If you are a huge manufacturer selling units in the tens of millions, shaving just a penny or two off of each bag of cookies or can of cocktail weenies can make a huge difference on your bottom line. So while we'd like to think the free market is all about selling good quality at a good price, the difference between profit and bankruptcy can in fact lie in the seller's ability to screw you an ounce or a nickel at a time.
Their little tricks are everywhere, and believe us when we say they add up. We're talking about things like ...
If you haven't discovered it for yourself already, it's probably because you're not a clumsy oaf and have never dropped a jar of peanut butter on the ground. Because if you had, you might have observed that the bottom of that jar looked as if someone with a tiny fist punched it:
That sneaky dimple was put there for one reason: to put about two fewer ounces of peanut butter in the jar without the customer noticing. But manufacturers are keeping the prices the same, and sometimes even raising them. And peanut butter makers aren't the only ones pulling this shit, either.
You can't even trust the Jelly cartel.
A toilet roll might have the same number of sheets, but the sheets are an inch shorter, or worse, thinner. Cereal boxes are getting thinner while remaining the same height and width, to give the illusion of containing the same amount. A Hershey's chocolate bar has gotten an ounce and a half lighter yet sports the word "Giant," presumably because Hershey's thinks chocolate lovers are morons.
To be fair, she is only a foot tall.
And until the masses rise up with pitchforks and torches demanding their ounces of peanut butter/chocolate/toilet paper back, we're just going to have to keep on taking it.
One of the easiest ways to grab a little extra cash from poor schmucks like us is to charge more for products that don't cost more (or maybe even cost less) to make. Take sunscreen, for example. Even people who spend 95 percent of their time on the Internet need to get outside to buy a taco every now and then. And when they do, you'd better believe sunscreen is a must for their soft, supple skin.
Let's say you're the one going on a big outdoor adventure, maybe urban Rollerblading or what have you, so you go shopping for some sun protection. The first thing you notice is that the SPF protection ranges from 5 to 70. Naturally, you want to buy the hell out of the 70 so you can tell the sun to go fuck itself.
Chances are that 70 SPF sunscreen costs more than the other, but that's OK, because it's protecting you more, right? You take it to the register, hand over your money and slap that lotion on your skin, feeling superior knowing you just bested a star.
Yeah, that'll keep the cancer at bay.
Unlike an encounter with a high-end prostitute, you shouldn't have to pay more for a higher SPF sunscreen, because lotion is lotion and it all costs the same to make, no matter what level of protection it offers you. But sellers assume that once a consumer sees the bigger number on the SPF protection, he'll be willing to shell out more. And they're right.
In this case, we're talking about a few dollars that could add up big time in the long run. Because some consumers might not buy the better protection for their kids in the interest of saving a dollar, and those kids could be vulnerable to malignant melanoma later in life, which is why one British retailer announced it would no longer charge more for the higher-SPF lotions. BURN!
The British Isles go through nearly four bottles of sunscreen every year.
It's the same thing with dairy products that have been whipped for fluffiness, such as yogurt and cream cheese. You think you're paying more for a decadent, creamy treat, but you're actually getting less of the product than you would if you just bought the regular version, on account of the fact that the extra creaminess is due to the addition of a whole bunch of decadent, creamy air.
Hey, speaking of which ...
It should come as no surprise that Americans are super in love with potato chips. We're so in love with them, in fact, that in 2009 we spent $2 billion more on chips than the federal government's entire budget for researching and developing new sources of energy. Which is probably OK, since any new sources of energy would have probably just been spent driving our fat asses back to the store for more chips.
FEED OUR HOLES, SHOP-MAN.
The point is we can safely assume that just about everyone reading this article has opened a bag of chips and discovered that the greasy bag of salty goodness was just as full of nondelicious nothing as it was with food. And if there's anything we hate more than paying for water, it's paying for chipified air.
In the food industry, the practice of only halfway-filling containers with actual food is called "slack fill." Chip-makers want a cushion of air around their products as protection, because nothing sucks more than getting a bag full of smooshed chip bits, except maybe getting a bag full of empty, which is what it seems like sometimes.
What the actual fuck?
The problem is that even though the FDA allows for some air space as food protection, sneaky manufacturers have been more than willing to abuse the system by halfway filling comically large bags with their products. So you think you're getting a big ol' bag of goodness when you're really not getting all that much ...
... and half a bag of chips.
In fact, the problem is so bad that several groups have appealed to the FDA to crack down on the chronic over-slack fillers -- not just because consumers are getting cheated, but because all that extra packaging is killing a lot of trees to basically package nothing.