Posted in Business, Uncategorized

Minute Maid’s frozen juice ripoff

Old 355ml (right) and new 295ml Five Alive frozen juice can from Minute Maid

If, like me, you went to the grocery store recently and thought that frozen juice can felt a bit odd in your hand, it’s not your imagination. Minute Maid has decided to reduce the size of its frozen juice cans as a cost-saving measure.

The move is, of course, not being announced. There’s no obvious indication on the cans that their size has been reduced (the only real difference is that the logos have been rotated so they’re upright when the can is standing), and at least one major grocery store isn’t selling it for cheaper. On a trip to Loblaws last weekend, I confirmed that both the new and old size of can (the old ones were still in stock) were on sale at $1 each (the two have different bar codes, so it’s not a technological limitation).

And, in case you’re wondering, it hasn’t just been ultra-concentrated like those liquid laundry detergents. They still recommend emptying the can’s contents and three cans worth of water to mix the juice. So now instead of getting 1.42 litres of juice, you get 1.18 litres, a reduction of 17%

When asked about the change, Minute Maid (which is owned by Coca-Cola) said this:

“With the increase in commodities, rather than pass the total cost on to the consumer, the decision was made to adjust the package size to offset some of the increase the consumer would have had to pay if this adjustment wasn’t made.”

I then asked why this change wasn’t made clear to the customer. I didn’t get a response.

Loblaws also didn’t respond to a query about why it didn’t make the change clear to customers and why it was charging the same for both sizes of can.

I can understand commodity prices, inflation and the increased cost of doing business. One could even make the argument that some of these frozen juices could stand to be diluted more, mainly for health reasons (I usually dilute them to a full 2 litres, and even then they’re quite sugary). But households aren’t going to reduce the size of their juice jugs or how much they drink, so this move seems strange to me.

Except when you consider how subtle it is. When you see it in the context of tricking the customer into buying less and expecting more, it all makes perfect sense: It’s a ripoff.

At least a few posts on Minute Maid’s Facebook wall (which is otherwise clogged with posts from people who joined under the apparently false impression that doing so would get them a coupon) agree. None of those posts got a response.

Minute Maid’s brands include Five Alive, Fruitopia and Nestea. Other brands (including No Name, which is still at 341ml) are unaffected … yet.

So if you’re at the store and you’re about to grab a Minute Maid concentrated frozen juice, check the can to see if it’s actually smaller than you think it is. And if you see a 355ml can (especially if it’s still on sale for $1), stock up, because they won’t last.

49 thoughts on “Minute Maid’s frozen juice ripoff

  1. No\Deli

    Known as ‘downsizing’, it seems to be the most (ahem) strategic way to increase prices without *visibly* increasing prices. By all accounts, upwardly adjusting an actual on-shelf price tag is a complete last resort move. So we get this. Reduction.

    To blame it on any recent economic conditions is disingenuous, though. Manufacturers have been downsizing products for many years. To the point where some consumer groups try to maintain meticulous lists just to keep track of the trends. I’m fairly sure you can find some of these lists online.

    Reply
    1. Jake

      I noticed, around February of 2012, that Safeway in Canada has decided to jump on the ‘down-sizing’ wagon by reducing the size of their own brand of frozen orange juice.

      Reply
  2. Marc

    This has been happening to all kinds of products. The latest one I’ve noticed is Whippets. They added a “divider” to the plastic tray meaning you have 3 cookies less in the box.

    Reply
  3. Shawn

    Unfortunately, Minute Maid is not the only company pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes. It appears to be an industry standard. It’s insulting, deceitful and arrogant. Minute Maid, rather than being upfront, is taking the decision away from their customers. We often shop by brand preference- we all have our favourite items. But if the first concern is price, follow the tag underneath the item on the shelf. The price per volume or by weight tag is the best way to know if you are getting the best price. There are two ways to combat the manufacturers behaviour, complain to them, and buy the cheaper alternative.

    Reply
  4. Benoit

    My solution: home-made lemonade! 3 oranges, 2 lemons, half a cup of sugar and 3-4 cups of water. A bit more expensive than the frozen juice cans, but sooo much better!

    Reply
  5. Patrick M. Lozeau

    Nothing new here.

    I used to work in a grocery store and this has happen for decades to many products with different strategies. The most well known is Lays chips who have been downsizing bags for years. Danone and Yoplait yogourt that used to be 750 ml went down to 650ml but kept the same cover size so that you wouldn’t notice. Take a look at Kraft cheese, the medium went from 500gr to 300gr while the big flat one that started at 750gr is now 500gr. Obviously, they didn’t bring back the old package.

    This Harvard Business School article shows where companies get this : http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/4220.html

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Nothing new here. I used to work in a grocery store and this has happen for decades to many products with different strategies.

      I think what bothers me about this case so much is that frozen juice cans have a standard size. Many freezers are specifically constructed to accommodate that size (or at least the diameter, which hasn’t changed), and to change that seems like a move of desperation. It would be like selling an egg carton with 10 eggs inside, or … you know, it’s hard to think of other food that hasn’t already been downsized in some way.

      Reply
      1. No\Deli

        I used to feel like pasta sauce came in a standard size: 700ml. No appliances built around the concept, but it’s been that way for years. Then several name brands dropped it to 650ml, and the store-brands (i.e. President’s Choice) responded in kind. There was that transition-period where both sizes were on the shelves simultaneously – that helped illustrate the contrast. It’s possible that I stocked up.

        So I started buying my sauce at Segal’s – some off-off-off brand of sauce, but decent stuff. Back to 700ml, and at a cheaper price than I ever paid.

        Reply
        1. ZDZedDee

          Yogurt used to be in 1 litre containers! Now it’s 650. This change was led by big food corporations, which can be fairly blamed for ruining everything good about food. Case in point is the relentless “extend the brand” new products that are ceaselessly appear on the store shelves. Do we really need milk with mega-corp-brand fibre added to it?

          Reply
      2. Bert

        Oh, booo-hooo! The new can doesn’t fit old refrigerators. Is that all you can come up with. I can’t find leaded gas anymore. The 14 inch wheels that I used ot have on my Civic, well,noting takes them any more. Heck, I could wash 10 full car windows with the old Gazoo, now I can barely get 6 cars done!

        Yes, the shrink-ray is not fun but it’s either that or raise prices. If you have on company raising prices to keep the same volume and another that reduces volume/quantity but keeps the same price we know the consumer will go for the same price, since it will be “less expensive”. After the 5 foot review (looking at products from 5 feet away), the first thing that the customer sees is price. They don’t see volume, the don’t see ingredients. If blind brand loyalty is not used, more often than not price will prevail. Maybe the Quebec government should enact a new per-unit pricing labeling. We often see it as a sub-item on the shelf price sticker, but it is rarely the predominant price, produce and meats being the exception.

        Reply
  6. AlexH

    It is sort of basic business.

    You have to remember that the frozen juice product is competing with (a) other frozen products, and (b) the 1 and 2 litre containers of juice, and (c) non-juice drink products. When you consider all of those, you need to understand that the frozen drink products live in a very narrow band of potential retail price. Too high, and they are competing against the containers of juice (which people consider to be “fresher”, even when they are made from concentrate), too low and they aren’t profitable anymore.

    So if the cost of what’s in the can goes up, they can either raise the price (which is both obvious and dangerous for their market share), or they can shrink the package and the resulting juice product, which is harder for most people to figure out on the spot, but which also allows the company to stay in their price window. Yes, it sucks for the consumer who isn’t observant, but the other result for the company in this case would be sizeable price increase that the market likely would not support.

    The extra part here is that this company controls a fair bit of the frozen juice market, and can change all of their products at the same time to make it harder to compare. It takes a sharp eye to spot it.

    Now the question is this: If the can of frozen juice went up 25 cents a can overnight, would you keep buying it, or would you move to another product? The answer to that question typically tells you why they shrink the can.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      If the can of frozen juice went up 25 cents a can overnight, would you keep buying it, or would you move to another product?

      Personally, I evaluate as much based on volume as I do on price. Much of my comparison shopping is done based on price per unit (which the large grocers help with by listing in small type on the price tag). I’m going to move on to another product either way if it’s a better bargain.

      Reply
      1. AlexH

        I agree, it is the best way to go.

        What you may find though is that if they had stayed at the original size and raised the price by, what, 20% or so, that the next tier of products (juice in those 2 litre milk container things) may be a similar cost per unit.

        I would also guess that the other players in this same market will resize when they can, as they are probably all feeling the same cost side pinch.

        Reply
  7. Apple IIGS

    I’ve been noticing this trend with several companies. And there’s more to it than just size reduction.

    About three years ago Unilever used to sell Dove soap in 135 gram bars. You would get two bars 135 gram for $2.88 at Loblaws. Then without any announcement or reason, they quietly reduced the bars to 120 grams each. That wouldn’t have been so bad, except for the fact they also raised the price to $4.25 a box!

    Pay MORE or LESS. Great concept, huh?

    I contacted Unilever to complain, was told their production and material costs went up, so they had to charge more and offer less. Yeah sure…it’s about making more profit without the customer (hopefully) noticing.

    A few months later I noticed the same thing with Tropicana orange juice. They went from 1.84 L to 1.61 L, while changing the shape of the bottle and advertising it as a new and great feature! They too raised their price, again, pay MORE money for LESS product.

    Since then it’s become the norm, every company looking to shave a few cents off production costs to increase overall profits, and charging more for this “benefit”. I’m surprised they don’t claim it’s great because it makes your grocery bags less heavy!

    Reply
  8. ZDZedDee

    Welcome to Ripoff Canada and you won’t have to look far to find several 1000 examples of ways we get ripped off here in canuckistan. Thanks for bringing this up. The gazoo should have a weekly consumer column and this is exactly the kind of thing that should be in it.

    Reply
  9. Jean P

    I’ve noticed that with ice cream also. A few years back Loblaw introduced President’s Choice higher quality ice cream in 2L container. After a few months it went down to 1,89L, same price of course. I only buy Coaticook ice cream now (maple sugar, try it), comes in real 2L container.

    Reply
  10. Josh

    The Consumerist blog (consumerist.com) has been detailing this for years. Search for posts tagged “grocery shrink ray” at their site and read all about it.

    Reply
  11. Neil K.

    (I’m not trying to change the subject, as I agree this downsizing of consumer packaged goods has been going on for ages, not just with food products. Every few years there are less Kleenex tissues in the box.)

    BUT…You ARE aware this Minute Maid product is not JUICE, and is not even legally allowed to be called juice? It’s a heavily-sweetened, fruit-flavoured drink. No better nutritionally than Coke. It does contain trace amounts of neutral juice like apple as a sweetener, but all you’re buying is sugar, colour and fake berry flavouring. At least they don’t charge you for the water–you supply that on your own!

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      You ARE aware this Minute Maid product is not JUICE, and is not even legally allowed to be called juice?

      This is true, though there are some products that are actually juice, the ones illustrated are not. I guess it would be more accurate to call them “frozen drink concentrate cans”, but that just sounds weird.

      Reply
      1. ZDZedDee

        To me these are “manufactured” foods and I have learned that this means that I should stay away from them. Take a few super-concentrated fruit syrups (mmm, sweet sugar syrup), add water and the “flavour” ingredients (which do not need to be put on the label since they are technically adding back only what was removed in the processing process of making the fruit syrup. In fact, they could make “orange juice” taste unmistakeably like roses if they thought we suckers would buy it. There was a superb story on the flavour industry (scary!) in the new yorker a while back.

        Welcome to the wonderful world of food marketing. Marion Nestle’s books can inform you more, Food Politics and What to Eat are very useful in figuring out what you should or should not be going in our mouths.

        Reply
  12. Cat

    I am so happy that you posted this because I KNEW there was something different with my Pink Lemonade and it wasn’t just the label! People called me crazy! I didn’t have any of the “old” cans left in my freezer to compare so I couldn’t prove it (I had never looked at the ml) I was trying to prove it by the fact that when you put in the same amount of water the juice itself gets watered down.

    Now I have proof! I read you for a reason, you know.

    Reply
  13. Jimmy Jack

    Sorta like paying for a seven day a week newspaper and now only getting six days but the price stayed the same?

    And, although i have no scientific proof, said paper seems a lot thinner than it once was.

    Reply
  14. Derek Cassoff

    I’m a longtime subscriber to the Gazette. I used to get seven papers a week. Now I get six. They didn’t lower the price.

    Reply
  15. Shawn

    Steve, you should be drinking less of this crap anyway. Orange juice is too much sugar, too fast, for your system. Eat an orange instead.

    Reply
  16. ProchaineStation

    Even fast food restaurants.

    Example, the angus burger had a huge piece of meat, a lot of red onions, lots of slices of bacon and the bun was a nice bakery style bun. Now it’s the size of a friggin cheeseburger.

    Reply
  17. Tv Dude

    “With the increase in commodities, rather than pass the total cost on to the consumer, the decision was made to adjust the package size to offset some of the increase the consumer would have had to pay if this adjustment wasn’t made.”

    Man, I hate corporate speak!

    Translation: “We are greedy pigs with no respect for our customers. They’ll keep buying our product because they have few alternatives and are stupid.”

    Reply
  18. Kevin

    The worst example of this is Saputo and what they’ve done to feta cheese.

    They didn’t even bother shrinking the size of the container OR changing the price when they moved from selling 400 g of feta to 175 g. They just added more water and changed the weight marked on the label (which was already hidden so well it’s very difficult to find).

    Needless to say I was very annoyed when I opened the lid and wondered why I had a teeny block of cheese in a massive container.

    So the next time I bought feta I very carefully looked at the labels — and switched brands. By by Saputo! You lost a customer!

    Reply
  19. lop

    Go read the last page / inside back cover of Consumer Reports magazine. this has been going on for years, and they even have a “black hole award” for teh prodecut with the largest container, yet smallest interal amount / volume. Every month I flip to the back page & get a good laugh. Not only about donwsizing, but other crazy & insane marketing gimmicks & tricks..

    Reply
  20. Jason

    Seriously, how stupid does Coca-cola assume it’s customers are?? The response:
    “With the increase in commodities, rather than pass the total cost on to the consumer, the decision was made to adjust the package size to offset some of the increase the consumer would have had to pay if this adjustment wasn’t made.”
    If we’re getting less juice for the same cost, how is this not passing the cost on to the consumer?
    My kids like the Five Alive, but I’m switching brands. Even if the other companies do the same to remain competitive, I’ll remember who led the way. Another instance of the fat cats getting fatter… Yay Capitalism!!!

    Reply
  21. P-L

    In the shrinking departement, there is a recent case that just disgusting me, the 591ml retail 7up went down to stand at 500ml, and for us to not to remark this drop, they’ve market it at a new bottle design, but every other Pepsi product is still 591ml

    For now, no more 7up

    Reply
  22. Rennie

    Yup, I’ve been noticing with the Limeade and the Pink Lemonade that the old tins were being gradually replaced with smaller ones, yielding less juice in my juicer. Not only that, but Safeway is currently selling the smaller tins at more than I ever paid for the bigger ones. Thing is, I really like those two drinks, but I’m even more of a bargain hunter now.

    Reply
  23. Scott

    I have tried the smaller Minute Maid tins & it doesn’t even taste like orange.We have been buying Minute Maid for years,but not any more.The no name brands taste better.

    Reply
  24. chucha

    I can tell by some of the comments that some of you can afford to pay the higher cost of products, but some of us who live from paycheck to paycheck with a family to feed, we begin to see a big difference when it is happening to almost every product. I have three kids in elementary school each taking two tetra packs of juice to school. That’s 6 per day, 30 per week. Koolaid jammers over the past year went from 200 ml packs to 180 ml packs so now you get one less in a box of 10 so i decided not to buy koolaid and buy minute maid instead because they were still 200 ml. Now I’m not sure anymore. I’m just waiting for minute maid to go to 180ml.

    I’ve now bought a couple of aluminum bottles and they will now bring them to school with water and 1 tetra pack.

    Reply
  25. Nadine Lumley

    Dear Minute Maid / Coca-Cola Company:

    Re: Your new smaller frozen juice cans

    I am beyond rage at your new smaller and less tastier frozen juice cans, specifically the Minute Maid lemonade ones (lemon and the pink).

    A. they don’t taste as good

    B. it screws up my life in a way I never thought was possible, e.g.:

    I don’t have a stand-alone freezer and must cram as many cans as I am able into my small fridge freezer. These smaller cans take up less space in the standard room provided – which means all this wasted freezer space now. Better to go even smaller so then I can at least stack them double in there.

    Or even better, please bring back the larger, standard-sized cans at a higher price – I don’t care about the price. I want my normal cans back. With the taste restored.

    Regards,

    [ED: Lots of email addresses redacted]

    Reply
  26. Paris

    I know this may be old, but I noticed the reduced cans, and was quite put off (to say the least).

    I recently went to Loblaws, and bought a bulk of Frozen Minute Maid juice (as I have been put off from buying them at the regular grocery store as a result), and noted the cans of frozen juice were 475ml when I opened the package.

    Giant cans of frozen Minute Maid frozen juice. Package of 12 for approx. $11.00.

    Same 3 cups of water-per-can ratio requirement.

    Interesting.

    Reply
  27. emdx

    That’s called the “Grocery Shrink Ray”…

    I get most of my groceries there:

    http://maps.google.com/?ll=45.476142,-73.57971&spn=0.013918,0.01972&hnear=Station+Place-Saint-Henri&t=m&z=16&iwloc=lyrftr:m,15585683314194051968,45.476594,-73.579195&layer=c&cbll=45.476072,-73.579808&panoid=duHyi21MHoLiABBMdG0sTA&cbp=12,343.23,,0,-0.2

    It’s like Club Price, but there’s no membership, they have a better selection and it’s right next to where I live. They sell many restaurant-sized package, so you can do substantial savings most of the time.

    Reply
  28. jmac

    Check out Orange Julep at the BIG ORANGE next to Decarie Blvd. Are you
    getting the volume you pay for? Or is it topped with froth?

    Reply
  29. Lee

    I have seen this reduction in Canada and expected to see the same size reduction at grocery stores in the US. Not so. Their frozen juice containers continue to be 12 ounces or 355 ml. How come we are the ones being ripped off? I did not notice any overall increase in price in the US. So. the smaller size appears to be “only in Canada”.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>