December 9, 2013

Label Madness Monday: Size Matters!

Today’s food label smackdown is a bit of a departure from how we’ve done things in the past. In previous posts in this series, we’ve looked at the ingredients and/or health claims on food packages. Today, however, we don’t even have to go that far. Instead of looking at what is in these foods, we’ll be looking at how much of it there is. Why? Well, you might not be aware of this, but over the last few years, the products in our supermarkets have experienced some serious shrinkage.

Any Seinfeld fan can tell you that shrinkage is a big deal. When it comes to sitcoms, shrinkage is funny. But when it comes to our food purchases, it is no laughing matter. If you weren’t a Seinfeld fan and have no idea what I’m talking about when I say “shrinkage,” check out the link. (I was a big fan. As a New York Jew, I think its in my blood. [I live in Virginia now, but I was born and raised in the Big Apple.] I’m pretty sure it’s encoded in my DNA. Right on chromosome 18, wedged between the gene for bagels & lox and the one for guilt. And, of course, besides the Jewish New Yorker thing, Seinfeld stole my heart with his love for Superman.)

Okay, back to the reason we’re here today. If you are the primary grocery shopper for yourself or your family, it’s no secret to you that food prices have gone up a bunch. And that wouldn’t be so bad if we were paying more money for the same amount of product. But we’re not. In many cases, we’re paying more for less. Let’s look at some examples.

First up: canned tuna. I eat a lot of canned fish, so I’m pretty savvy when it comes to what they’re up to in canned tuna, sardines, mackerel, etc. When I entered the grown-up world and started purchasing my own food, a standard can of tuna was 6 ounces. (You could find larger ones, but the regular ol’ “typical” can was 6 ounces.) These days, a quick survey of your local supermarket shelves will show you that this standard can is now 5 ounces—and in some cases even smaller than that!  (Some of the “big box” warehouse stores sell 7oz cans, but in your run-of-the-mill grocery store, they’re almost all 5.)

See? Just 5 ounces.

And this one’s only 4.5!

Next in line: yogurt. When I was a kid, a standard cup of yogurt was 8 ounces. Now, most of them are 6, and some are smaller. (Obviously there are larger ones available, like the 32oz containers, but just like with the tuna, I’m talking about the typical size sold.) (Note: I guess I shouldn’t even call it “a cup” of yogurt, considering a cup as measured in the U.S. is 8 ounces. But that’s fluid ounces, and I think the yogurt might be sold by weight. Either way, it’s smaller than it used to be!) Some brands even have the nerve to come in a 4 ounce size. Wow! Four whole ounces of yogurt! No wonder you're reaching for a snack half an hour later.

Just 6 ounces. I’m not making this up!

This brand is only 5.3 ounces! For shame!

And last one for the day: ice cream. We’ve got two versions to look at: pints and half gallons. Or, rather, pints and not half gallons. Let’s start with the larger one. Years ago, the typical carton of ice cream you’d buy at the store was a half gallon. That means 2 quarts, because there are 4 quarts in a gallon. (Why again doesn’t the U.S. use the metric system? Oh well.) But check out the size of these cartons: 1.5 quarts. They’re shorting us a half quart (a.k.a. a full pint) and have the nerve to charge us more! And as you can see, it’s not just one manufacturer who’s doing this. It’s as if all the food producers got together and colluded behind the scenes to retool the standard sizes and give us less while asking us to pay more. The same is true for tuna and yogurt; I only showed a few examples, but take a look next time you're at the store -- almost all brands are the smaller size.)

Whee! Look at me, I’m not a half gallon like I used to be!

Neither am I! 
(Also: Note that this is not even labeled as "ice cream," but rather, 
"frozen dairy dessert." More on this distinction in next week's label post. 
Sneak peek: if it's called "frozen dairy dessert," that means it's not ice cream!)

Did you want a half gallon like you used to be able to get? Sorry, not here!

Let’s end with the pint. This one gets interesting because there’s one brand out there that’s going against the grain and sticking (for now, at least) with the original size. Pints of ice cream used to be just that—pints. A pint, in case you didn’t know, is 16 ounces. Nowadays, though, when you think you’re getting a pint of ice cream (as in, “Oh, God, I can’t believe I just ate that whole pint all by myself in one sitting…”), you’re actually only getting 14 ounces. (Yay! Two fewer ounces to beat yourself up over. So if you were planning to wallow in self-pity for an hour, you can stop after 52.5 minutes. Sweet!)  Yes, it’s true. Most ice cream producers now sell their goods in a 14 ounce container, so stop referring to them as “pints” in your mind.  

“Honey, please pick up a pint—I mean, 14 ounces—of ice cream on the way home!”

To give credit where credit is due, I have to highlight one company that still offers their ice cream in the full 16 ounces we know and love.

Ben & Jerry’s. A company started by two New York Jews. Coincidence? I think not. And since we've come full circle, I'll end it here for today. Remember: Size matters!

Have you noticed any shrinkage at the store? Tell me in the comments!

P.S. Apologies to my male readers (both of you). Size only matters when it comes to ice cream. Anywhere else, you’re fine.
P.P.S. I’m not the only one who’s noticed this problem. Check out this guy’s blog post for a super-funny take on the matter, specifically as it relates to ice cream. (Steer clear if you’re sensitive to foul language.) There’s also this one, which is safe for all ears/eyes.

Remember: Amy Berger, M.S., NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition.

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