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As Food Prices Rise, Packages Get Smaller

By Douglas McIntyre, DailyFinance

NEW YORK (DailyFinance) -- U.S. food prices have been rising in the last year, but it seems the growth is only just beginning. A sharp jump in commodities' prices this year will soon result in sticker shock for American consumers.

Large food companies have recently announced that they will raise the prices they charge grocery retailers for commodities-based products. For example, a chocolate bar will cost more soon: Hershey last week announced a 10% increase for most of its confectionery goods.

Of course, straightforward price hikes could cause consumers to buy less of those products or to choose less costly store brands. So in many cases, food companies are trying a different tactic: Keeping the price of an item the same while decreasing the amount of food in the package. The company recoups the costs of the rise in commodities and hopes consumers don't notice that they're getting less of the product for the same price.

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Food companies have no obligation to tell customers about the smaller packages, but may suffer a backlash from consumers who notice how the packaging trick works. Here are some of the shrinking products that you might notice in your grocery aisles:

Kellogg Cereal (K)
Company: Kellogg
Commodities: corn, wheat, sugar
Size Reduction: roughly 15%, or 2.4 ounces, on average
Kellogg, which makes cereal such as Apple Jacks and Corn Pops, has passed higher grain costs on to consumers. In 2008, the company reduced the amount of cereal in its boxes by an average of 2.4 ounces. And in February, the company announced that it will raise the price of its cereals 3% to 4%. According to a U.S. Agriculture Department report in March, "higher wheat commodity costs should begin to affect cereal and bakery product prices over the next few months, causing prices to rise 3.5% to 4.5% overall in 2011."

Snickers Bars
Company: Mars
Commodities: cocoa, dairy, nuts
Size Reduction: 11%, or 0.41 ounces
Supposedly in response to pleas from obesity activists, the Mars Company split their "King Size" Snickers bar in half so that it could be more easily shared between two people. What calls the nobility of the company's intentions into question is that, in addition to making the cut, Mars also reduced the total amount of candy in each package from 3.7 ounces to 3.29 ounces -- an 11% decrease -- while keeping the price the same.

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