Forgive me an Andy Rooney-like post here, but have you noticed the tremendous amount of shrinkage going on in packaged food products?
Next time you’re grocery shopping, or getting a meal on the table, note how many of your favorite brands are suddenly coming up short in terms of package size and/or product volume.
Must be a sign of the recessionary times. Corporate strategists deciding it’s OK to give consumers a little less than they’re accustomed to getting.
In fact, their reasoning probably goes, if we tweak the can or reconfigure the box just so — a little off the top, a little off the side, clean it up in back — they might not even notice.
I haven’t done a thorough study of this phenomenon, but I’m going to guess that in most cases of incredible shrinking packaging and product, the price is the only thing not shriveling. Wouldn’t be surprised, in fact, if it’s going the other direction.
As a big fan of potato chips, and long-time consumer of dry cereal, I’m used to food marketers playing fast and loose — or, more accurately, tall and mostly empty — with the package-product-price-value ratio. But now the “less is less” approach to packaging and marketing seems to be running rampant in all aisles of the store.
- Our favorite brand of jellied cranberries? The can is suddenly a lot shorter. Kind of cute and stubby, actually. But I’m going to guess it contains 2-3 fewer slices of the wiggly red jelly we used to get from each can.
- When I pull a sleeve of saltines out of the box, it looks like someone in Operations decided it would be a good idea to shut down the inserter 10 to 12 crackers early on each sleeve.
- Suddenly, I’m noticing ice cream containers looking oddly top heavy. About the same on top, but a lot smaller around the bottom. I can only assume it’s so people in white coats and hair nets can use the same size covers but throttle back just a scoop or two on the amount of ice cream being poured.
- Saw an orange juice carton the other day that seemed oddly tall and slender. I’m used to orange juice cartons being shaped like a middle linebacker. This one looked more like a volleyball player.
It doesn’t take a Nobel laureate economist to interpret what’s going on. We can safely assume these brands aren’t cutting back on packaging, product, or both to help us all stay on our diets and lose a few pounds.
Instead, they’re finding ways to cut a little volume here, trim a little packaging there, in hopes of making their bottom lines a little fatter. A perfectly sound business strategy.
But is it great brand strategy? Maybe not, but only time will tell.
Each of us — consumers and B-to-B decision makers alike — gets to judge whether brands we’ve come to trust and rely on, during good times and not so good, continued to live up to their end of the bargain during this recent and ongoing economic downturn.
Did they continue to deliver the price-value we’ve come to expect, even if meant a little less profit on their end.
If not, did they offer us a price break, along with an explanation?
Or did their price go up, but along with it came a higher level of value and service?
If it were my can, box, widget or framitz, when times got tough, I like to think we’d try and hold the line on price-value, even if it meant earning a little less near term. My hope would be I’d have customers continue to think fondly of my brand and products — or at least not have a reason to think negatively — over the long haul.
For 20-plus years I’ve pulled the same brand of cranberries, the same crackers, off the store shelf, never giving price-value so much as a thought.
They’ve got me thinking.