Small Wonder?

The Fancy Food Show occured in New York last week. While it’s hard to resist making snide comments about the event, it’s too easy a target and, besides, they donate their excess (fancy) food to City Harvest

In addition to reporting the dual flavor trends of honey and blood orange, this Times article on the Show featured this quotation:

“In a down economy, people still want to treat themselves,” Ms. Kramer said. “But one trend we have seen is smaller packages, like four-ounce cheeses, so they are not as expensive, there is no waste and they can go into supermarkets.”

photo by cjaffepickett via creative commonsUsually anathema to “value” loving Americans, smaller-sized packages seem to be on the rise. It’ll be interesting to see if they sell well with dollars tight. While smaller items are an enticement to get shoppers to keep buying those splurge items, they could mean less waste. 

I’ve noticed this trend with more prosaic products, too, like cereal. But what isn’t often discussed is that many food companies keep prices the same as they reduce the package size. It’s one way to avoid raising prices. A supermarket analyst recently told me that many bagged salads are being reduced from 16 to 12 ounces, with the price staying the same.

Lighter packages of produce is probably a good thing (‘tho the price hike, less so), as cut perishables can go bad so quickly. Cereal is harder to get behind. Most of all, I’m for choice in sizing, to allow consumers to better customize to their needs.

In general, small packages–with their higher unit price–might be worse for families. But they might provide more value for one or two people. Especially when the alternative is throwing away half of that Roquefort. Any thoughts on this topic?


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  1. WilliamB
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Of the two, I’d rather smaller packages at the same price, than same packages at a higher cost. Most of the packaged things involved aren’t that good for us anyway. Further, how much people eat is affected by how much they have in front of them. The Nutrition Action Newsletter did a study. It had test subjects watch a move and eat M&Ms. NAN brought the movie and a bag of M&Ms to the subjects’ homes and picked them up immediately after the movie was finished. The only difference was the size of the bag of M&Ms. The results were clear: bigger bag, more eaten. There was a similar study with popcorn. Same result.

    If you really want to see less waste, we need more bulk buying opportunities. If we’re dependent on the producer deciding how much we want to get a a time, the amount will inevitably be wrong. (But then again, what percentage of a salad bar’s offerings are wasted? That has to be taken into account.)

  2. Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    As someone who only shares food with one person, I’m always on the look out for good sizes and deals. I prefer to buy larger sizes and use them up quickly. This weekend we bought a large wedge of cheese, which once opened, we’ll eat a bit each day or two until it’s gone. Same with nonperishables. But that doesn’t mean we go to Costco or something and buy huge sizes, because that would be unreasonable for us.

  3. janes'_kid
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Couple of thoughts. As a rule, smaller packages have a larger unit price, but not always. So, if one is price comparison shopping look at the unit price carefully. (Example, our household of two old geezers buy the smallest steaks available. Our local WalMart often has very small, almost tiny, steaks marked down. Curiously the tiny steaks or of good quality – for WalMart.)

    Sometimes we just by a small amount of a quality product irrespective of price just to get quality and not have waste. (Example, some fine produce.)

  4. Dana
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Watch out for another possible trend–I’ve seen one piece of evidence of it already and there may be more out there.

    When I first started using heavy cream in my coffee a few years ago, I bought it from Kroger and basically, I think most of the big grocery chains sell it with gums and thickeners in it. I wasn’t real enthused about that, but I figured all cream sellers did it so I dismissed it as unimportant. The point is, I had read the ingredients list and knew what I was getting.

    Fast-forward to about a year ago, I guess. Went to buy heavy cream at Kroger, read the ingredients list for some reason. I don’t know, I guess I was just checking. Imagine my unpleasant surprise to discover they had begun adding skim milk to the formulation!

    I mean, how silly, right? That a staple ingredient should have a formulation? But there it was, big as day. Skim milk. In my cream. And NO mention of it on the front label, that my cream was now watered down.

    I found another source of cream at Marc’s that had neither the skim milk nor the thickeners and stuck with that until I discovered a new Ohio dairy (I’m in Ohio) that sells pasture-raised milk, half-and-half, and cream. I’ve been using them ever since. I never knew cream is supposed to be yellow in springtime!

    But the basic point is this–they’re not just changing package sizes. So be aware of what you’re buying and look at more than the per-unit price.

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