Letter From America. .
By Cara Sheridan O’Donnell.
Food manufacturers would be the first to tell you that product placement in a grocery store is a crucial component of their marketing strategy. Shoppers tend to buy what “hits ‘em in the eye.” Eye-level placement, therefore, is the most desirable spot on the shelves in any supermarket aisle. A wide expanse of a particular product is almost equally important. Not so important, at least to manufacturers, is the fine print on packages. Quite often, in an effort to earn increased profits on a product, a manufacturer employs the old trick of keeping the price the same on an item but reducing the amount of product in the package, while maintaining the same expanse of space on the shelf. To achieve this, packagers of ice cream, for example, shave off a bit from the depth of each waxy cardboard carton but maintain the height and width of the older, larger cartons. Oh sure, the fine print on the package might reveal to consumers the fact that they are no longer buying a half-gallon tub of ice cream, but rather a carton containing several ounces less than a half-gallon. The manufacturer counts on the statistical probability that faithful consumers who have been buying that brand of ice cream for years, even decades, will not bother to read the fine print. They are correct. Most shoppers will not even realize the difference. But when this consumer realizes it, she seethes just enough to motivate her to find the manufacturer’s website and dash off a complaint to the company’s customer relations department. A week or so later, upon receiving about 20 manufacturer’s coupons, each one good for one free carton of ice cream, she does a little victory-is-mine dance at the mailbox.
Another tactic manufacturer’s use to their advantage at the grocery-store level is to reach out to the little ones who so often accompany a parent on food shopping expeditions. Every parent knows that children want the cold cereal with the highest sugar content, the jelly or jam with the least amount of actual fruit in each jar, the peanut butter with the longest list of polysyllabic preservatives, and the bagged snack foods with the highest air-to-snack ratio within each bag. Did you know that parents are not the only adults who recognize this uncanny ability, this innate talent possessed by children worldwide? Product packagers know it, too, and they spare no effort or expense to capitalize on that knowledge. No child psychologist knows your children as well as those brand-name food marketing gurus know them. Their research and four-color packaging, both aimed at boosting their products’ appeal to the rug-rat set, are reflected in the price of the product. I should tell you that I was certainly no ogre of a young mother. I did occasionally – say, when Halley’s Comet was scheduled to make an appearance – indulge my four tykes by caving in to a sweetly worded request for Marshmallow Monster Fruity Bits or a giant bag of Frank Lee Tol’able Tater Puffs. There was, however, a method to my madness; I bought each long-coveted item…once. When the box or bag was empty – specifically (or at least in my kiddie-filled house), 23.4 minutes after I unloaded the groceries – I simply refilled that box or bag with the product’s store-brand equivalent, purchased in bulk. My wallet thanked me. Yours will, too, once you try this for yourself. As for your kids, well, someday maybe even they will thank you!
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