Those moves may fool some people, but most have caught on. In a Consumer Reports survey several years ago, three-quarters of Americans said they noticed that packages were shrinking, and 71 percent of those people theorized that the main reason was to hide a price hike. Yet half said they'd prefer that companies keep the old package and raise the price. So why don't they?
"Because people are much more conscious of price than they are of package size or net weight of contents," says Edgar Dworsky, editor of Mouseprint.org, a blog that examines advertising's fine print. Slight downsizing is often imperceptible, whereas price increases are about as subtle as a pie in the face. And when prices rise, buyers often seek cheaper alternatives.
Despite awareness of downsizing, it's not easy to figure out which products have shrunk because relatively few packaged goods come in standard, recognizable sizes anymore. Tropicana and Florida's Natural, for example, shaved 5 ounces off their half-gallon cartons of premium orange juice. Häagen-Dazs, citing "ingredient" and "facility" costs, put its ice cream pints on a diet, knocking them down to 14 ounces. Other products come in such a range of sizes that it's hard to tell when one of them shrinks. Oreos, for instance, come in more than a dozen packages weighing from 2 ounces to more than 50 ounces.