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#25408 - 03/15/13 01:22 AM The Degraded Products Thread
artie505 Online


Registered: 08/04/09
I've been meaning to start this thread for quite some time and have finally overcome whichever of Newton's laws (I haven't got the energy to search. grin ) has been holding me back.

We've all watched prices go up and quantities down in deference to the bottom line, but I've noticed a new, disturbing trend in recent years…product degradation.

The first instance I ran across was when rapeseed oil found its way into peanut butter, which I noticed instantly the first time I bit into a Ritz Peanut Butter Mini-Cracker containing it… YEEECH!!! (My 1966 Random House Unabridged dictionary defines rapeseed oil as a lubricant and illuminant, with no mention of any food potentialities, let alone usage.)

2. When M&M-Mars introduced their new blue M&Ms, along with them they introduced "lake," metal based, dyes as an accompaniment to, if not substitute for, the vegetable based dyes they had used since time immemorial; the result is a nasty aftertaste.

3. I first notice decreased flavoring in Strawberry Twizzlers, and I've now found it in Walgreens branded circus peanuts; in addition to the obvious benefit of reducing the amount of costly ingredients, this results in a less satisfying product that leaves me unsatisfied...hungry for more...sooner.

4. I won't know for certain 'til I buy my next new nail clipper, but it looks like I've got to tip my hat to Revlon, big-time, for figuring out that making the blades a bit less sharp will increase sales.

Additional examples are welcome.
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#25411 - 03/15/13 02:54 AM Re: The Degraded Products Thread [Re: artie505]
jchuzi Offline


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: New York State
If you think that that's bad, read The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food. Personally, I avoid that stuff. My wife and I prepare our meals from real ingredients (not necessarily organic, but real). I can't say that our food is healthier than anything else but it sure tastes good.
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#25412 - 03/15/13 03:27 AM Re: The Degraded Products Thread [Re: jchuzi]
artie505 Online


Registered: 08/04/09
Bad, yes... New and/or astonishing, no... Nothing to do with my post, absolutely!

(But thanks for the link. smile )

Edit: Mods, can this post and Jon's please be separated into a new thread?


Edited by artie505 (03/15/13 04:17 AM)
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#25422 - 03/15/13 05:44 PM Re: The Degraded Products Thread [Re: artie505]
ryck Online


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Okanagan Valley
I'm not much of a candy consumer, but have now and then felt the urge.. It's been a while but I certainly remember biting into a chocolate bar and wondering, "What happened, is this really chocolate?"

And ditto on the red licorice. It's not even close to what it used to be. The upside, of course, is that I won't have those urges anymore.
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#25426 - 03/15/13 06:31 PM Re: The Degraded Products Thread [Re: ryck]
joemikeb Online
Moderator

Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Fort Worth, Texas
There is also the well documented phenomena of the same size packaging, but shrinking content volume and usually trumpeted as NEW and IMPROVED!

That has become so flagrant, one Texas beer is being advertising as…
Quote:
"NOT new and NOT improved".

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#25427 - 03/15/13 06:43 PM Re: The Degraded Products Thread [Re: artie505]
tacit Offline


Registered: 08/03/09
Loc: Portland, Oregon, USA
When people look at the iPhone and see that the high-end model is a lot more expensive than the low-end model, they say "Why would I spend an extra $100 on $10 worth of flash memory?"

The answer to that question is the same as the answer to "why are products being degraded?"

Most of us think we have some idea of how an economy works. We think that a manufacturer makes a product, adds a bit of money to the amount it costs to produce,and then sells it at that price. We've also heard about supply-demand curves and such.

In the world where that is true, unicorns frolic with leprechauns over streams made of milk chocolate. In the real world, none of it is true. Manufacturers do not set prices based on the cost of production plus a profit margin, and the supply/demand curve is rubbish.

Here's where the degradation comes in.

When a manufacturer makes something, they price it at the absolute highest price the market can possibly bear. Doesn't matter if you're talking about peanut butter or cell phones or lumber. The price is set at the tippy top of what the manufacturer believes the market can stand, and not one penny less.

Then, once the price is set, the manufacturer does absolutely everything in its power to drive the cost of production as low as it possibly can. Building gizmos in China, using inferior quality ingredients--anything that will reduce the cost of manufacture.

The space between the highest point the market will bear and the lowest cost they can make it for is the profit.

A lot of folks naively think that if a manufacturer cuts corners and reduces the quality of a good, then people will stop buying it, and the manufacturer won't want that. That notion is rubbish.

First, it's rubbish because it's very rare for incremental degradation of quality to materially affect demand. People like M&Ms. People would still like M&Ms if they tasted like they were made of sawdust and turpentine. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia. (Case in point: Cracker Jacks DO taste like sawdust and turpentine!)

Second, if a few people stop buying it, so what? Say the manufacturer makes a change that reduces the cost of production by 7%, and 5% of the public stops buying it. Why on Earth would the manufacturer not do that? They still come out financially ahead! In fact, they come out even more ahead than you think, because they can reduce their production by 5% and have a corresponding 5% reduction in workforce, infrastructure, and fixed manufacturing costs....so their profit increases by slightly MORE than 2%.

And supply and demand curves? Ha! Give me a break. Supply, except in very few cases, is almost infinitely flexible; if the new Nike shoe is hard to find, it's because Nike has artificially held back supply. Demand? Don't make me laugh. Even supposedly "commodity" goods like crude oil or soybeans exist in a market distorted by futures and derivatives trading; it's easy for well-heeled people and institutions to manipulate the apparent demand, and thus the price, even if the supply doesn't move and the demand should nominally be constant. (If you really want a case study in artificially manipulating supply and demand, see the DeBeers diamond cartel; in theory, diamonds ought to be no more expensive than, say, emeralds.)

So: Companies charge the highest prices they can get away with, then cut every last corner they can to drive costs down. If they are publicly traded, they HAVE to--a public corporation is required by law to maximize its shareholders' return, and a company that fails to cut costs or raise prices may be sued by its shareholders.
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#25435 - 03/16/13 01:23 AM Re: The Degraded Products Thread [Re: tacit]
ryck Online


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Okanagan Valley
Originally Posted By: tacit
A lot of folks naively think that if a manufacturer cuts corners and reduces the quality of a good, then people will stop buying it, and the manufacturer won't want that. That notion is rubbish.

First, it's rubbish because it's very rare for incremental degradation of quality to materially affect demand. People like M&Ms. People would still like M&Ms if they tasted like they were made of sawdust and turpentine. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia. (Case in point: Cracker Jacks DO taste like sawdust and turpentine.)
i assume a lot of product perpetuity is connected to different starting points. That is, my starting point for how a particular chocolate bar should taste is rooted in a bar manufactured a long time ago under different standards.

However, a kid biting into a bar for the first time today has a very different reference point for what it is supposed to taste like. By the time that child is an adult biting into the bar and exclaiming "What happened to that tasty bar I remember?", a child is biting the same bar for the first time and thinking it's pretty good.
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#25443 - 03/16/13 08:01 AM Re: The Degraded Products Thread [Re: artie505]
Virtual1 Offline


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Iowa
The biggest one of these I recall is girl scout cookies. the boxes got smaller, and then almost immediately thereafter, the stack of cookies IN the box developed 3/4" of headspace.

I have no problem with the package getting smaller, I can see that. But when the product, hidden in the box, gets smaller, that's playing dirty.

Same thing happened awhile ago with Grandma's Cookies. The cookie package is non see-through. I used to get those frequently. One time I picked up a pack and could feel the cookies in the package were significantly smaller. They used to occupy most of the wrapper, but now they had 1/4 of the width of the wrapper to slide around. Have bought very few since then.

reminds me of THIS
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#25460 - 03/16/13 11:48 PM Re: The Degraded Products Thread [Re: tacit]
artie505 Online


Registered: 08/04/09
You answered a question which, although I didn't ask it, was worth answering. Thanks. smile

There seems to be a pretty consistent pattern to marketing:
  1. Hit your price point.
  2. Substitute less expensive ingredients for more expensive ones.
  3. Decrease portion size.
The issue I'm attempting to address, though, is step 4, which, in my experience (and maybe I just haven't been paying close enough attention), is a relatively new one:

4. Degrade the product itself!

A few notes on some of your points are in order:

1. Product nostalgia... Perhaps the ultimate degradation of a product (and the first I remember, although it's not specifically what I'm looking for), occurred when the mfr. took the active ingredient, eucalyptus oil, out of Blistex maaany years ago; the resulting garbage is still the biggest seller in its niche.

2. On the other hand, though, a few years back Nabisco replaced the high fructose corn syrup in Oreos and Ritz Crackers with hydrogenated beef fat (also not specifically what I'm looking for), and that lasted only a relatively short time.

3. Similarly, a bunch of years back Pepsi and Coke decided that a 12 oz. - 354.882ml - serving should be 354ml, rather than the traditional 355ml, and that didn't last too long either.

I've got no idea what forces may have influenced points 2 & 3, but I'm certainly grateful for them.

Edit: Another example of failed nostalgia: Years ago, Good & Plenty replaced its traditional product with new "Soft & Chewy," which was truly awful! (I wrote to them that "Choo Choo Charlie must be spinning in his grave." ); the product has since reverted to its original self, but the "Soft & Chewy" logo remains, I guess because it sounds good. (Good & Plenty is soft and chewy only if you're lucky enough to find a really fresh package; otherwise, it gets remarkably stale and hard, even inside its candy coating.)

PS: If anybody wants to know how to both really enjoy M&Ms and really hate the nasty aftertaste in the same experience, just ask.


Edited by artie505 (03/17/13 12:37 AM)
Edit Reason: Edit: & clarification
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#25461 - 03/16/13 11:51 PM Re: The Degraded Products Thread [Re: ryck]
artie505 Online


Registered: 08/04/09
If you really want to see a bunch of shocked kids, find some who love Butterfinger bars and give them each a Clark bar.

Wowww! Disbelief!!!
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The new Great Equalizer is the SEND button.

In Memory Of Harv: Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. ~Voltaire

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#25462 - 03/16/13 11:56 PM Re: The Degraded Products Thread [Re: Virtual1]
artie505 Online


Registered: 08/04/09
As I explained in my post to tacit, your examples do not fall into the "product degradation" category; they're merely steps along the way.

And the next step is when the mfrs. realize that cutting serving size has had no effect on sales and make the packaging fit...saving still more money.
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The new Great Equalizer is the SEND button.

In Memory Of Harv: Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. ~Voltaire

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#25463 - 03/17/13 12:28 AM Re: The Degraded Products Thread [Re: Virtual1]
ryck Online


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Okanagan Valley
Originally Posted By: Virtual1
The biggest one of these I recall is girl scout cookies. the boxes got smaller, and then almost immediately thereafter, the stack of cookies IN the box developed 3/4" of headspace.

And they now taste like cardboard. When the kids come to our place I just give them a donation and pass on the cookies.


Edited by ryck (03/17/13 12:28 AM)
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