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Probe: Products Shrinking, but Not Their Prices

Does it seem some products don't last as long as they used to? From toothpaste to tuna fish, hot dogs to hand soap, companies have been shaving ounces and inches from packages for years - but charging the same for them.

The latest Consumer Reports investigation of such practices, featured in the magazine's February issue, finds that more and more products are getting "downsized."

"Early Show" Consumer Correspondent Susan Koeppen offered details Tuesday, and explained how we can get more for our money.

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According to Koeppen and Consumer Reports:

Manufacturers make subtle changes to packages but generally keep the price the same, because when prices rise, buyers often seek cheaper alternatives. And the bottom line is that consumers are more attuned to changes in price than packaging.

Higher commodity and fuel costs are expected to cause a spike in food prices of as much as 3 percent in 2011.

No one likes a price hike, but what riles readers is the ways manufacturers hide their handiwork: indenting the bottom of containers (a favorite trick among peanut butter processors), making plastic wraps thinner, or whipping ice cream so you pay for air instead of ingredients.

Despite awareness of downsizing, it's not easy to figure out which products have shrunk, because relatively few packaged goods come in standard, recognizable sizes anymore.

EXAMPLES

Ivory dish detergent

Old: 30 oz.
New: 24 oz.
Downsized: 20 percent

Company response: The 30 ounce product was discontinued in smaller stores, due to increased costs for raw materials.

Haagen-Dazs ice cream

Old: 16 oz.
New: 14 oz.
Downsized: 12.5 percent

Company response: Due to the cost of ingredients and facility costs, it was either change the size of the container or raise the price.

Tropicana orange juice

Old: 64 oz.
New: 59 oz.
Downsized: 7.8 percent

Reason: Last winter's freeze in Florida. The choice was to raise prices drastically or drop package size. Based on consumer research, people preferred to keep the same price and get a little less juice to keep within their budgets.

WHAT CAN CONSUMERS DO?

Look at different brands: Not all manufacturers downsize. Minute Maid still sells its orange juice in half-gallons, and Ben & Jerry's packs its ice cream in pints.

Compare unit prices: Look at the cost per ounce, per quart, per pound, per sheet. Promotions change, making one size or another cheaper from week-to-week.

Contact the company: When Consumer Reports asked customer-service representatives why a product had been downsized, they were often given coupons toward a subsequent purchase.