Manufacturers Shrink Products, but Not Price

As the price of gas and some raw materials goes up, the size of some of the items on grocery shelves goes downs.

But the price of those products from paper towels to mayonnaise is not shrinking and sometimes is costing consumers even more.

While the practice of reducing the size of popular grocery items has been ongoing for years and is not illegal, purchasers with a weaker dollar and recession closing in may feel the pinch more now.

Many consumers got their first glimpse of the practice last year when actor BJ Novak appeared on Conan O'Brien's late-night talk program and showed him the size difference between a Cadbury egg of today and one from just a few years ago.

"What does Cadbury think they're pulling?" a shocked O'Brien said.


On its Web site, Cadbury said that the size of the eggs in the United Kingdom had stayed the same, but that its U.S. partner Hershey had decided to make them smaller for the states.

"It's a con. The fact is manufacturers and marketers can do whatever they like. The fact of the matter is that what we have here is a situation where the consumer is getting ripped off," said Consumer Reports Tod Marks.

But the candy industry isn't the only one seeing smaller goods.

"The incredible shrinking package is becoming a very popular thing to write in about and talk about," said Consumerist senior editor Meg Marco. "A lot of loyal consumers of certain brands are going to the store and they're noticing, 'hey, what I buy every week is somehow slightly different. It says new and improved, but really I have 2 ounces less.'"

Shrinking Bands

For instance, Scott Tissue may look the same as it did in the past, but now the sheets are smaller and that's without a smaller price.

Dial soap for men also has shrunk. The new soap is a half ounce smaller than before, while Hellmann's mayonnaise has 2 fewer ounces in its new smaller packaging.

Even the everyday staple of paper towels seems to have soaked up the trend.

Today's Brawny Pick-a-Size paper towels come with as few as 88 sheets, but in the past, the equivalent product came with 110 sheets. The result is 11 less feet to clean up the messes around the home and workplace.

One expert said the shrinking trend likely will continue because of the weak economy.

"Companies are fearful. There's nothing that sends fear into their hearts as much as price increases, because it makes people think twice -- especially in an economic downturn," Marks said.

Company Responses and What Shoppers Can Do

Companies defended their practice and cited the higher cost of raw materials as the reason for shrinking products.

Kimberly Clark told ABC News that Scott Tissue is softer and loftier now. The company made the squares slightly smaller so the roll would stay at 1000 sheets a roll and fit on the spindle in consumers' bathrooms.

Georgia Pacific said its Brawny paper towels are now thicker, softer and last longer even though there are 22 fewer sheets per package.

One thing that will help shoppers is looking at the unit prices, which will give them a better feel for whether they are getting less, but paying the same or more.