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Food for Thought in a Trip to the Grocery Store

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I admit that I actually like going to the grocery store; it's become a bit of a stress reliever over the years. Strange stress reliever, I know, but it is usually quite effective. Rather than waste time at my desk during lunchtime, one or two days day a week, I'll head out to one of our local stores to stock up on what we need, and often on things we don't need. It's truly been an eye opener over the years that this has become a lunch hour pastime.

For one, it's amazing to me how consumer products companies continually find ways to repackage their old products. Some of these are seemingly for "convenience" or to grab consumer's attention, but they almost always end up being less or equivalent product for a higher cost.

Just last week, I noticed Coca Cola's (KO - Get Report) newest version of the six-pack. Now, how you might ask, can you get creative with a six-pack? Coca Cola has found a way. Put in in a colorful box, half the size of a 12-pack, and give it a cool name, in this case the "Sixer." That's right, it's a six-pack in a box, and sold for convenience; in this case to save consumer's fridge space. It certainly looks cool, but at 4 bucks in one store, and $2.99 in another, I'll pass. You can get a 12-pack for the same price.

This comes on the heels of another Coca Cola "innovation"; the 2011 introduction of the eight-pack of 7.5 ounce cans. These also look very cool, a miniature soda can, which is aimed at portion control for those counting calories, but at $2.99, for slightly less than the contents of a two liter bottle, it's expensive. But evidently, packaging sells products, and if you can't come up with any new products that will gain enough traction to become part of the permanent lineup, just repackage the old ones. It seems to be working in Mexico, where Coca-Cola is reported to offer its products in more than 30 different sizes.

Also new for Coca Cola, although I have not yet seen this in stores, is the "Chill Activated Can," unveiled at this year's annual National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) show. Imprinted with images of ice cubes made of thermochromatic ink, once the temperature of the can hits 46 degrees, the ice cubes turn blue and appear, indicating that the can is ready to drink. Certainly not a new idea, as Coors (TAP) has had a "cold activated bottle" for several years, but a gimmick nonetheless. I think I can tell when my can of soda is cold enough to drink, thank you very much, without your blue ice cubes.

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If there's any beef I have with the introduction of new packaging, is that it almost always translates into a higher cost per unit. If it's not new packaging for the sake of marketing, it's a smaller package size for the same price. The days of ice cream in half gallons, for the most part, is long gone. Now the standard size is 1.5 quarts. Cereal boxes have been shrinking too; how long will an 11.2 ounce box of Kellogg's (K) Special K last? Not very.

In a time when we are told that "inflation is dead" due to tepid rises in the consumer price index, I'd say that most consumers would disagree, especially when it comes to food prices. Of course, headline CPI, which is the most oft-quoted version, excludes the costs of food and energy, but we'll save that topic for another day.

At the time of publication the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

Jonathan Heller, CFA,CFP® is president of KEJ Financial Advisors, his fee-only financial planning company. Jon spent 17 years at Bloomberg Financial Markets in various roles, from 1989 until 2005. He ran Bloomberg's Equity Fundamental Research Department from 1994 until 1998, when he assumed responsibility for Bloomberg's Equity Data Research Department. In 2001, he joined Bloomberg's Publishing group as senior markets editor and writer for Bloomberg Personal Finance Magazine, and an associate editor and contributor for Bloomberg Markets Magazine. In 2005, he joined SEI Investments as director of investment communications within SEI's Investment Management Unit.

  Jon is also the founder of the Cheap Stocks Web site, a site dedicated to deep-value investing. He has an undergraduate degree from Grove City College and an MBA from Rider University, where he has also served on the adjunct faculty; he is also a CFA charter holder.

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