Recently, a popular brand of dish detergent downsized its smallest-sized bottles. My eagle-eyed blog readers at JillCataldo.com noticed that over the past three years, this brand has downsized these small detergents from 14 fluid ounces to 10.3, then to nine, and now to eight ounces. One thing that hasn’t changed much is the price. These small-sized detergents often sell for $1 when they are on sale, but shoppers are now getting one fewer ounce for that price.
I’ve covered this topic in my column in the past, but brands often resort to “package shrink” as the cost of creating a product continues to rise. Faced with these options, brands can either increase the price and keep the size the same or keep the price the same and reduce the size. While I often hear from consumers that brands should leave products’ sizes alone, brands typically do opt to downsize the product. Research shows that when prices go up, consumers react by “punishing” the brand for a price increase.
So, we see 16-ounce boxes of pasta downsized to 12 ounces and five-pound bags of sugar shrunk down to four-pounders. We see 16-ounce cans of vegetables drop to 15.5 ounces, then 15 and now 14.5. Few brands of ice cream still offer their products in actual half-gallon containers, as most are now down to 1.5 quarts.
Whether we like it or not, package shrink isn’t going away. When I notice a product I’m interested in has been downsized, I’ll typically go through the stock on the shelf and try to take home the larger-sized, older products. This only works until your store runs of old stock – at some point, your store only will be stocking the newer, smaller items. Beyond this, how do we make sure we’re getting the most for our money?
No matter what I’m buying, I look at the per-ounce or per-unit quantities to make sure I’m buying the size that offers the best price. So, let’s go back to the now-smaller dish detergent example mentioned at the start of this column. Many coupon users know it’s typically less expensive to buy a smaller-sized product with a coupon than a larger-sized version of the same product with the same coupon. Why? The coupon typically takes a larger “bite” out of the price of the smaller-sized product, making it your least expensive option.
The newly eight-ounce dish detergent sells for $1. At my store, the next larger size of identical detergent is an 18-ounce bottle, which sells for $2.99. Before I even bring any coupons into this scenario, do you see what I see? Two eight-ounce bottles will net you 16 ounces of dish detergent for $1, while the 18-ounce bottle is effectively charging you a extra 99 cents for two more ounces of detergent. With no coupons, the eight-ounce bottle costs about 12 cents per ounce, while the 18-ounce bottle costs about 16 cents per ounce.
I have a 25-cent coupon though, which I can use on either bottle. The coupon drops the eight-ounce bottle to 75 cents and the per-ounce price to 9 cents. The same coupon drops the 18-ounce bottle to $2.74, but the per-ounce price drops just a penny: From 16 cents to 15 cents. Even with the newly downsized bottle, the smallest size detergent is still the best bet for purchasing at the lowest per-ounce price.
It’s worth mentioning that while I’m financially better off buying the small bottles of detergent instead of the larger ones, I am taking two products home instead of one. Whenever I recommend buying smaller sizes to save more money, I always receive mail from readers who state that it is my social responsibility to buy the larger packages to avoid putting extra packaging in the environment.
We could go back and forth debating how much plastic is in two small bottles versus one larger one, and how much cardboard it takes to make multiple, smaller cereal boxes versus the larger family sizes. I do recycle our trash whenever possible. However, when I shop, I do choose to buy items that make the most financial sense for our household.