What's Missing At The Supermarket?

Judy Rufo of Boston, fills her grocery list Friday afternoon, Dec. 29, 2000.
You may not think of potato chips as diet food, but they have lost weight recently, as have a number of other everyday items on grocery store shelves.

CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports the problem is that the prices aren't slimming down with them.

Shaving an ounce worth of chips from each bag is an example of how food manufacturers offset increased production costs without raising the radar of cost-conscious shoppers. The practice even has a name -- "weight out."

Bill Apple, who works for Consumer Reports magazine, points to coffee which used to come in 1-pound cans. Now, he says, similar size cans contain much less. Consumer advocates cite snack foods, diapers, and paper products as the goods most likely to come up light.

"They certainly don't want to call attention to the fact that 'hey consumers, we're giving you less for the same price,'" notes Apple.

Manufacturers say what they are doing is legal as long as the contents match what's listed on the label. Additionally, consumers don't seem to mind as long as the price is right.

"Most consumers really are looking for a price point and most of them don't notice one ounce, a couple of chips, not being in that bag," explains Pamela Stegeman of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

The food industry is also being squeezed by giant chain stores that know low prices are the best way to keep customers coming back.

"With the retail groceries consolidating in recent years, they've got more of the power and the manufacturers now have their backs against the wall and have difficulty putting through their own cost increases," said Patrick Schumann, Edward Jones Investments.

Weight out may be working for now, but the question consumers will answer in the long run is: how little is not enough?

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