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Silver linings in a cloud of recession-shrunken products

August 27, 2010|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

Few people have been unscathed by the gnarly fingers of the recession.

The hardest hit have been mangled by lost jobs, homes and savings.

Other have just been grazed by pay freezes amid inflation, reduced or eliminated employer retirement contributions, frozen credit lines or altered insurance coverage.

Perhaps one of the most subtle symptoms of the recession is what I think of as the incredible shrinking product.

In an effort of survive skyrocketing production costs, manufacturers have been faced with a choice: raise product prices or reduce package sizes. Many have opted for the latter.

I first noticed it one day while I was shopping for laundry soap. I was pacing the aisle in search of a regular 100-ounce bottle of my favorite brand. Instead, I found a 50-ouncer priced at about $7 - the same price I typically paid for twice as much.

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A store employee told me the entire detergent industry soon would be following suit. It's twice as concentrated, marketers say. Hmm.

Let's suppose the concentration assertion is true. Color me skeptical, but I bet detergent companies were banking on the idea that humans, as creatures of habit, were going to pour the customary amount of soap into the washing machine to ensure clothes would come out clean. That means double sales for the company, half the value for the customer.

Numerous other products have followed suit. Ice cream packages have shrunken from a half gallon to 1.75 quarts, then even smaller to 1.5 quarts. Yogurt containers have dwindled from 8 ounces to 6, and tuna cans have gone from a standard 6 ounces to 5. Orange juice cartons have gone from 96 to 89 ounces. The trend also hit cereal, chips, chewing gum, paper towels, toilet paper and more.

Surely, there has got to be a silver lining to the recession cloud?

One ray of light that I see comes in the form of bargains on little treats and minor indulgences. As people reduce spending, and sales of non-necessity items decline, some companies are luring customers with enticing deals on goods and services. Here are a few examples.

  • Pizza. As working-class customers found less money in their pockets, pizza sales plummeted. Major pizza chains responded by waging price wars. There was a time when $14 with a coupon for a large pizza was a good deal. Today, several chains are offering large pies with unlimited toppings for $10.

  • Haircuts. As a way to reduce spending, some people are waiting longer between cuts or cutting hair themselves. A few area salons are offering special promotions and substantial discounts to bring customers back.

    WiFi. If you like to go out and browse the Web over coffee but don't like paying a fee for wireless Internet, you're in luck. More and more restaurants and coffee shops are offering free WiFi to get people in the door.

  • Dining out. Fast food restaurants have been offering value or dollar menus for years. Now sit-down chains are getting on board. One Hagerstown franchise offers snacks and meals from all-you-can-eat pancakes to lemon pepper chicken at simple $2, $4, $6 and $8 pricing.

  • Concerts. The industry trade publication Pollstar says compared to this time last year, gross income from the nation's top 100 concerts is down 17 percent. As a result, ticket prices are heading downward. Ticket site LiveNation.com has a limited time offer for $10 concert tickets for acts including Ozzy Osbourne, Stone Temple Pilots and Jonas Brothers.

    If you've got your mind on a particular service or item that's a bit of a luxury, odds are now's the time to find a deal. Consider stashing away a few bucks a week and seek out your little ray of sunshine.

    Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is alnotarianni@aol.com .

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