Good Buys: Products hit by 'shrink ray'
The size of some leading grocery products has secretly shrunk in recent months. Some manufacturers have adopted this new practice in order to claw back rocketing inflationary costs.
Products that have been reduced in size include a Cadbury's chocolate bar, Kraft Foods' Dairy Lea triangles and Nestlé's Rolo -- but the price of the products sold in supermarkets has remained the same.
Consumer champions are concerned that people are being tricked into paying more for products at a time when household budgets are already under pressure from increased fuel, petrol and food prices, in addition to falling property prices.
In America, this phenomenon is known as the 'Grocery Shrink Ray' -- and now it seems to be infiltrating European supermarkets. Firms are reducing the size of products, rather than scaring off shoppers with higher prices.
"It's really just a price increase, but in a totally different guise," says Dermott Jewell, CEO of the Consumers' Association of Ireland (CAI).
"It's a very frustrating and annoying practice from a consumer point of view. It's not a good practice and it's not acceptable. It's the secrecy behind the moves that is ethically wrong. Consumers are entitled to be told clearly and in advance if a product is to be reduced in quantity."
"If this is the way that some manufactures and producers are going to act, then I really would question both their ethos and ethics."
Some of the world's largest food and drink manufacturers said that the smaller pack sizes are a response to soaring prices in supply chains, such as rising dairy, oil and energy costs. "We seek to keep our confectionery affordable in order to offer our consumers value for money, and therefore we have slightly reduced the size on some of the larger sharing packs, rather than directly raising prices," said a spokesperson for Cadbury's.
The size of a Cadbury's Family Share chocolate bar has been reduced from 250g to 230g, but the price has stayed static. Meanwhile, Nestle's Rolo has reduced from 11 chocolates to 10 per tube. Kraft's Dairylea boxes will still have eight triangles, but each cheese portion has been reduced from 22.5g to 20g -- or a reduction from 180g to 160g per box.
Retailers argue that rising costs would mean hefty price increases on the current size of products and that no price increase on a smaller pack offers better consumer value. Downsizing products is a convenient way to help maintain profits.
Grocers say that they are merely passing on the prices that manufacturers charge them for reduced pack sizes, and if they cut prices on the shop floor, then it would hurt their margins.
On the one hand, it could be argued that smaller portion sizes -- particularly in the snack food sector -- are a positive move from a health point of view and at a time when obesity levels have reached worrying figures.
However, it's the secret tactics behind this growing trend that are causing concern. Many products are being downsized under the guise of fancy new (smaller) packaging, for example.
Consumers should be aware of this new trend and make sure to always compare prices per unit cost when grocery shopping. Remember, you can always vote with your wallet and switch brands.
"The NCA [National Consumer Agency] does not like this marketing approach and would be concerned that it is effectively a price increase which is not transparent to the consumer," says a spokesperson for the National Consumer Agency (NCA). "The NCA will be closely monitoring this in its upcoming grocery survey."
The CAI also plans to contact leading producers and manufacturers and ask them to reveal which, if any, of their products have been recently reduced in size."It's definitely a phenomenon that we're planning to keep a close eye on," says Dermott Jewell.
"Obviously it's a sharp practice by suppliers, aided and abetted by retailers to squeeze more money from already hard pressed consumers," says Diarmuid MacShane, editor of valueireland.com
"However, there's nothing that can be done by anyone about such activities -- except by consumers themselves.
"Consumers should be aware of the specifics of what they buy on a regular basis. And then, should they notice that a particular brand, or a particular supermarket, is involved in the 'shrink ray' activity, then they should avoid giving them their custom, and go shopping elsewhere -- and somewhere along the way letting others know what's going on."
> The Irish head offices of the following companies were contacted about this issue, but declined to respond: Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Nestle and Kraft Foods.
> Visit valueireland.com
My daughter did well in her Leaving Certificate and has been offered her preferred college course. How do I find out if she's entitled to any grants?
"Check out the website www.studentfinance.ie , which is an initiative of the Higher Education Authority," says a spokesperson for the website.
"This is a comprehensive and user-friendly guide to student grants and financial supports available in further and higher education. It provides clear and detailed information on the full range of supports, including: Maintenance Grants; Fund for Students with Disabilities; Back to Education Allowance; Student Assistance Fund; Millennium Partnership Fund; Course fees; Scholarships.
"The Maintenance Grant is the main source of financial assistance for further and higher education, and anyone who is thinking of going to college should investigate whether they're eligible. The closing date for applications for 2008-2009 is Friday August 29 2008. The step-by-step guides will help you to work out whether you're eligible for financial support. Studentfinance.ie can also assist you with other details, such as how to apply and where to go for further information."
Top Shop: Cavey
He's already known as one of Ireland's leading interior designers, and now Aidan Cavey has created a lovely showcase of designer furniture.
Cavey is a luxurious and elegant retail store and design studio that is well worth investigating.
"There was a need for another furniture showroom in Dublin -- one with a bit of international style," says Aidan. "I also wanted to have a forum where clients could view furniture pieces."
Cavey features a varied and carefully selected collection of furniture, fabrics, wallpapers, lamps and accessories. The spacious showroom has two storeys and over 5,000sqft of floor area.
You'll also find great gift ideas amongst the fabulous home accessories, including mirrors, candles, lighting and intriguing objets d'art.
Cavey, 4 Shaws Lane (off Bath Avenue), Dublin 4. Phone 01 660 0600 or visit www.cavey.ie
Top Website: www.onestopschoolshop.ie
Have you have been postponing the hassle of getting organised for the new school year? Take the stress out of shopping with a great new website that sells thousands of school essentials.
Onestopschoolshop caters from Montessori age through to Leaving Certificate students, and offers competitive prices and next-day delivery.
Established by two mothers, Sharon McCready and Linda Laird, the site has an extensive range of stock. Categories include all items of school uniforms, shoes and socks, sports wear and equipment, stationery, bags and lunchboxes, outdoor wear and wet gear, and carefully chosen gifts and cards. The website also features a savings club, as well as a second-hand section that allows customers to offer good quality items for re-sale.
"We have a 10pc discount off all back-to-school shoes and 10pc off selected sports items this month," says Sharon.
"We're also offering 25 iron-on clothing labels free with all purchases over €40 for the month of August."
Phone 1800 611 711 or shop from the comfort of home on www.onestopschoolshop.ie
Tried & Tested
Ice cube bags are a convenient product and are practical for use at parties and picnics. You can use them to freeze any liquids, including water, juices, stock or soup. They're also handy to help keep food cool while in transit, or they can be used as a cold compress. We put five to the test.
> GLAD ICE CUBE BAGS
SIZE: 20 bags (produces 20 cubes per bag -- or 400 cubes in total) PRICE: €1.99 each (or currently on offer at 2 for €2.50 in Tesco)
VERDICT: These are good sturdy bags and it's very easy and quick to fill them with water. The funnel size is generous and the self-sealing feature eliminates any mess. The ice cubes are a generous size. It's also quick and easy to release the cubes -- you pull apart the plastic edges at the bottom of the bag. In our 'melt-ability' test, these cubes were the third longest lasting. This is a very convenient product and it's a good price if you avail of the current special offer.
> AROMATA ICE CUBES (FOR LIDL)
SIZE: 20 bags (produces 24 cubes per bag - or 480 cubes in total) PRICE: €1.59
VERDICT: The smaller funnel size on these bags made it a bit trickier and somewhat more time-consuming to fill them from the tap. However, the bags are good and sturdy, the self-seal system works very well and you get plenty of good-sized rectangular ice cubes per bag. The instructions say to simply press out the cubes as needed. However, the reality of releasing the cubes from the bag involved much peeling and shredding of plastic. The cubes were also the second quickest to melt. These are a reasonable price for the number of cubes produced.
> MARKS & SPENCER ICE CUBE BAGS
SIZE: 10 bags (28 ice cubes per bag) PRICE: €1.49
VERDICT: The overall packaging and the bags themselves were flimsier than the previous two products tested. The funnel size is generous, which makes the bags quick and easy to fill. However, you then have to faff around with tearing perforations and tying the top of the bag. Needless to say, you end up with wet hands. It suggests using scissors to release ice cubes as needed, but the removal was fiddly and time-consuming. The ice cubes were the smallest on offer -- and the quickest to melt. This product is on the pricey side too.
> ELLIOT ICE CUBE BAGS (STOCKED IN SUPERQUINN)
SIZE: 10 bags (24 cubes per bag -- or 240 cubes in total) PRICE: €1.99
VERDICT: Another product with packaging that is on the flimsy side. However, the funnel size was generous and the bags offer the biggest cubes of all five products tested. These bags were easy to fill, even though you have to tie the top before freezing. The cubes also were very easy to pop out when needed -- and they also lasted the longest. The downside is the price of the product.
> TESCO ICE CUBE BAGS
SIZE: 10 bags (24 cubes per bag) PRICE: €0.89
VERDICT: These are funky blue bags with generously-sized rectangular ice cubes. The funnel is on the small side, making it a bit fiddly to fill each bag, but the self-seal system works very well. The best part is the ingenious system for releasing the ice cubes when frozen - simply give the bag a good tug both horizontally and vertically and you end up with a full bag of ice cubes and no mess or messing around. Great price too.