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Size Matters: Thoughts on Product Packaging

Written by Nickel - 15 Comments

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to visit the World of Coca-Cola, which is essentially a shrine to all things Coke. Having been a child of the 1970s and 1980s, it was pretty interesting to walk back in time through the commercials of my childhood. Of course, the memorabilia housed there reached back far earlier than my childhood, to the very beginning of the Coca-Cola empire.

While we were there, I ran across the following advertisement from the 1950s, and was so amused that I had to snap a picture and share it with you:

Hang on… The “BIG” sixteen ounce size serves… 3? Wow. Things sure have changed.

Nowadays, 16 oz. is on the small side for an individual drink. Instead, convenience stores are filled with 24 oz. behemoths selling for $1.49 apiece. According to the old math, that should be enough to serve five. But according to the new math, 24 oz. is just right for one Coke-slurping sucker.

Of course, at the other end of the spectrum we have the every-shrinking half gallon of ice cream. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but over the past couple of years, “half gallon” ice cream containers have dropped from 2 quarts (an actual half gallon) to 1.75 quarts to (most recently) 1.5 quarts. All without a price decrease.

Why the changes? Simple. Profit. If Coke can convince you to buy (and drink) an ever-increasing “single serving” (at an ever-increasing price point), they can push more product out the door while padding their bottom line. And if ice cream makers can convince you to buy an ever-decreasing amount of ice cream at the same price point, they can likewise pad their bottom lines.

Gotta love marketing.

Published on May 21st, 2008
Modified on July 26th, 2008 - 15 Comments
Filed under: Frugality

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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15 Responses to “Size Matters: Thoughts on Product Packaging”

  1. 1
    Nicole Says:

    Actually if you look at a 20 oz bottle it says 2.5 servings. a “standard” serving is 8 oz. So the reasoning behind this ad is still true. Our consumption habits have changed.

    What is interesting in the ad is the size of the bottle in the womans hands and the size of the glasses. They hold much more then the obvious onces would represent.

  2. 2
    nickel Says:

    Yes, in the fine print, the nutritional math is based on an 8 oz. serving. I believe that’s an FDA standard, and it plays to Coke’s advantage — when people check the calorie content on the label, many fail to multiply by 2.5 when making their buying decision.

    Setting that aside for the moment, however, these things are clearly not being marketed as multi-serving beverage. Also, based on the “old” math, 20 oz. would be 3.5 servings, not 2.5 servings. Thus, it appears that the definition of a serving has changed.

  3. 3
    Rick Says:

    And people wonder why we’re such an obese nation…

  4. 4
    William Says:

    Thanks for sharing that.

    It brings to mind the size comparison done in “Super Size Me” where it was shown that a “small” size fast food beverage today is the same size or larger than a “large” from 20 years ago.

  5. 5
    Beth Says:

    Speaking of ice cream, it was very obvious to me the last time I looked at the Breyer’s that the packaging had shrunk considerably. I commented to my husband that we might have to buy 2 half gallon sizes just to get 1 true half gallon now.

  6. 6
    Matt Says:

    A little bit of profit taking and a little bit of gluttony mixed together to drive share prices higher! Its interesting seeing the old advertising (have you seen any of the stuff from the 30s?). Its interesting to see how our perceptions and our advertising has shifter over the years.

  7. 7
    MyMoneyAdventure Says:

    …and our nation gets fatter.

  8. 8
    K Says:

    I heard this week on the news that one grocery store was starting to sell MILK in 3/4 of a gallon instead of a gallon. Wonder when a gallon of gas will no longer be a ‘gallon’. LOL.

    What irritates me more is when they chisel off a few ounces off products every few years and then keep it in the same size can or container. It feels like they are trying to scam us.

  9. 9
    Michael G.R. Says:

    “Why the changes? Simple. Profit.”

    Well, there’s also inflation and commodity prices.

    The purchasing power of money is going down, in good part because they keep printing more of it to pay for things like wars without having to tax people more, and demand for commodities (including foods) has shot up because in part of Asian demand.

    So they either increase the price of ice cream, or reduce the size. People seem to notice less a size decrease, so that’s what they did.

  10. 10
    nickel Says:

    Michael: Right, so they’re maintaining their profit margins.

  11. 11
    Joshua Says:

    Then again, printing more money and not taxing people don’t affect the value of the dollar as much as the idiotic constant decreasing of the interest rates.

  12. 12
    Scott Says:

    I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with Proctor and Gamble with their tactics. We buy Charmin and Tide almost exclusively, and games are being played with both of them.

    Charmin: 40 Big Rolls = 24 Regular Rolls?!? It’s funny that the big rolls fit just as well on the holder as the regular rolls did a few years ago. But now, the price is higher.

    Tide: This just happened recently, but now all Tide products are 2X concentrated (I’ll bet not) at double the price. When the time comes to drop the stuff in the washing machine, how many people are going to feel comfortable using half the detergent?

  13. 13
    harmgb Says:

    One might say they are doing us a favor,
    considering the increasing obesity levels in
    so many countries these days……
    Yes, I’m being kinda sarcastic. :P

  14. 14
    harmgb Says:

    And I wonder how the government treats size
    shrinkage? Are they smart enough to see it? Or is
    this why the official ‘consumer price index’ increases
    are always a fraction of real inflation?

  15. 15
    "Mother" Mann Says:

    K’s comment made me wonder, can gas stations start selling gas by the quart or the liter? Or is the unit of measure dictated by the government?

    Inferring from this it is, at least in Pennsylvania, dictated by the state Bureau of Weights and Measures.


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