Tag Archives: Deception Engineering

What’s The Real Secret In Lipton “Recipe Secrets” Soup Mix?

I’ll give you a hint… The secret is not inside the box.

I think the secret might be what they left out. Shhhhhh !!!

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Another Shrinking Product:

Lipton “Recipe Secrets” Soup & Dip Mix

At RoutingByRumor, we love to use Lipton’s “Recipe Secrets” mix in recipes, rather than preparing soup with it. We’re not too pleased that the packages might have shrunk.

We pretty sure that Unilever has shrunk the size of their Lipton Vegetable “Recipe Soup & Dip Mix”. We don’t buy it very often, but if memory serves us correctly, it used to contain two one-ounce packets in a two-packet, 2.0 ounce box. When we bought a box recently, it was nearly impossible to read the weight printed in the box. Take a look at the box above. Do you think Unilever, the owner of the Lipton brand is trying to camouflage something here, or is that just a printing problem? Don’t you think it’s just a bit suspicious that the net weight statement happens to be printed where it partially blends in with the varigated background of the bowl of soup, instead of printing it over a solid background, where it could be easily read?

Notice the solid color, high contrast background behind the easy-to-read statement that claims “Also Great for Slow Cookers!”. As other websites have pointed out, a common ploy when shrinking the contents of a product is to place some eye-catching graphics or announcement on the package, to draw your attention away from the shrinking content statement, whether it is a lower weight, item count, square footage, etc.

If they have indeed shrunk the size of their Recipe Secrets dry soup mix, then it seems to us at RoutingByRumor that their Deception Engineering department could have done a much better job on the packaging. It’s so hard to read the package weight that it’s pretty obvious they might be trying to hide something here.

We don’t have an older package to compare this to, so if any readers of this blog have an older 2.0 ounce package of Lipton Recipe Secrets soup mix to compare this with, we would appreciate your comments, and if possible, a scanned image of the front of the box. We will post your box here for comparison.

If indeed Unilever has shrunk the size of their Lipton Recipe Secrets soup mix from 2.0 ounces to 1.8 ounces, that is a full 10% reduction in what you’re getting for your money, assuming that the package price has not gone up. To add insult to injury, the 0.9 ounce packets (two per box) of soup mix are now very thin, flimsy, metalized plastic, instead of the much more sturdy paper and foil envelopes that the mix used to come in. Perhaps Unilever will tell you they improved the packaging, but for my money, I’d rather have foil laminated paper envelopes instead of plastic. Paper is a renewable resource, unlike plastic, which is made from petroleum, and probably takes a zillion years to decompose in a landfill. If your trash is incinerated, do you want to be breathing in the waste products produced by burning plastic? I’m sure the switch to plastic has lowered Unilever’s packaging costs. Wouldn’t it have been nice if they passed on the savings to consumers, or used the lower cost of materials to INCREASE the size of their soup mix instead if shrinking it?

Are the ingredients in Lipton’s Vegetable Soup & Dip Mix so costly that they were forced to shrink the size of the package? They aggregate the (dehydrated) vegetable ingredients as the first item on the ingredient list (carrots, cabbage, onions, leeks, peas, green bell peppers, red bell peppers and tomatoes). The second most prevalent ingredient is salt, which as you probably know, is nearly as costly as gold and platinum. Give me a break.

Lipton’s nutrition panel lists over 3100 mg of sodium per box (>5 servings with 610 mg sodium per serving). Considering the fact that sodium is only part of the weight of table salt (NaCl contains Sodium and Chlorine atoms), my guess is that if they did not aggregate the vegetables on the ingredient list, that sodium would be the first ingredient listed (in descending order of predominance, by weight). Bear in mind that, atomically speaking, table salt is almost exactly 40% sodium and 60% chlorine by weight. That means that the 3,100 mg of sodium per box (as per the nutrition label) equates to approximately 7,800 mg of table salt per box. So, when you think of it, getting less soup mix, besides meaning less soup mix, also means less sodium, which means less hypertension (ie: lower blood pressure) for Lipton’s consumers. Thanks, Unilever !!! We’re feeling healthier already.

If our hunch is correct, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that other Unilever brands are shrinking also. See our previous post about the incredible shrinking bottles of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise (known as Best Foods Mayonnaise, West of The Rockies), another brand brought to you by Unilever.

As is our policy at RoutingByRumor, if Unilever wishes to comment, we will be happy to post their statement here, unedited, and correct any factual mistakes in this article.

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Unilever Is Shrinking It’s Products. Don’t Be Fooled.

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Johnny Carson as “Carnac The Magnificent”

Another Shrinking Product:

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise

Carnac The Magnificent” was that all-seeing, all-knowing clairvoyant character played by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Carnac was able to devine the answers to questions given to him in sealed envelopes which his sidekick, Ed McMahon always explained, had been stored in a hermetically sealed mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnalls’ porch since Noon, yesterday (see “Carnac The Magnificent” on youtube.com).

Today, Ed McMahon might have trouble placing those envelopes in Hellmann’s mayonnaise jars. Like many other food products, the jars of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise (and I would guess, Unilever’s Best Foods Mayonnaise, as it is known “West of the Rockies”) are shrinking. Apparently, Unilever, the owner of the Hellmann’s and Best Foods brands, felt it was no longer able to continue selling the standard quart sized jar of mayonnaise. I think that the benchmark quart-sized jar of Hellmanns Mayonnaise was untinkered with as far back as anyone can remember. Lately, the container or package sizes that many food products have traditionally been sold in, whether it’s pound, liter, gallon, half-gallon, quart, pint, or dozen sized boxes, jars or bottles, are becoming extinct. Manufacturers use downsizing alone, or in conjunction with price increases and/or less expensive formulations, to raise the true cost of their products. You know, I could swallow the fact a little easier if they didn’t have to resort to deception engineering in an attempt to hide the fact that they’ve downsized their products.

George Bush told us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It was one of the justifications for the United States’ decision to invade Iraq. Those weapons have never been found in Iraq (see Iraq in the CIA‘s World Fact Book). Has anyone thought to look under the jars of Hellmann’s and Best Foods Mayonnaise in Saddam’s palaces?

That’s right. I said UNDER the mayonnaise jars, not in them.

In what appears to me to be an effort to deceive consumers, Unilever, the company that makes Hellmann’s and Best Foods Mayonnaise, has redesigned the jars (at least on their Hellmann’s brand) to hide the fact that they now contain less product. Unilever has used deception engineering to design a jar with a deeply concave bottom. I don’t think there’s a single legitimate reason for this, other than to make the jar appear to contain more mayonnaise than it actually does. You could probably hide half of a tennis ball under these jars. What was previously their 32 ounce (1 quart) jar is now 30 ounces, a reduction of almost seven percent. They have also switched from glass to plastic jars in recent years. I don’t know about you, but I prefer glass. I also believe glass jars (for any product) are more environmentally friendly. I doubt that most manufacturer’s packaging choices are driven as much by environmental factors as by cost, and plastic bottles and jars are currently less expensive than glass. Plastic bags are cheaper than paper bags, so most supermarkets prefer to use plastic despite the environmental impact.

To make matters even worse, we have noticed that our last few jars of Hellmanns Mayonnaise did not taste or look the same as it always did. It’s not as stiff or thick a consistency as it always was. I thought this was just my imagination until I started finding complaints posted on the Web about Unilever making changes to the Hellmanns Mayonnaise recipe. The postings I’ve read say that Unilever has acknowledged changing their recipe. This is blasphemy. What is wrong with the people at Unilever? They were apparently not content with giving consumers less in terms of volume, so they screwed with the recipe too? How much do you want to bet the recipe change was done to save Unilever money? Shortsighted, and just plain dumb, if you ask me. They must have geniuses running the company. When you have a product as successful and as instantly recognizable as Hellmanns Mayonnaise, you don’t mess with it. It’s an American classic (or at least it was). Perhaps nobody at Unilever cares. They’ll just run the brand into the ground, and sell it to another company when it’s no longer profitable. The financial analysts will proclaim what a great strategic business move it was, and Unilever’s Board of Directors will approve a salary increase for the CEO, who will fly the coop anyway, for an even higher paying job at another company.

Getting back to Iraq, if I were Saddam, I might have been tempted to hide any nerve gas, plutonium, anthrax, or other weapons of mass destruction I had under my Hellmann’s Mayonnaise jars. Honestly, who would think of looking there? The UN weapons inspectors were busy searching underground bunkers, military facilities and chemical plants. Placing those weapons under the Hellmann’s jars would have been the ultimate shell game.

Can’t find your car keys? Is one of your children missing? Unable to locate that remote control? Look under your jar of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise.

Trying to get rid of some dirt? Don’t sweep it under the rug. Put it under the jar of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. Kids… did you get a report card that you don’t want your parents to see? You know where to hide it.

Those nice people at Unilever must have thought they could get this one past consumers. I mean, who ever looks UNDER the jar?

We do.

You might want to thank Unilever for being considerate enough to lighten their jars of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, and making them so much easier to carry. If you’re in the USA, you can contact Unilever at the number printed on the label, 1(800) 418-3275 with your comments. Don’t forget to say “Thank You”. You can even speak to them in Spanish, since the label says “Se habla Espanol”. Tell them “Mucho Gracias from RoutingByRumor”, por favor. Also, ask them why the name of their Mayonnaise changes when it travels over the Rocky Mountains. My guess is that it has something to do with atmospheric pressure.

And next time you’re shopping, you might want to buy another brand that still comes in a full quart jar, and which still tastes as good as it used to.

To summarize, in my opinion…

– Jars of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise are now smaller.

– You get less Hellmann’s Mayonnaise for your money.

– Hellmann’s Mayonnaise does not taste as good.

– Hellmann’s Mayonnaise consistency has changed.

– The Hellmann’s Mayonnaise plastic jar does not protect it’s taste, quality or the environment as well as a glass jar.

– The Hellmann’s Mayonnaise packaging is deceptive.

– Unilever has lowered the quality and quantity of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise.

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Shrinking Products – Pay More, Get Less !

This is the first installment of what will be a continuing category of articles from RoutingByRumor. We will be documenting the most egregious examples of popular consumer products that are shrinking, being downsized or otherwise reduced in quantity or quality by manufacturers often employing “deception engineering” in an attempt to hide the changes from consumers.

Shrinking Product # 1 – Scott Toilet Tissue

Perhaps the most visible and distressing shrinking product category is paper products. Paper manufacturing requires large amounts of energy and water, and transportation costs represent a larger portion of the finished product’s price than most products. Because of their weight and bulk, paper products are particularly vulnerable to increased energy, transportation and raw materials costs.

The result has been ever decreasing quality and quantity of tissues, toilet paper and paper towels, to name just a few paper products. One of the largest manufacturers, Scott / Kimberly-Clark of Neenah, Wisconsin, has responded by a series of price increases and successive product downsizing.

Focusing on one Scott product, toilet tissue, we will examine some of the tactics Scott has employed in am attempt to camouflage the fact that you are paying much more for much less. One of Scott’s flagship products is the 1000-sheet roll of tiolet tissue. In the last few years, the retail price of a 1000 sheet roll of Scott toilet paper has roughly doubled, from about 45 cents (US) to about 90 cents. But the price increase only tells part of the story.

While Scott still advertises (in my opinion, deceptively) that it still contains 1000 sheets per roll, a roll of Scott tissue is substantially narrower and shorter than it was a few years ago. Since I started keeping track, the size of each individual sheet has gone from 4.5 x 4.4 inches (19.8 square inches), to 4.5 x 3.7 inches (16.65 square inches). Each time Kimberly-Clark has downsized the roll of ScottTissue, it has shrunk by almost ten percent. While I am not absolutely certain about this, I believe that if you go even further back in time, the standard toilet paper roll was 5 inches wide. I believe the tissue is substantially thinner, and in my opinion, much lower quality than it was previously. Another attempt to hide the reduction in quantity is to wind the roll on a much larger diameter paper tube, and to emboss the tissue, adding bulk without adding paper, so the outside circumference of the roll appears larger. Another indication of the decreasing amount of tissue on each roll is weight. Pick up a 6-pack or 12-pack of toilet paper these days, and it feels like it weighs perhaps half as much as it did a few years ago (some other brands are even worse).

In my opinion, the most insidious part of this is not that you are paying more per roll. It’s that because you are getting less in each roll, they are forcing you to buy more and more rolls (assuming that your consumption remains constant). It’s like the oil companies figuring out how to produce gasoline that provides lower and lower miles-per-gallon, forcing you to fill up more often, on top of the fact that the price-per-gallon keeps going up! Reducing a product’s size or yield masks the true extent of a price increase.

You are paying about double, but qetting 15-20% less than you did a few years ago, of a product I believe is substantially lower in quality. While Scott does not disclose the percentage of recycled fibers in their toilet tissue (or in any of their other products, to my knowledge), I have to believe their toilet paper is either made from 100% recycled paper, or it is made from predominately recycled fibers. I base this conclusion partly on the fact that when it comes in contact with water, it disintegrates instantly. I believe that is an indication that the length of the cellulose fibers is extremely short, and indicative of recycled fibers.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes. Without getting too graphic, I believe the efficacy of Scott toilet tissue has decreased substantially as a result of Scott’s tinkering with the recipe, if you will. Certainly, there is a lower limit, at which a product’s size, quality and value will drive consumers to choose a competing product. My guess is that for some consumers, that limit has already been reached by Scott / Kimberly-Clark. I guess manufacturers try to find out what that limit is, without exceeding it.

Here’s some photos of the “Incredible Shrinking Roll” of ScottTissue.

(Note that the most recent wrapper below no longer unequivocally says “Made In USA”, but rather states “Made in USA of domestic and imported materials”, and fails to provide further details as to what percentage of the product is domestically sourced.)

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1000 sheets @ 4.5″ x 4.4″ = 137.5 square feet scott-45x40.jpg
1000 sheets @ 4.5″ x 4.0″ = 125 square feet

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1000 sheets @ 4.5″ x 3.7″ = 115.2 square feet

LATE BREAKING NEWS…

Dateline: June 8, 2008

CVS Stores has just beaten Scott Paper in the race to create the world’s smallest roll of toilet paper.  Read all about it here.

– Routing By Rumor

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Deception Engineering

I wonder how long it will be before MIT, Caltech, and other engineering schools add a new degree to their curricula, BSDE (Bachelor of Science in Deception Engineering), right along with their highly respected programs in mechanical, electronic, computer and chemical engineering.

Granted, the program will probably have a friendlier title, such as “Product Engineering”, or it will be a concentration within their Industrial Engineering programs. Some schools might already be offering courses in this technology, because there is certainly a demand for workers skilled in this field.

If you haven’t noticed, consumer product manufacturers are using every trick they can come up with to hide the fact that you are paying more for less. My guess is that there are entire departments at some companies that research how to avoid or minimize consumer perception of shrinking products, whether through creative marketing, deceptive packaging, or playing games with package weights or product quantities. If you walked through their corporate offices, I don’t think you’ll find a door that says “DECEPTION ENGINEERING LAB”, but you can be certain it’s there somewhere, in some form.

Here’s just a few examples I’ve noted within the last few years…

Ice cream: The standard half gallon (that’s a two quart) ice cream container has been downsized by nearly all brands to between 1.5 and 1.75 quarts. It seems that manufacturers have resorted to several new package shapes to try and camouflage the fact that you are getting less product.

Soda: The 2 liter soda bottle has shrunk to 1.5 liters in many cases. Brands like Coca-Cola have come up with interesting names for their new packaging, like “Smooth Serve”, and introduced different bottle shapes. But less is less, no matter how you slice it.

Paper products: Even though they aren’t sold by weight, have you noticed how packages of toilet paper, paper towels and tissues are getting lighter and lighter, and run out sooner and sooner? No, it’s not your imagination. Mr. Whipple must be turning over in his grave. Take Scott toilet tissue, a brand that I feel is still one of the better values out there. Their flagship product has always been 1000 sheets per roll, and it still is. But the size of those sheets has shrunk substantially in both width and length (and some would argue, in quality and strength) over the last few years. Yet they still advertise “1000 sheets per roll”. That’s sort of like saying a loaf of bread is still a full pound, but redefining a pound as being 13 ounces. It’s deceptive marketing, pure and simple. And I’m sick and tired of having to clean myself up after sneezing into tissues. Lint and bits of paper all over my shirt, because the tissues disintegrate when you sneeze into them.

Snack foods: Ever wonder why your bag of potato or corn chips, cheese doodles, etc. is two-thirds empty when you open it? I have too. An example… that 8 ounce bag of chips and other snacks have pretty much universally shrunk to 5 ounces, 4.5 ounces, 4.25 ounces, and even less. That’s about half as much for the same or higher price. At least air has zero grams of trans-fat, and zero calories per serving.

Candy: I’m a chocoholic. I love Hershey’s chocolate, but that 1 pound bag of Hershey’s chocolates has been shrinking and shrinking over the last couple of years. Most of their products I see in the supermarket are now down to between 10 and 11 ounces. And no, it’s not just Hershey’s chocolates that are shrinking, but they are my favorite.

Yogurt: The 8 ounce container was the standard for as long as I can remember. Try to find it today. Almost all brands have switched to 6 ounce containers, with some as light as 4 ounces. Most interesting to me is the lengths some brands have gone to in an attempt to make their containers look bigger, such as false bottoms, cups big enough to hold 8 ounces , but which contain only 6 ounces, tapered cups, etc.

Cheese: I’ve noticed that most brands of prepackaged, sliced cheeses (Munster, Swiss, Provolone, etc.) that used to be sold in 8 ounce packages have shrunk to 6 ounces lately.

Canned vegetables: Just try and find a 16 ounce (one pound) can of anything anymore.

The above examples only scratch the surface. It’s not limited to one category of food or other product, or to one brand. Shrinking products are everywhere. It’s an epidemic.

In searching for other websites that document shrinking or downsized products, I stumbled upon mouseprint.org. It’s a wonderful site, especially their food /groceries category. Check it out !

And forget the advice about “Plastics” given to Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin Braddock, in Mike Nichols’ 1967 film “The Graduate”. My advice, Benjamin, is “Deception Engineering”.

The impact of deception engineering on everyday life, and on our shopping habits is becoming so great that RoutingByRumor has started a Shrinking Products category on this blog, where we will spotlight some of the best examples (or maybe that’s the worst examples) of shrinking products and how manufacturers are trying to deceive consumers.

I did a few web searches for “deception engineering”, but didn’t find anything. Perhaps this will be my claim to fame… having coined that phrase. Maybe some engineering school will honor me by creating the RoutingbyRumor School of Deception Engineering.

Ya never know.

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