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Food items shrink -- but prices don't

Itty-bitty burgers, 2-bite tacos and teeny-tiny pizzas are a long way from the 'supersize it' era. But what are you paying for cuteness?

By Donna_Freedman Feb 28, 2013 5:13PM
Logo: Family eating burgers (Bananastock/Jupiterimages)How do you sell a small product for a large price? Give it a cute name. For example, pubs and restaurants sell itty-bitty burgers for surprisingly non-itty-bitty prices by calling them "sliders."

The baby burgers are generally adorable. But while some are gourmet, others aren't much different from White Castle or Krystal burgers -- and no one but hipsters would pay extra money for a two-bite snack. (Irony is the best sauce.)

Now comes Pizza Hut with a new product, "Big Pizza Sliders" -- downsized personal pan pizzas that measure 3½ inches across and weigh slightly less than a slice from a large pie. You can buy three for $5 or nine for $10. Pizzas the size of hockey pucks are a great way to hit "target price points," as Vanessa Wong of Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported
"Pizza Hut isn't entirely focused on helping diners eat less -- sure, you can get a modest order of three, but the sliders also come in boxes of nine.

"Sizing down does help the chain control costs amid rising commodities prices. 'The cost of sale for this product is better than a large pizza,' says spokesman Doug Terfehr.

"Terfehr says, however, that the main consideration behind the sliders is not cost but providing more customization, as customers can choose up to three different combos with up to three toppings each per order (a pie can have different toppings only on each half)."
You may feel that $10 isn't too much to pay for snacks for your crew. However, you're spending the same amount of money and getting a little less food.

Notice the pricing structure, too: three for $5 or nine for $10. It's pretty easy for a consumer to think, "Hey, I'll get three extra sliders if I pay $10 instead of $5!" But do you really need nine? More to the point: Will buying nine get you in the habit of wanting nine?

Weighing the options

The customization aspect does appeal to the "I hate pepperoni!" 4-year-old in the bunch. Of course, you could also just a half-pepperoni medium pizza and tell the carnivores to fill up on non-meaty slices if they're still hungry.

The article notes that other companies are also bringing in smaller menu items. A 5.2-ounce order of Fish McBites at McDonald's costs $3.69, versus a Filet-O-Fish sandwich for $3.99. You can get four mini-tacos for $1 at 7-Eleven.
I think that cute food plays with our heads, i.e., small = lower in calories. Exhibit A: the success of those 100-calorie packs of cookies and crackers. We love thinking that such snacks could be "healthy." After all, they're only 100 calories!

Ditto the Big Sliders. How many calories could be packed into such a teeny-tiny pizza, anyway? (Answer: 230 to 350, depending on the variety.)

But how likely are we to eat only one 100-calorie pack, or one slider? A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people actually consumed less of a larger package of fatty/sugary/salty (aka, delicious) product. Self-regulatory behavior "had no consumption effects when tempting products came in small package formats."

Yes, some people have self-control. The rest will find that one slider isn't enough for a snack. They'll want two. But then their partners or kids want two, so it'll be necessary to buy two orders -- and since two orders cost $10, it makes sense to get the nine-piece order for the same money.

How long before a nine-piece order becomes pretty easy for two or three people to eat? Now you've established a habit that will likely last long after the $10 price goes up.

I'm going to show my age here: Anyone remember the old potato-chip commercial, "Betcha can't eat just one?" Apparently plenty of us can't eat just one 100-calorie cookie packet, one single-serving bag of taco chips -- or, likely, one slider.

Since prices aren't likely to go down and serving sizes aren't likely to go up, it behooves consumers to remain vigilant. Buying small-bite items is totally up to you, as long as it fits in your budget. Just be aware what you're paying for and how much you are -- or aren't -- getting.

More on MSN Money:

I've been seeing different products of food & paper goods shrinking for years now. For instance dial soap in packs of 8 are still the same price but when you take the covering off the soap there is a big indent in the bottom of the soap. 

Baby food has a big indent in the bottom of the jars so the food is quite a bit less for the same money of course. Bottles of scope are made fancier but hold much less then the bottles of a few years ago, also for the same price.

I could go on & on. Raising the prices for the food would have been much better then to try & fool the people.
Feb 28, 2013 8:54PM
Kind of like Salaries shrink, taxes don't.
Mar 1, 2013 4:24AM
I'd rather have them leave the size the same and up the price.  When I buy a half gallon of ice cream that's what I want.  I'd rather pay a few more cents than have to buy two.

Same for tuna,  a can is so small now that it hardly makes one sandwich.   Two cans is too much for two sandwiches and not enough for three.  

When I buy a pound of bacon --I want a pound not 12 ounces.   
When I buy a can of coffee I want 3 lbs not 27 or 33 ounces.

Mar 1, 2013 2:08AM
That's inflation in action, less for more.  Bernake is lying when he says it's under control and everyone knows it.
Feb 28, 2013 7:55PM

 I see a lot of items labeled in Grams instead of pounds to coffee is still the same size can but less coffee..or everything that used to be a now 12 ozs. Placing "lift" trays under meats and such to make it look more..then dropping it from 12 ozs to 9 or 9 to 6. And anything they can pump air or water into has been done..I see meats with 20% water added. Of course with hamburger at the price of steaks..we are all on a diet unless you bought stock in Yahoo the year it opened.


 Now they are talking about approving Aspertame and other artificial sweeteners in milk and milk products to get the youth to drink more. Then they can add water too and who would know ? Aspertame powder make a good ant poison by the way.

Mar 1, 2013 6:40AM
I was working at a grocery store the last few years so this article was not news to me.

Seemed like they were slowly shrinking the sizes of everything in there!

They are also raising the prices of things.  I'm not sure why the article made it sound like they are downsizing instead of raising prices, because they are most certainly doing both.

Not to mention filling the products with more and more water and fillers...

Even if you get 1 full pound of turkey, watch out, because if it is heritage farms turkey, the stuff is only like 50% turkey.

Mar 1, 2013 12:08AM
Wait a minute here. I think the author got this wrong. Yeah, the boxes and packages are getting smaller, but the prices inch up a few cents at a time. First they come out with a teaser price for about a month, then when you are hooked that same package you got at $2.00 is now $3.29. You will also notice that the contents also shrunk. Okay let say for instance, a bag of potato chips. There use to be 9 oz in that bag. It is the same bag, but less contents. That equals to about two baked potatoes sliced into thin slices fried in vegetable oil. Gee Whiz, you can do that at home. You can also make your own corn chips and all the candy bars you want in your kitchen. Why would you pay more for less? Grow your own food, and save for a rainy day. There is a book people can buy that is called a cookbook and they have all the nutrious food in there that you can ever want. One of the things that is going big now is canning you own food. Maybe your grandma or great grandma will help you can. You can also freeze food too. Forget the junk and grow you own and get the kids to help. Family fun.
Mar 1, 2013 7:25AM
If there is a way they can rip you off, I assure you they WILL find it....
Mar 1, 2013 2:53AM
I've noticed my Digiorno Pizzas getting smaller and smaller.  Its supposed to be a medium pizza its starting to get closer to the size of a personal pizza.  Is it just me?
Mar 1, 2013 6:17AM

like everyone else, this is nothing new, other than its getting ridiculous! because not only has the amount shrunk, but yes the prices have gone up! it isnt that we are used to this, or we accept it without notice, but we are powerless to do anything about it... if you want it, need it, you buy it.

 coffee, to fast food, and on it goes. same price for less, or more for less, thinking everyone is either stupid, or just a sheeple, its all a matter of who is making out, and for years the idea of fair trade between buisness and consumer has faded out of exsistance. a trip to the store where one could live a single life on $40 modestly eat healthy has turned into $100. maybe 10-13 years ago, but looking at the difference in those years from today is insane! with international free trade, these prices should have and be dropping...

Mar 1, 2013 1:52AM
These are ridiculous. Just make it bigger and charge me more..Don't try to deceive me.
Mar 1, 2013 8:54AM

we got punked by the food industry.  why didnt we see it coming?  It was the food industry who, not long ago, put out all these false articles about how large the portions were in restaurant meals, and how much we were all over-eating.  That was a set-up, not a coincidence.


Recently I was at a steakhouse Texas Lone-Star (it was in northern VA 22314).  The server brought me a delmonico steak looked like it was 3 (yes, three) ounces.  I asked him where the rest of it was hiding.  On another visit I sent back a serving (a mere sliver) of salmon that was clearly not what was pictured on their menu.


Dont play with me at meal time.  Bring it or keep it altogether.

Mar 1, 2013 7:08AM
Mar 1, 2013 8:54AM
I always know when the products are about to down size.  The label says "Still 16 oz" or still the same pieces.  Then 2-3 weeks later the labels say "New or Improved or some such silliness"  and the package has shrunk, the weight or amount of pieces in the package are well hidden.

And then there are the "New Better Tasting" that just means the ingredients have changed to cheaper quality, less product, more money.  We aren't supposed to notice that one.

Do the manufacturers think we are that stupid?  Or do they think if they say it long enough we will really believe them.  It's kind of like an educational technique;  Fling enough S__T against the wall and hope people won't figure it out.


Hate it!! you buy chips from Traders joes or the popcorn.. the bag is onlt half full. When I was a kid a box of mac and cheese when cooked, was enough for 3 hungry kids to each have a pile of seconds. It barely gives you a serving for two not so hungry kids. Personally I rather they had raised the prices

Mar 1, 2013 9:10AM
Not only shrinking size, but cutting or eliminating expensive ingredients Like substituting soy for meat, apple juice for orange, adding more water, etc, etc
Less product for more money? Is this supposed to be something new?  DUH!
Mar 1, 2013 2:39AM

Though a lot of stuff is shrinking in package size, even as the prices remain the same; actually it's a round about way to introduce inflation so that it doesn't look like inflation (as a flat out price increase would); I'm not sure the pizza sliders example would fit the bill.  It depends what Pizza Hut charges per slice, if one were to buy pizza by the slice.  Though I don't eat at Pizza Hut (maybe they're a little lower), living in Jersey and all, I can say that for a pepperoni (1 topping) slice, pizzereas I see do charge more then $2.50 per slice.  2 slices would be more then $5 as such...  Slightly less then 3?  Hmm...


If 9 is equivallent to 8 slices (slightly less then 1 slice per)?  Is their 16 inch pizza less then $10?  If not, the prices would be comporable IN THIS CASE.  That said, yes food package sizes and all have gotten smaller, look at eggs for instance, where extra large today is not what it was years/decades ago for example.  I seem to remember Cracker Barrel cheese used to come in 12 ounce packages, now it's 8 ounce, and the price is slightly higher too.  So umm, yeah in general, but maybe not the best example if these prices would be on par to what one would pay to buy by the slice, or buy a whole pie, respective.  The real question in this case would be if 9 sliders is less then 8 slices of a 16" pie, or if 3 sliders is less then 2 slices of pizza.  How much less then a slice, basically...

Feb 28, 2013 6:26PM
I think something should be pointed out with regard to the Pizza Sliders that a Pizza Hut pizza is cut into eight slices.  So having NINE sliders, from the standpoint of what you get, isn't that much less than an EIGHT slice pizza.  It would depend on how much smaller a slider is from a slice.  Based on the calorie counts, it isn't much, as a large multi-topping pizza is listed at roughly 350 calories a slice.  It might be a better deal than you think.  The three for $5 is basically an IQ test (or possibly a way to test it out relatively cheaply if you want to be nice about it).
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.