Monday, October 1, 2012


Have you noticed that the toilet paper roll now wobbles back and forth on the cylinder?  That’s because the width – which used to be 4.5” – is now 4.1.” 

Not only has the width of the toilet paper shrunk from its original 4.5” to 4.1” but so has its length.  First it was 4.5.”  Then 4.1” and now – 3.7.”  That’s why we can’t call them “squares” anymore.  They're sheets now.  

The famous “Big Roll” may still have 1000 sheets, but the size of those sheets has shrunk in width and length.  There's now 15% to 20% less “yardage” in today’s roll compared to just a few years ago.  So, no, it’s not  a change in our bottoms (though that's a real possibility), but the fact that it takes more sheets of paper to get the same job done. 

Toilet paper isn’t the only product to undergo shrinkage, but before I move on I’d like to interject a secondary whine  -- about the installation of the T.P. roll.  There IS a right way and a wrong way. Efficiency experts unilaterally agree that it is more expeditious to roll down from over the top than to pull out and up from the bottom-side of the roll (no pun intended.) See the illustration below.      

Back to shrinkage.  Other commodities undergoing shrinkage include (but are not limited to):

Cereal:               2.4 oz less on the average  = 15% shrinkage or more
            Soup                 3 oz shrunk
            Canned goods:  Once 16 oz, now 15 oz.
            Sugar                5 # bags traditionally are now 4#
            Candy bars        ,41 oz = 11% shrinkage
            Canned juices    5 oz shrinkage = 8% shrinkage 
            O.J. cartons      Once 64 oz, now 59 = 12% shrinkage
            Saltines                        15% reduction
            Crackers           15% shrinkage on average
            Graham Crackers  15% size reduction
            Potato Chips     16 to 14 ounces = 20% shrinkage
            Heinz Catsup     4 oz. = 11% shrinkage
            Paper Towel -    10 sheets = 7.2%
            Chicken of the Sea Tuna     1 oz= 17%.
Hagen Dazs      12.5% shrinkage.  

Most people don’t notice these changes because food manufacturers have cleverly hidden them from us.  One strategy is to maintain the original can or bag size, fill it with less product, and make up the difference with air.  This is called “slack-fill” in the trade though air-filled would be more descriptive (and honest).  

The 33.9 oz. coffee can now contains  27.8 oz of coffee.  The filler is air.  The contents of many 16 oz cans actually weigh in at 14 to 15 oz.

Potato chips and pretzels are big on air, low on content.    

Only a few years ago a 16 oz. bag of potato chips was ¾ chips and ¼ air.  Then it was ½ chips and ½ air.  Today it’s more like ¼ chips and ¾ air.  In the name of honest packaging, the Government should make manufacturers include air content as one of the listed ingredients.    

Boxes of baby wipes once held 80 wipes.  Now it’s 72.  The consumer is paying more – for less.

This Houdini-like packaging affects more than our pocketbooks.  It impacts our environment. The EPA says that approximately 13 tons of plastic packaging end up annually in municipal landfills. If products were packaged in true-to-size containers, as much as three tons of environmental waste could be eliminated annually.   

Another way some suppliers have camouflaged shrinkage is by redesigning the package to “look the same” but hold less product.  What we’re often told (and with a good deal of fanfare) is that these changes have been made for the public good.  Not only are containers now more “environmentally friendly,” carrying and pouring is easier.  

A good example of a repackaging miracle is the ivory liquid detergent bottles below.   

If you think these two bottles hold the same amount of liquid, think again.  It’s an optical illusion.  Because the redesigned container on the right is narrowed at the waist, it can only hold 24 ounces of liquid, six ounces less than the original container (on the left).   

The Hagan Dazs Ice Cream container is another example of tricky packaging.  The old and new containers may look the same because the tops are the same size, but the new carton tapers in the middle, shrinking its capacity to two less ounces, a shrinkage of 12.5%.    

In all fairness to the food industry, basic commodities such as food, packaging materials, and transportation costs have risen.  In order to make a profit and stay in business, companies either have to decrease the amount of the product sold in a unit or raise prices.  The problem is that many have done both: shrinking at one end and expanding at the other!

Shrinkage isn’t unique to the food industry.  It happens everywhere.  Take the garment industry and the incredible shrinking dress.  No, I don’t mean like in:


That’s voluntary shrinkage.  I mean like in the amount of fabric going into a garment.


It used to be when a dress or blouse got tight on you, you talked about “letting the seams out.”     When was the last time you head that said?  I bet people under thirty have never heard that expression, and that’s because there's nothng to let out anymore; in fact, today if you sneeze too hard, you might tear open those skimpy seams.

Now to save paper costs, there's the incredibly-shrinking type size.  I used to be able to read the phonebook with a naked eye.  Same for RX directions.  As the type has shrunk, I've graduated from the naked eye to reading glasses to magnifiers (and, no, it's not my eyesight!). 
Sales of magnifying glasses have probably risen exponentially over the years.

A number of cartoonists have – in their own inimitable style – addressed this "shrinkage" issue. Jen Sorensen, for example, envisions increasingly larger holes in bagels, cheerios, doughnuts and Swiss cheese.  Three Musketeers will dwindle to Two, and gummy bears will lose  bodily parts.   (    

Cartoonist CTA at Funny Times ( predicts that it’s only a matter of time before ten-gallon hats will be nine gallons.     

So what’s a person to do?  Not much, I guess, except WHINE… WHI…WH

Whiningly yours, Carol


  1. Ack! I HATE this! We used to shop at Aldi all the time. One day I noticed that the potato chip bags, while still the same size, held less. After a few years, I was pleased to see they went up again. Since they've moved across town, I don't go anymore, so I'm not sure what they are like now.

    The problem with less food stuffs is that it gets increasingly harder to follow recipes that are more than a few years old. What used to be a "large" can, containing 28-32 oz now only has 24 or 25. for some things, that doesn't make a difference. For others, the results can be disastrous.

    Outside of food, I think paper products are the worst offenders. It is amazing how much time I spend in the store when looking at wipes, napkins, etc., calculating how much I'm actually getting according to the dimensions of the darn things!

    I'd start living off the land, making my own clothes from animal hides, but the size of the land is shrinking, and if bullets shrink like everything else, I'd get eaten before I'd ever kill anything. Sigh. Guess I just have to continue to be an educated consumer.

    1. Good whine. Enjoyed "listening" to it. And thanks for tuning in.