Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Ice Cream Economics

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ice Cream Economics

Gas isn't the only thing going up in price. I was in the grocery store tonight, and I confirmed a trend I've been noticing recently. Ice cream containers are getting smaller. It used to be that you could get a half gallon of ice cream, a full two quarts. A few years ago, they scaled back to less than that, one-and-three-quarters (or 1.75 for all the numeracists in the readership). I didn't notice the actual transition, so I can't say precisely how long they stayed at that level. But they're now going down to cartons that are only one-and-a-half quarts in size. I've been noticing it in Edy's (which is called Dreyer's on the west coast) special limited edition flavors, but tonight I saw that the regular flavors are shrinking, too. It's actually not hard to catch. Edy's packages its ice cream in thick tubes, so they don't have many options in how to hide the shrinking volume. Perhaps valiantly, they seem to have taken the hit in the height. The one-and-a-half quart cartons are simply about three-quarters of an inch shorter. It's recognizable on its own, but if the new size is packaged next to the old size (and I saw a fair amount of that tonight), there's no way you can fail to notice the difference. I also checked to see what was up with Breyer's, and they're doing the same thing. Breyer's cartons are more rectangular, and so they've got a bit more ability to hide the loss of volume. If you look at the carton straight on, there's not really much to notice. But turn the carton to the side, and its considerably thinner from front to back. When it comes down to it, I guess you just can't hide a shrinkage of 15 percent or so. And like Edy's, there were more one-and-a-half quart packages than one-and-three-quarter quarts. Within a month, I predict, the one-and-three-quarter size will have been phased out altogether.

Oh, and no, they're not dropping the price to match the new size. What are you, crazy?


At 8:46 AM, May 31, 2008, Blogger Stevie T said...

I bet they based this on surveys (not that I know anything about market research). People will accept the smaller size before paying a higher price. Is this some universal principle you learn in Marketing 101?

At 12:44 PM, May 31, 2008, Blogger Jason said...

The ice cream industry takes affirmative steps to solve America's obesity problem and this is the thanks they get!? Some people!

At 6:58 PM, May 31, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a time-honered phenomenon. It takes me back to childhood, when candy bars were either 5 or 10 cents. At some point, the Nestle Crunch bars began to vary in size. Some were smaller than before, but still cost a nickel, while some were a little larger and cost a dime. It all got very confusing at the time and remained so for several years. All I know is that when the dust had settled, candy bars were a quarter. Of course, even those days are far behind us now. My personal preference is that they offer the size I want and charge what they're going to charge. I'll either buy it or I won't. The marketing people, though, have too much at stake to do these things simply. They do quite a job of making it look like they're doing a lot of thinking.

At 9:01 PM, May 31, 2008, Blogger Jason said...

Charles reminds me of a phenomenon I know Doug is familiar with. Comic books started in the 1930s as 64-page magazines sold for a dime. Over the next 20 years, the price stayed at 10 cents but the comics got smaller, until by the early 60s, they were 10 cents for 20-odd pages. Finally, at that point, they decided they couldn't cut the page count and started upping the prices.


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