Don’t Get Fooled By Slack-Fill
In last week’s column, I discussed the ongoing issue of package shrink, where companies downsize a product while keeping the same price. Whenever I notice a product I buy regularly has been downsized, I’ll hunt through the products on the shelf to look for the older, larger packaging – at least while it lasts.
Reader Sheila noticed a different product shrinkage technique: Product packaging designed to create slack spaces on the inside, so that the outside of the packaging appears the same.
I notice that a lot of jars and bottles are designed with angles, openings and bumps in the bottom that make it really hard to get all the product out (and coincidentally disguise the fact that there’s less product in there to begin with). If I’m paying for 12 ounces of product, but I can’t ever get the last 2 or 3 ounces out, I’m actually paying 20-25 percent more than I thought I was. I’m not shy about cutting open a tube and scraping out the last of the lotion, but some items you just can’t get the last of it no matter how hard you try.”
When products come in a container that’s designed with extra “air space” inside, this space is known as slack-fill. If you’ve ever opened a bag of potato chips, looked inside and thought “the bag is only half full of chips,” you’ve experienced slack-fill. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines slack-fill as “the difference between the actual capacity of a container and the volume of product actually contained therein.” As Sheila points out, a bottle of lotion with a large bump built into the bottom creates an indentation that will allow the bottle to be filled with less product, while the bottle’s dimensions appear the same as a formerly larger product.
Manufacturers cannot indiscriminately create slack-fill areas inside a product for no clear reason. The USDA states that slack fill must serve a purpose related to protecting the contents of what’s inside the package or serve a useful purpose outside of merely creating a smaller space inside the package. Some states also have their own laws regulating non-functional slack-fill. Several brands have come under fire in the past few years for reducing the volume of a product while creating a false bottom within a skin cream jar, or for packaging a small skin cream jar inside a larger exterior box.
My advice on paying attention to the actual volume of the contents inside a container when encountering package shrinkage at the store holds true here as well. Always look at the ounces advertised on a product’s packaging. For products sold with unit pricing, I always look to see how many of an item I’m buying.
Packaging “shrink” hides in ways you may not expect, too. Recently, I was shopping for paper towels, and the brand I was buying had both solid white towels and printed varieties with designs on them. The solid white paper towels had 59 sheets per roll, while the rolls with printed designs had 54 sheets per roll. Of course, there is a cost associated with printing designs on paper towels instead of shipping them in solid white. This particular manufacturer has chosen to pass that cost on to the consumer in the form of five fewer paper towel sheets per roll.
Like Sheila, I also try to use every bit of the products I buy, and it’s true that some products’ packaging seems intentionally designed to prevent you from doing so. If you’re paying for a product and you don’t use it all, you are indeed throwing away product that you paid for – even if it’s difficult to get out. With opaque product packaging or non-removable caps, it’s not always easy to know if a container really is empty, and I suspect many people surmise that it’s not worth the fight, tossing the package out and instead opting to buy another. Readers, I’m interested to hear: How far do you go to make sure you “get it all?”
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.