Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tropicana to shrink OJ containers - but not prices

Well, here's some delightful news for any wallet still reeling from the recession - or trying to limp through and recover, such as it is: Tropicana is raising the prices on its orange juice, ostensibly to pass along cost increases tied to a freeze that damaged Florida oranges this winter, the Wall Street Journal reports. Prices for gallon containers will simply rise, by about 5 to 8 percent, while the company will be sneaking in a price increase for smaller containers by shrinking its popular half-gallon (64 oz.) containers to 59 oz., but charging the same amount.

The latter has become an especially, depressingly common tactic in recent years, as companies slyly try to pass along price hikes in ways that are less noticeable at the shelf - or at least less immediately noticeable. Your grocery bill may not be rising, but you're getting less for your money, which means the practical effect is the same. The effect that the excellent Consumerist blog has dubbed the "grocery shrink ray" hit with particular force in 2008, when gas prices - and therefore, the cost of shipping goods - skyrocketed. But it's continued since, leading to bizarre sizes like 48 oz. containers of ice cream, instead of the traditional half gallon, or cans containing 14 oz. of vegetables, down from 15 oz. That's led me to wonder where it ends - I mean, you can't just keep shrinking the size of products and expect no one to notice.


My orange juice expertise is limited to the experience that comes from drinking a glass of it every morning, so it's hard for me to say whether Tropicana's reasons for a price increase are valid. But the company doesn't buy all of its oranges from Florida - which in and of itself is probably also a cost-cutting measure - so I do wonder if there's anything else going on. And, for that matter, if other orange juice makers will follow suit and raise prices - including by downsizing containers - for the same reason. If not, it could give other brands a competitive leg up: I grew up drinking Tropicana and was loyal to the brand for years. All things being equal, I still probably prefer it. But in the last year or so, with prices rising and my income wobbling, I've switched to mostly buying the orange juice that's on sale, as long as it's a comparable, not-from-concentrate variety. For the most part, I've been happy with other brands, too, whether store brands or brand-name competitors. Tropicana's shrinking packaging gives me even more incentive to keep looking - and stick with companies that are still giving me a half gallon for my money, for that matter.

In other areas, some brands have even used their consistent sizing as a marketing technique: Certain containers of Jif peanut butter tout that it's "Still 18 oz.," compared to, say, Peter Pan, which now comes in smaller containers.

19 comments:

WashuOtaku said...

Eventually we will be doing OJ shots for breakfest.

Ken said...

Jen -- Can you include some links so we can respond to the OJ companies on this?

Anonymous said...

I simply will not buy any more of that brand.

Jen Aronoff said...

Ken, thanks for commenting - I'll do my best to help. Tropicana's customer contact number is 800-237-7799, and you can also email the company through this website:
http://cr.tropicana.com/usen/tropusen.cfm?date=20100311
Let me know if you have further questions.

Low Hanging Fruit said...

Tropicana should have jumped on the derivatives bandwagon and hedged against poor crop yield.

Mac said...

Companies have been doing this for years. It's the "Hershey Bar" principal - they kept shrinking the size of their chocolate bars while keeping the price the same - a stealth price increase. Then, they introduce a "super-size" bar at a much higher price that's actually just the size it used to be.

Nothing new here, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Choose your poison - either a price increase or a price increase, which do you want?

This process has been going on forever.

A 2X4 is not a 2X4, a 25lb. bag of dog food was downsized years ago and recently iceream is no longer 1/2 a gallon but less, 16oz. cans of vegetables, which used to be referred to as a "303 can" have been downsized and that was years ago as well, etc.

Anonymous said...

I do my best to avoid brands that are shrinking their containers - Breyers, Edys, Haagen-Dazs, canned tuna, etc. I guess Breyers and Edys maxed out the amount of air they put in their product so they had to shrink the cartons. I'm a loyal Tropicana customer, but this move may chase me away. I'm trying to shift to more fresh fruits and vegetables anyway, so this change will just push me further in that direction.

Anonymous said...

If you want to support an American company who uses Florida oranges, buy "Florida's Natural" orange juice. It is much better quality than Tropicana anyhow. It is made from oranges not concentrate.

Will said...

People will crow about the change for 5 minutes then go on about their business. The fact is American consumers don't have the ability to do without items which they've become accustomed to, especially if the consumer is the type who buys name brand products in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Harris Teeter seems to be the biggest culprit in this boondoggle....they now have their "half gallon" of ice cream priced at more than $5 when it's really only one-and-a-half quarts. An occasional VIC card special helps on this kind of rip-off, but I think it's prompting more and people who said they'd never shop at Wal-Mart to head that direction real quick. The Tropicana OJ is never over $3 at WalMart. Better yet, Trader Joe's OJ tastes so much better than Tropicana and is also always under $3! Pay attention to the size of the packages and the price you're paying!

Anonymous said...

Tropicana uses oranges from Brazil to supplement their supply in this country. A check on how orange juice is manufactured by this company might make you think twice about buying their product.

Anonymous said...

Minute Maid has already done this for vending machine juices.

Anonymous said...

Big deal - if you don't like it just avoid their products. This is free enterprise and they have every right to raise prices, reduce the size of the containers or do both! However, you have the choice not to buy their products. It is REALLY that simple. Don't make this a bigger issue than it needs to be.

Anonymous said...

Restaurants do the same thing. They have made their plate sizes smaller and the portions smaller at the same time yet charging the same or more for the entree. This stinks but is nothing new.

par said...

Following the game played by the ice cream manufacturers.

Anonymous said...

Hershey's has been doing this for 100 years, changing the shapes of the bars based on the raw foods costs. Its not a big deal... they have to pass on price changes to the consumer somehow.

chupacabra said...

This has been going on for a long time. The trick is noticing it and using the price per ounce as a guide instead of just looking at the price per item.

Eric Bosloor said...

I think this issue will not cause much problems to Tropicana because I am a consumer myself, and I am not that observant so as to notice a slight decrease in ml of juice. I will start to look out for it only when someone has told me about it. Either the media, articles like this, or perhaps adverts from fellow rivals. However, if I really like something and have been consuming it for decades, then I probably will not be bothered with its shrinking storage cartons, as long as I get to enjoy it. A few ripped off cents won't matter.