Many products have, over the years, developed a reputation for misleading package sizes—think of those big bags of chips that are mostly filled with air. But that practice has typically been limited to purchases like snacks and laundry detergent.
Now, as more companies face rising costs and increased competitive pressure, consumers are encountering a wider range of products being sold in the same-sized packaging (and for similar prices)—but with much more empty space inside.
That space, termed “nonfunctional slack fill” (AKA the oldest trick in the book), is the cause for several pending lawsuits against consumer products companies, reports the Wall Street Journal.
In one suit, a rival is claiming that McCormick has been deceptive in reducing volume in its black pepper tins without changing the size of the tin itself. Its new tin that weighs 3 ounces, for example, is the same exact size as the old tin that held 4 ounces of pepper. Consumers would only notice they were getting less pepper if they looked very closely at the fine print, where the 4 was changed to a 3.
Similar ongoing lawsuits focus on packaging for Unilever PLC’s Axe deodorant and ConAgra’s Slim Jims. A suit against Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice was recently dismissed.
So what is a consumer to do?
Your best friend at the grocery or drug store is the unit price label along the shelf. Even if a package or container looks the same size, the price-per-ounce or unit will reveal the best bang for your buck — as well as a covert price hike.