices and have little brand loyalty except to the extent that something too cheap, tastes cheap. As we were looking in the frozen food case and engaging in unit pricing we suddenly noticed that almost none of the name brand ice creams were measured as a half gallon. Instead they were almost all 1.75 quarts. The horror of this discovery still gives me chills. Another customer was also looking for ice cream so I asked if she had noticed that the packaging had been down sized. She said that she had not and then proceeded to return her selection and choose the store brand which still was 2 quarts.
Is the American consumer aware of this Downsizing Conspiracy? How far does this menace go? Are there fewer threads in our clothes and fewer tomatoes in our pasta sauce? Anyone that builds knows that the infamous 2×4, which has not been a real 2×4 for as long as I remember, has gotten even smaller. Have price reductions followed these hidden size reductions? Of course not!
While some of this is meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek, there really is an issue here. The lack of general consumer awareness regarding how they spend their money is frightening. I have argued several times that the power of the consuming dollar is one of the greatest potential weapons to affect social, economic and political policies. There is no question that the American consumer could put and to foreign sweat shops, child labor, low gas mileage vehicles, environmental degradation, and many other ills that affect our world. But if the consumer is not even aware, or does not even care that its purchasing power is being eroded on a daily basis just at the supermarket, then how can we expect the dollar to be used for sweeping social change? If Americans do not wise up to what is happening around them, the world will soon pass them by.
We bought the store brand!