FTC makes it official: Size matters !

Have you ever shelled good money for “free” air.

Bet you have.

It’s called “slack fill”.

Say, what?


Let’s start with a confession …


In my courses, I proffer that marketers are put on earth to make people smile while flattening their wallets as quickly as possible.

Does that make me a bad person?

And, I assert that raising prices is a fast route to profits … as long as the increase is within a “zone of indifference” … i.e. as long as folks don’t notice.

Finally, I point out that there are basically 2 ways to, in effect, raise prices.

For example, you can get a 25% price increase by either upping the price of a candy bar from a buck to a buck-and-a-quarter … or, you can “hold the price point” and still charge a buck, but make the candy bar 20% smaller.

Usually, the latter tactic is less noticeable to consumers … so, there’s less chance of a backlash.

I argue that there’s no ethical issue involved as long as the change is well marked and relatively easy for an attentive customer to observe.

That’s where things are getting dicey these days.

Food manufacturers have always packaged products with some air … it’s called “slack fill”.

Sometimes slack fill is the result of manufacturing processes or settling during distribution.

Think, cereal or potato chips.

According to the WSJ, slack fill is being increased to, in my jargon, make the candy bar smaller

For example:

  • ·McCormick started started putting 3 oz. of pepper in the same container that used to contain 4 oz .… that’s called “weighting-out” or “de-weighting”
  • Old Spice cut the amount of deodorant, but kept the dispenser the same size.
  • Slim Jim stayed slim, but got shorter … while wearing a roomy box that is 1.5” longer than Jim..
  • ·oilet paper manufacturers have cut the number of sheets in a seemingly same sized roll … that’s called “de-sheeting”.

The practice is becoming so common that there are numerous lawsuits pending by aggrieved competitors and the FTC.

Are consumers being deceived?

Most legal experts contend that companies are ok by the law as long as they print the correct amount of product on the package.

They say: “Consumers may be mistaken, but the critical thing is that they in fact told the truth.”

The acid test from a legal perspective: Whether a reasonable person would be deceived by the practice.

Forewarned is forewarned, right?

Always remember: size matters !


Thanks to MH for feeding the lead.




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One Response to “FTC makes it official: Size matters !”

  1. ST Says:

    The case against McCormick was brought about by a smaller player from Minnesota where their 4 oz. container is the same size as McCormick’s prior 4 oz. container. On shelf, it appears that you are getting the same thing, but where consumers can be deceived (and competitors aggrieved) is when a company like McCormick puts their product on the shelf with 25% less, but charges 15% less. This makes the consumer grab the “premium” brand for a “better” price, but they actually wind up paying more per volume. Labeling is important and forewarned is fore-armed, but these types of practices are deceptive, particularly when the packaging remains identical. 1.75 quarts of ice cream, anyone? It still comes in the half gallon container.

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