The Mysteriously Shrinking Hershey's Bar

The other day a wonderful thing--and an awful thing--happened to me.

I was sitting at my computer, drafting up a monumental multi-part post that when published will shake the earth to its very core. Suddenly, Laura came up behind me and placed two wonderful things on my desk: a stack of twenty dollar bills, and a half pound Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate bar.

Okay. A couple of things. First don't start thinking that Laura lost some bet or that we have some kind of weird financial relationship (well, we do, but it's way weirder than you could ever imagine). She just happened to stop at the ATM on her way home from running errands. You see, now that I've been out of my Wall Street career for three years and am embracing my new role as Laura's stay-at-home cook/cabana boy, the one remaining manly thing I still do is hold the cash. So she got some dough and gave it to me.

Second, and even more weird, I'll admit up front that for me, a bar of Hershey's Special Dark is a deeply guilty pleasure (or as they say more elegantly in Spanish, un placer culpable). Look, there are so many additives in this chocolate that it's iffy even to call it "chocolate." But for some reason I have always been mindlessly sentimental with this brand of chocolate--I think because at a very very early age I developed a taste for dark chocolate (a regrettable genetic trait in our family), and Hershey's Special Dark was hella better than the crap milk chocolate Hershey bars that were so widely available back then.

Milk chocolate. Sheesh, what a waste.

Now, where was I? Ah yes, the awful thing. Well, this "half-pound" chocolate bar, as everybody knows, no longer weighs half a pound. It faced the grocery store shrink ray years ago, and now this bar of chocolate weighs 6.8 ounces.

What's insidious about this, of course, is that Hershey's can keep the price the same, slash the product's weight, and effectively extract a 17.6% stealth price increase from consumers. Nice. Heck, they can even claim that their "food" doesn't contain as many calories as it used to.

But what really, really frosted me was that they had the temerity to write "Giant Bar" on the label. Giant? Giant compared to what?

Yet another reason to practice brand disloyalty if you ask me. Readers, what's your view?

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Julia said...

First, I want to commend you for admitting your guilty pleasure to us... mine is Popeyes Fried Chicken.

Second, I'm curious to know how you would prefer to see companies raise their prices. Inflation is inevitable. As the cost of inputs goes up (not just the cocoa, but also fuel for transportation, etc), so does the cost of production. We can't expect food-companies to keep prices the same indefinitely (or can we?).

KitschenBitsch said...

Huh. I always thought they put the "giant" there to taunt me as I walked through the grocery store on a hormonally-induced bender.

I've been picking up on the shrink-ray, and the funniest thing I've noted about it is the companies who are taking advantage of it in the other way, my favorite being the ice cream company touting, "Still 16 oz!" on their pint containers. I've watched the price on my former favorite ice cream (you wanna talk about a guilty pleasure) rise to double what I paid for it two years ago while the carton has shrunk at least 1/4 its size.

Janet C. said...

I am just glad that someone else has the guilty pleasure of Popeye's Fried Chicken!

The other day I found some almond snickers "only" two for a dollar. I was excited, as snickers are another guilty pleasure and great for relieving the three oclock blues. (yeah, I know there are better choices out there....). But these snickers had shrunk so much they were close to bite-size. Oh, well, at least fewer calories, as you pointed out....

kittiesx3 said...

Right now I'm on a jalapeno potato chip kick--salty and hot? Right in my wheel house. But if I want chocolate, then yes it must be dark chocolate. And don't get me started on the abomination that is white "chocolate."

chacha1 said...

I haven't bought Hershey's anything for a long, long time. Occasionally there will be some lying around the workplace and if one of those occasions coincides with a day of hormonal imbalance or emotional meltdown I will pick one up. But I have been spoiled by "gourmet" chocolate.

Not completely insane about it though. At the grocer last week I saw a package of dark-chocolate covered caramels with grey salt. Five of them for ... $10. WTH?

Generally speaking I gladly pay more for better quality. There's room for ersatz chocolate in the marketplace. Just not in my refrigerator.

Daniel said...

Julia, that's an exceptional question, and I intend to take a stab at it (and crowdsource ideas from other readers too) in my next post. Look for it on Thursday, and thank you for a great thought-provoker.

KB: To me, "giant" is just a cruel lie. :) And you've stumbled onto another great insight about the consumer products industry: it's constantly meta-adapting: Whatever pisses off a consumer is a potential opportunity for another company to fill a need.

Let me ask readers, though, what are your typical reactions when you see pricing moves like this? Do you stop buying the product? Or grin and bear it?


Joanne said...

I feel like I've come across more and more items lately that are half pound this or quarter pound that but don't actually add up to their supposed weight. It actually makes me a little crazy. Crazy enough to never eat Hershey's again though...probably not.

Julia said...

I recall Dannon did a similar move, decreasing the container size on their yogurts from 8 oz to 6 oz instead of raising prices. One study revealed that people actually preferred that strategy. Though, at some point, you can't make the container size any smaller and price hikes will be inevitable.

Daniel said...

Yep, agreed it's not a sustainable strategy, which in a way makes me question it still further.

While technically you can shrink a yogurt container size by ~25% every few years and do it forever... At some point, however, the container is going to get awfully small. :)


bashtree said...

dah! I love good chocolate but I am always and forever a Hershey's girl - it's in my blood, I think. (My dad's family is from Hershey and several relatives work/ed for the company.) I don't know that I have a problem with reducing the size of products rather than raising prices, to an extent (as discussed in other comments) but I have a BIG problem with that horrible 'GIANT' blob on the label. It defies the whole 'luxury/indulgence/rich' idea behind the Special Dark label. Tacky, tacky, tacky. Looking forward to Thursday's discussion!

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

I've noticed this with everything...raising the pries way beyond the cost of living without 'really' raising prices. And really thinking we are all idiots that we don't notice too. GRRR.

Anonymous said...

I heard on NPR that when companies reduce the size of products, we consumers compensate by buying less and/or taking longer to use them up. It's true for me. Bausch & Lomb "redesigned" and reduced the size of their Boston lens solution by half an ounce. I'd been pretty cavalier about tossing a bottle at the 3/4 point but now every drop gets used.

You reminded me that I'm due for a Hershey's semi-sweet fix of my own.

Daniel said...

Bashtree, you are my long lost twin. :) And I like your counterintuitive take on the "GIANT" label. I hadn't thought about it that way before.

Barbara, I hear you. And as I've said elsewhere in this blog, the best thing you can do in cases like these is practice brand disloyalty and drop that brand immediately.

Anon: Interesting! Thank you for sharing. And of course that's yet another way you can avoid paying more as a consumer. Good thoughts.