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Grocery costs grow as packaged products shrivel

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Greg Peck
March 13, 2014

A story in Sunday’s Gazette reported that the unrelenting drought that has battered much of the Great Plains, California and Texas has prompted farmers and ranchers to shrink their herds. The result? Uncle Sam tells us that the price of beef soared to $5.04 per pound in January, highest ever in records dating to 1987.

I was watching a brief TV report on ABC Wednesday morning that suggested wholesale prices of breakfast staples—coffee, milk, eggs and bacon—are also rising, and those soon will push prices at your favorite eatery.

The news just seems to keep getting tougher for people already feeling the pocketbook pinch.

As I’m sure you've realized, many grocery products are coming in smaller packages. I noticed family-size packages of potato chips and other snack foods shrank in recent years. A recognition among producers of smaller family sizes? An attempt to help us reduce obesity?

Surely you jest.

Instead, it’s a sneaky way to reduce their costs for each package. You get less product in a “family size” package, and the company saves money—so long as you don’t switch to a competitor’s product.

I’ve noticed my boxes of cereal also shriveled in recent years.

I shop for groceries in our household, and one way to save is to clip coupons out of the Sunday Gazette. During a recent visit with my parents, I was surprised when they told me they don’t do likewise.

“Checkout workers don’t like to deal with coupons,” Dad reasoned.

“So what?” I replied. “They don’t complain to me about having to do so.”

I told him I regularly save several dollars by clipping coupons. Sometimes I’ll clip a coupon and sample a product I don’t buy regularly. I had such a coupon last weekend but considered the purchase price still too high, so I tossed the coupon rather than tossing the product in my cart. I wound up using coupons only for products I buy routinely and still cut my bill by more than $7.

One coupon was for Dean’s cottage cheese. The 50-cent coupon also was good for Dean's sour cream or dip, items I rarely buy. I do buy a tub of cottage cheese during my regular stock-up trip every two weeks, however. I switch from one brand to the next, depending on prices. With this coupon, I went with Dean’s, which came in a newly shaped tub. Before buying it, however, I checked the number of ounces. Sure enough—it was 22 ounces while the competition still offers 24. I pointed out that sneaky little change to a fellow shopper as we surveyed the options. Still, saving 50 cents made Dean’s per-ounce price less. But if I don’t have a coupon in the future and Dean’s price per tub mirrors those offering 24 ounces, Dean’s won’t get my money.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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