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What is Short-Sizing?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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When food manufacturers face price hikes in essential ingredients such as wheat, sugar or rice, they essentially have two methods for passing on these higher food costs to retailers and customers. One way is to increase the price of the current products, which might not be a popular choice with consumers, and the other way is to reduce the amount of product sold at the established retail price. This practice of shrinking packages in order to avoid raising prices is known as short-sizing.

Short-sizing involves changing the package size of popular items such as breakfast cereal, ice cream, coffee and laundry detergents in order to avoid a substantial raise in retail prices. A traditional half-gallon container of ice cream, for example, may be redesigned to hold only 1 1/2 quarts of actual ice cream, although the dimensions of the carton may not change noticeably. The only outward sign of short-sizing a carton of ice cream may be a slightly slimmer profile when compared to an older carton.

One of the first products subjected to short-sizing was canned coffee. A can of coffee purchased during the 1970s would most likely have weighed a full 16 ounce pound. By the 2000s, the size of an average coffee can could easily be as little as 10 ounces. Because coffee prices have risen dramatically during the intervening years, it is easier for coffee producers to practice short-sizing instead of charging an exorbitant price for a full pound of coffee.

Short-sizing does not work for every consumable product on store shelves, however. Cooks who depend on standard measurements for raw ingredients can still find containers of flour, sugar, pasta and other staples in full-size containers. Other consumables such as canned foods and snacks, however, may appear to be in standard size packages, but the weight has been reduced by a few ounces. Food manufacturers are not required to disclose the practice of short-sizing; it is the responsibility of the consumer to compare weights and sizes to see if a one-pound bag of potato chips actually contains a full pound of product.

One way to determine if short-sizing has occurred in a familiar product is to look at the pricing information provided by the grocer. The unit price should reflect the relative amount of money a consumer would pay for similar product amounts. A rise in the unit price without a comparable rise in package size would indicate some short-sizing has occurred. A national brand of potato chips may be the same price as a store brand, for example, but the unit price would reveal if the national brand only contained 12 ounces of chips compared to the store brand's 16 ounces.

Short-sizing is not considered an illegal practice, even without full disclosure, but it can be problematic if the product size becomes noticeably smaller while the price continues to rise. Raising the price for a full-size container may be seen as more honest, but it also raises the possibility of an economic panic if every food company stopped short-sizing altogether. Some products, such as candy or snack foods, can usually be sold in smaller sizes without causing much distress among consumers.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to About Mechanics, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon291212 — On Sep 13, 2012

To the thankfully few people who actually find nothing wrong or deceptive with this shoddy and misleading practice, I'd suggest looking up "Stockholm Syndrome".

By anon18976 — On Oct 03, 2008

Interesting that Mr. Bales would consider this lying when the package weight is clearly marked on all food products.

I've been aware of this for years and, while I didn't really like it, in ice cream at least it seems to be good for my waistline.

When my favorite brand of coffee was suddenly no longer 100% Colombian, and was also shrinking in package size, I decided that it was no longer a good value and switched brands. Even though they didn't announce the change in large red letters on the can, I certainly wasn't surprised, especially as the price of coffee was dramatically rising.

By anon18776 — On Sep 29, 2008

I get very unhappy about can sizes that change when I want to use it in a recipe. A 6 Oz. can of tuna fish from GV is now 5 Oz. Even if the recipe works it cuts down the protein in what I am serving to my family. MLT

By anon18769 — On Sep 29, 2008

I note short sizing with breakfast cereal. The box is large, but it is not full. This is in keeping with the general decline of integrity in our society. Lying and stealing and cheating are widespread and it seems that the people involved do not even have the "grace" to feel guilty about it.

Of course, when a national leader lies under oath and claims that oral sex is not sex, it doesn't set the bar for behavior very high.

Lying is rampant in government officials and especially in politicians running for office. Cheating is common in schools and stealing is common in business. As to adultery and out of wedlock births, both of those are politically correct in these later days. Donald W. Bales

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to About Mechanics, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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