Hershey’s, as one example, is using vegetable oil for a portion of the cocoa butter traditionally used in some of its chocolates, a move which has led to some complaints.
Spice maker McCormick & Co. is now supplying food companies with cheaper spices. They are providing Mexican oregano instead of the pricier Mediterranean variety, and garlic concentrate instead of garlic cloves, which are heavier and costlier to ship.
Feeling the pain from rising gas prices, more and more U.S. consumers are taking steps to compensate for the price of their commutes. According to recent research from The Nielsen Company, 63 percent of consumers are now reducing their spending on other consumer goods, including food. Their research also found that 78 percent of consumers are combining shopping trips; 52 percent are now eating out less, and 51 percent stay home more often than before.
But consumers aren’t the only ones trying to squeeze more out of each dollar.
Not only has gas been “watered-down” with 10 percent ethanol without showing a noticeable decrease in price, but food manufacturers have also adopted new ways of reducing their spending and increasing profits.
Honey, They Shrunk Our Groceries
You may not have realized this, but many food products are mysteriously shrinking in content – some while increasing the size of the package at the same time! – in an effort to trick you into believing prices have remained the same, or worse; that you’re actually getting a better deal than before.
Mouseprint.org, a web site devoted to "exposing the strings and catches buried in the fine print," has also caught on, listing examples of products that are now smaller than previously, while price remains the same (or higher).
Rather than raising prices, many companies opt for the less obvious route of reducing content. But you’re still spending more money for what you’re getting.
Oftentimes these changes are small enough that you won’t notice them unless you actually read the labels. A quick glance at mayonnaise jars, for example, may not immediately reveal a size difference, but some are now sold in 30-ounce jars, slightly less than the standard 32-ounce containers without being visibly smaller.
Fill ‘Er Up!
In September of 2007 I ran a story about the industry campaign to allow vegetable oil to be substituted for cocoa butter and still be called chocolate. About a dozen food industry groups pushed to change the long standing federal standards to allow cocoa butter to be replaced with up to five percent of another vegetable fat, which can save chocolate manufacturers millions of dollars. (The European Union has already used a five percent vegetable oil ceiling in their chocolate since 2003.)
America’s largest candy maker, Hershey’s, known for their Hershey’s chocolate bars, bite-sized Kisses, and Reese’s peanut butter cups are now substituting a portion of their cocoa butter with vegetable oil. But they’re also raising wholesale prices by 11 percent, their second increase this year.
Hershey’s claims the increases are necessary to offset the rise in cost of raw materials like sugar, cocoa and peanuts, which have risen as much as 45 percent since the beginning of the year.
Other cheap fillers finding their way into more and more of your packaged foods include soy protein and rice bran.
According to Michael Considine, an executive at the Minnesota grain company CHS Inc., their company has increased the volume of soy protein sales to major food companies by 10 percent just in the last two years.
And another ingredient supplier, NutraCea Inc., has reported an increased demand from food makers for its rice bran. Rice bran is a rice-milling byproduct that, until about 20 years ago, was considered fit only for animal consumption.
Despite the increased use of inexpensive filler materials, most of your processed foods still cost the same, if not more. In fact, data from AC Nielsen show that food companies raised prices across 35 key product categories by 7.3 percent over the 12-week period ending Aug. 9.
Restaurants, too, are fiddling with the ingredients of their dishes. Sysco Corp., America’s largest food-service company by sales, has been working with restaurants to make cost-saving changes like replacing butter with oil/butter blends.
A Cheap Steak By Any Other Name is Still a Cheap Steak
Other companies are dressing up their lower-end products to make them seem more appetizing. For example, Cargill Inc. introduced cheaper cuts of meat with fancy-sounding names to supermarkets in July; with names like Maranada steak (flank steak), Marbello steak (skirt steak) and Cordelico sirloin (flap meat), these less tender cuts suddenly have a gourmet flair.
How to Avoid Being Deceived in the Supermarket
Most of these alterations can only be spotted in the fine print of the package's ingredient’s list, so as I’ve said on many occasions, you simply must read the labels of the products you buy.
Your best bet however, is to avoid most all processed foods entirely. They’re mostly devoid of nutrients, and loaded with fillers and artificial ingredients. In the end, they end up costing you more, not just in grocery bills, but in future medical expenses as well as they will inevitably destroy your health.
For more information on where and how to purchase truly healthy foods, how to plan healthy meals and save money in the process, please review my Related Articles below.