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Front Porch: The scoop on package downsizing

Thu., March 27, 2014

I’ve got a gripe, and if Andy Rooney were still alive, I am sure it would be his gripe, too.

I can just see him arranging the containers on his desk and looking into the camera in his “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney” segment on CBS’ “60 Minutes” news program. He’d begin with, “You know what makes me mad …” and then he’d tell you in his good-humored, curmudgeonly way why this particular offense was truly a scourge to all mankind, or at least to America.

My current one would be right up his alley. Ice cream.

In Rooney’s absence, I’ll do my best. You know what makes me mad? Ice cream sleight-of-hand packaging. I like ice cream. Who doesn’t? And so I’ll buy a half gallon and work my way through it until it’s time to open the next half gallon.

Now they don’t give this stuff away, so I’ll look for brands that are on sale, though I do have my favorites. Quite some time back, I noticed that the half gallon I was eating from (yes, I have been known to eat directly from the container) seemed a little smaller than I remembered. I read the container. It said 1.75 quarts. No wonder the price was reduced.

Aha, it was a trap to get me hooked on that brand so when the price gets jacked up again, I’ll still stay with them. Next time at the grocery store, I checked every container, and they were all 1.75 quarts – except for my favorite one, which was still a full two quarts.

I felt cheated, but in understanding the game, I adjusted my purchasing habits accordingly. And then, lo and behold, even my favorite guys caved in and downsized the product – not the price, however – to 1.75 quarts.

Fast forward to last week. There I was checking the prices and flavors again before selecting my guilty-pleasure frozen delight. I made my selection from among the tasty varieties that happened to be on sale, and as I was putting it into my grocery cart, I noticed that the container didn’t seem quite as hefty as it should have. So I took a look.

It was 1.5 quarts. I put it back into the freezer case and checked out all its brethren. Most of the oval and round containers and the rectangular-shaped boxes of ice cream were all now 1.5 quarts. My favorite brand was still 1.75 quarts, but I suppose that won’t last long either.

I hate this trick ’em brand of marketing. Sure, carefully researched packaging and commercials and everything that goes into marketing a product are all focused on getting us to open our wallets. They play on our egos, emotions, fears, sometimes sense of patriotism and everything else that works. I mean we all know that a soft-focused image of a curly haired little boy playing with a puppy in a grassy meadow doesn’t mean the dog food being advertised is any good, but, darn, who can’t feel the warm and fuzzy? They count on us to make our purchasing decisions accordingly.

Well, that’s on us for falling for it. But downsizing volume in the very same familiar wrapping seems like cheating. Sure, we should read the packaging, but every time we buy? Shouldn’t we be able to count on a little basic honestly? I mean, when was the last time you checked out the weight and contents on the can of soup or box of breakfast cereal or jar of jam of the brands you buy, the ones that look the same year after year?

Just how cynical do we have to be in the store? Apparently a lot more than we are. I’ve come to realize this has been happening across the board more often than I knew. For example, recently cake mix boxes contained a full 18.25 ounces; now the same looking boxes have but 15.25 ounces within. I’m sorry, when the trickery infiltrates ice cream – well that’s a half gallon too far. Ice cream is the quintessential – along with apple pie – American taste delight. This is just wrong.

(Please now picture in your mind’s eye Andy Rooney furrowing his ample eyebrows and pointing his index finger at the camera as you read on.) To the makers, packagers and sellers of America’s ice cream – shame, shame, shame.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@ Previous columns are available at columnists/.

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