Why does my potato chips not have one less chip in it?
January 10, 2013 6:03 AM   Subscribe

Whenever I eat potato chips, I wonder how the exact number of chips (or actaully, weight) was arrived upon. After all, if they put ONE less chip in my bag of chips, I probably wouldn't notice or care, but it would save them hundreds of thousands of dollars (...probably). So my question is - how do product manufacturers decide on the precise sweet spot that gets them the highest revenue without customers dropping off? Why 35 grams and not 34?
posted by cdenman to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, with a lot of products, they are one of many companies offering the same kind of product to a customer. So chip sizes have to be consistent with what the other chip companies market. If they decide to be a little different by offering more, they often tout this as a 20% More FREE banner (Shampoo does this a lot).

But you really have to keep in mind test marketing and market research. Think of it like beta testing for products. Names, sizes, flavors and packaging are all things that are mocked up and evaluated all over the country to see if they're any good and, more importantly, to see if people will buy them.
posted by inturnaround at 6:14 AM on January 10, 2013

After all, if they put ONE less chip in my bag of chips, I probably wouldn't notice or care, but it would save them hundreds of thousands of dollars (...probably).

Just for the record, you do know that they're not putting chips in individually by hand, right? It's most likely a big automated chip-o-shoveler that someone fits the bag onto, it barfs out the specific weight of chips, and then they swap out for a new bag.

As to how they figured out the weight - it may be a matter of pounds or ounces rather than grams. One pound of chips sounds like a nice, round, even number, so that became the size of a big bag. Eight ounces just sort of empirically sounds chintzy, so....twelve ounces sounds a little more generous for a smaller bag. Also, there probably was a good amount of trial and error while this was being sussed out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:15 AM on January 10, 2013

It would be a hell of a lot more expensive to count chips than to weigh them.

As for why the one size? I don't think you're going to find an answer, it's obviously a balance between what people want and what they want to pay for. Why are cans 12oz?
posted by wrok at 6:15 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

It might also be related to how many calories there are in the bag, e.g. if 1 extra gram pushes the calorie count from 290 to 300.
posted by cranberrymonger at 6:16 AM on January 10, 2013

They actually do play with the weight, tweaking it up and down -- weight is the new price.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:21 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

stupidsexyFlanders: They actually do play with the weight, tweaking it up and down -- weight is the new price.

An NY Times article on the practice.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:27 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

The amount is designed so that you run out of chips when there is about a 1/4th of a bowl of dip left.

Here is a "How it's made" video of a Dorito like chip. A machine allocates the correct amount within a tolerance to each bag.

How the amount is picked, seems to be based on local "round numbers" . A one pound bag of chips or a gallon of milk, or a liter of soda. I am also pretty sure there are all sorts of test marketing done with consumers, against competitors, etc to determine a combination of product size and price point. As stupidsexyFlanders points out, a lot of times they keep the price the same but make the package size smaller to fool the customer into thinking no price increase or it is cheaper than the competitor. That is why when I shop, I look for the price per standard volume. IF there are only 14 ounces in a box, they will still tell you what the price per pound is. It makes sense to look at this even among the same product but differing sizes. Most consumers assume that a larger size is a better deal, but I have seen, with cereal, that that is not the case. It can be cheaper to buy two 16 ounce boxes of Cheerios than one 32 ounce.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:31 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'm not sure if you've noticed, but they have been gradually decreasing the amount of product at the same price for years now. It has been happening with soda, too.
posted by windykites at 6:57 AM on January 10, 2013

In the UK at least, and I suspect in most countries, food regulate stipulate in which quantities it is permissible to sell different products. So, to use your example, it might be permitted to sell crisps (potato chips) in 35g bags (and 50g and 75g bags, say), but no manufacturer is able to sell 34g bags. This kind of regulation, I guess, was created precisely to eliminate the kind of shenanigans you express concern about.
posted by cincinnatus c at 7:01 AM on January 10, 2013

I take that back. A European Directive meant that in 2009 packaging sizes were deregulated in the UK. From 2009, most products (apart from some alcohol) could be sold in any quantities.
posted by cincinnatus c at 7:08 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I suspect with potato chips, specifically, there's probably a minimum size bag (1 oz, maybe .5 oz?) that you can get away with before you start putting, like, three chips in the bag and then people get annoyed. I mean, I guess you could switch to smaller potatoes so you get smaller chips and more of them but that might not be feasible given potato production.
posted by mskyle at 7:38 AM on January 10, 2013

The smaller packaging size of many products seems to be companies' way of doing just that. I was apoplectic when they reduced yogurts from 8 ounces to 6 ounces. And then, just to make a mockery of it all, they called the 6 ounce containers Greek yogurt and tripled the price. Horray marketing!
posted by Happydaz at 7:39 AM on January 10, 2013

cincinnatus c - A while ago Mars announced it was cutting the calorie count per bar of their products, which I can't see being possible unless the actual quantity was reduced. (I remember that being deregulated as bread was sold in weights that weren't multiples of 400g.) I think obesity concerns are going to lead to high calorie food being sold in smaller 'standard' bags in the future. It's already not possible to buy king-size Mars products in the UK.

In the UK - not sure about other countries - there is a little 'e' next to the weight on your bag of crisps, which is to indicate that the 35g or whathaveyou is an approximate rather than actual weight.
posted by mippy at 7:41 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

hey called the 6 ounce containers Greek yogurt and tripled the price.

Greek yoghurt is a specific type of yoghurt, so it would be weird if they'd done this with a thinner, low-fat variety. (In 2004 it was 37p for one store-brand of Greek yog - it's now £1.20. Butter and bagels cost 100% and 50% more respectively - so this is an interesting question. They could sell a pack of 4 bagels instead of five...)
posted by mippy at 7:43 AM on January 10, 2013

It's not sold by number of chips, but by weight. The specific weight they pick depends on their competition, the market, etc. The weight of most grocery products themselves are slowly shrinking though- check out the "grocery shrink ray" feature at The Consumerist. The common tactic is to keep the price and the packaging the same, slightly less product, and hope no one notices.

Also, total aside- but speaking of Greek yogurt, there's a popular kind of faux- Greek yogurt that's "Greek-style" yogurt. Instead of making it the proper way, it's an imitation product created by adding milk powder to regular yogurt to thicken it. It's so common these days that the cheapest greek yogurt is always the imitation kind.
posted by Aliera at 8:58 AM on January 10, 2013

They could sell a pack of 4 bagels instead of five...

You know that bagels used to be in packs of 6, right? They've already done the quantity reduction. The latest thing is reducing the size of each bagel.
posted by CathyG at 10:28 AM on January 10, 2013

Since you're talking potato chips, a food and consumer good, the packaging for this product would fall under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA)

Here's an interesting story about the "Milk Study" from 1997 . . . "This study was undertaken after federal officials received scattered reports from state and local officials of possible short-filling of milk sold in retail stores and served in schools"

These days, I'd say you're more likely to get something that is slightly overweight than underweight - not that some wackadoodle wouldn't try to cheat consumers but weight is one of those things you can't argue about.

If I don't like the taste of Vegamatic Potato Chips, I would not be due a refund (a savvy company might give me one anyway). If I get something that is labeled and sold as 8oz and it weighs 7.3 or 7.7 oz -- then the company has some explaining to do.
posted by jaimystery at 4:57 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

So today I bought a can of chips. The price had increased by $ 0.25, but when I opened it, something seemed odd. The stack seemed shorter and the chips seemed smaller. Sure enough, the formerly 158g can is now 150g. My chips have one less chip. Probably more than one. Happens all the time.
posted by windykites at 5:19 PM on January 18, 2013

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