You’re Getting Less Food for More Money, and The Trend Isn’t Slowing

Joining the rest of corporate culture, food companies are giving more to their shareholders and C-suite execs, and less to you.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely noticed that the American dream is becoming more and more elusive. Practically to the point of extinction.

It’s harder and harder to get ahead. Mortgages take a vastly higher percentage of our income than a generation ago. Our parents and grandparents could earn money from savings accounts, a virtually obsolete benefit now. College is way more expensive, leaving many with crippling debt. Health care costs are through the roof. Pensions are a thing of the past. And wages haven’t risen to match even inflation, let alone enough to bolster retirement accounts or improve quality of life.

Adding insult to injury, food companies are giving us less food for more money, or at the very least, less food for the same price.

Do they think we won’t notice that a can of tuna used to be six ounces and is now five? We’re focused on you, Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee, and StarKist. Especially after all three of you were found guilty of price fixing to boost profits: StarKist was fined $100 million, Bumble Bee $25 million (National Fisherman), while Chicken of the Sea has been settling with nearly 30 retail chains to the tune of $42.6 million (SeafoodSource.com).

(Hmmm. Wondering how much you saved by withholding that extra ounce of tuna from consumers? Was it more than $168 million?)

Juice companies, you’re up. Remember when you used to package juice in standard amounts like quarts (32 ounces) and gallons (126 ounces)?

Yeah, so do we. We’ve watched as the prices remain the same, and even rise in many cases. And yet, instead of a two-quart carton — 64 ounces — of juice, we got 59 ounces. And now 52 ounces! That’s a nearly 20% decrease in contents for the same or more money.

Tropicana, Florida’s Natural, Minute Maid, and Simply Orange: We’re on to you. And we’re not psyched.

Will they continue to shrink our products till we’re financially squeezed to death? Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

Can we agree that ice cream is one of life’s necessities? Well, we’re getting less now than ever before for our hard-earned money. As with juice, ice cream used to come in pints, two-quart containers, and gallons.

Now Haagen-Dasz, Magnum, and other regional and store brands have resized their “pints” down to 14 ounces (or 14 and meager change), rather than a standard 16-ounce pint. (Ben and Jerry’s has retained the 16-ounce pint size: kudos for not being jerks!)

Most brands who previously offered two-quart (62 ounce) containers of ice cream have shrunken their containers down to 48 ounces. That’s a full 25% reduction in how much you take home. Breyer’s, Dreyer’s, Blue Bunny, Baskin Robbins, as well as Kroger’s and Safeway’s premium store brands have all gone to this three-quarters size without dropping the price.

A shout out to Tillamook and Umpqua — a couple local favorites to this Oregon writer — who have dropped to 1.75 quarts, retaining 88% of the original size rather than just 75%.

Be aware too, that some companies “fluff” their product with more air, meaning a less-dense/lighter ice cream. If choosing between two brands in the same size containers, pick them up: the weight may sway your decision.

Another local favorite, Kettle brands, isn’t lucky enough to escape exposure: their large bag of chips used to be 16 ounces. Now it’s 13 ounces, almost a 20% drop in crispy deliciousness.

You’d think one of the least-expensive foods on the grocery store shelves would be immune to this phenomenon. Nope. The can of beans I opened the other day was half liquid, with beans literally filling just the bottom half of the can!

Canned goods that can be drained should all be required to list the drained weight, as do canned olives and mushrooms. Otherwise, there may come a day when you’ll get one serving of beans and three servings of bean liquid!

Previously, packages of sliced cheese were uniformly a half pound (8 ounces). Check the labels, though, because many varieties have dropped to just 6 ounces (again a 25% reduction in product).

Mini Cokes and Starbucks Doubleshot espresso drinks also used to be 8 ounces. Now? Seven and a half for the Coke and 6.5 ounces for the Doubleshot. Booo. This, while Starbucks CEO earns well over $13 million, more than 1,000x the median income of a Starbucks employee. Really? You couldn’t keep the 8 ounce product for all of us plebeians, and maybe “only” earn $12 mill?

Trader Joe’s Tempura Shrimp — now doesn’t that sound delish? I don’t know, because I returned it uneaten after opening the package and finding that the soy dipping sauce comprised a FULL 40% of the product weight.

Here’s a gross example of the same concept of increasing the cheap content to decrease the real deal: chicken skin. Yep, raw chicken skin. Frugal shoppers often choose bone-in, skin-on chicken — despite the extra work of removing unwanted skin for most recipes — because it’s cheaper.

Perhaps not anymore. The last few packages I’ve purchased illustrate a new butchering practice over the past year or two: cutting the skin well beyond the edge of the meat — sometimes by an inch or more — and then tucking it under. In the past you’d get a chicken thigh with skin on top; now you might get a chicken thigh with enough additional skin to nearly completely encircle the meat. Yuck, and no thank you.

Of course, this raises the weight, meaning you’re paying more money and getting less chicken meat.

Your moola is now drained more quickly by food companies whose execs are millionaires. Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

Other grocery items are taking their toll on your wallet as they fill less space in your cart. Have you noticed that toilet paper rolls are shorter than they used to be?

And Diamond Matches, I’m ashamed of you. I’ve never been so disappointed by a “Made in the USA” product. The matches are thin and tiny, and the striking head sparse, so it takes four to five matches to get one to light without either snapping in half or running out of “oxidizing agent” as it flakes off without igniting. This ratio means that only 20–25% of the product actually works.

I could go on and on, unfortunately, but let me leave you with a few suggestions.

First, check labels so you know what you’re getting for your money. Second, stay tuned for upcoming articles from me on how to stretch your food budget and how to reduce food waste (which also stretches your food budget, obvi).

Third, call or email the company if you are dissatisfied. Not only are you advocating for all of us out here struggling to make ends meet, but they’ll usually (at least 75% of the time in my experience) send you either a replacement product or a coupon for a free replacement product.

My last replacement product was a new variety of adhesive bandages after the version I bought didn’t stick for more than an hour or two: essentially $3.50 earned for a 3-minute phone call, and $60+/hour isn’t too shabby.

Best of luck as you navigate the grocery aisles! I’ll gladly answer any shopping questions in the comments!

Writer for hire, for fun, and from the necessity of untangling my thoughts. The adage I cling to lately is "the first 40 years of childhood are the hardest."

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