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March 2nd, 2018 by

We know we’re getting ripped off. Around every corner, there’s something new, just waiting to pull the wool over your eyes. Nowhere is this shameful chicanery more prevalent than in our local grocery stores. From Shrinkflation to deceptive marketing to alleged discounts, the consumer has been getting the short end of the stick for a very long time.

Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) manufacturers obviously think we’re all idiots. Restaurants think we’re all morons. Brands see us as sheep, walking ATM’s to be manipulated into buying, buying, buying.

Not only is most of what we consume these days incredibly bad for us, but we usually don’t get what we pay for in anyway. Have you ever defrosted something and weighed it to find that you’ve suddenly lost half the weight? How about butchers injecting their meat with water? What looked like a beautiful 500g steak suddenly turns into a 300g embarrassment on the grill.

That’s right, we judge small steaks around here, and so will your friends. And don’t even get us started on Simba chips. Thanks for the bag of air, am I right? Now you’re the laughing stock of the braai.

So, what’s going on here and how are they tricking us?

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Stating The Obvious

We’re all aware of a certain level of injustice whenever we pay for something. Sometimes you’re paying for the convenience, sometimes for the brand and sometimes for scarcity. It all depends on the product. We reason that some of this is fair, that it makes sense. And then in other instances, we know deep down that we’re being savagely wronged.

For instance, there can be no arguing about the convenience and necessity of bottled water – especially in drought-stricken areas. But what about the exorbitant price tag? And what about bottled water companies who are willing to extort a drought situation by hiking their prices up?

What about paying a 400% mark-up on a bottle of wine in a restaurant? K-Way (Soda Fountain) soft drinks cost a restaurant around 20c a glass. You’re paying upwards of R20.00.

Ready-marinated meat, pre-chopped veg or pre-packed salads, these things we can (arguably) justify forking out a little more money for. You’re paying for the convenience. Because who wants to peel and chop up their own butternut?

And then we get to products and services which are a brazen cheat.

Razor blades which last for three shaves. Electronic cables which stop working two weeks later. Funerals, tens of thousands of Rands to dig a hole, say a prayer and drive a hearse. Ink Cartridges which cost more to refill than the price of a new printer. Gym memberships which never let you cancel. Branded medication which does the exact same job as cheaper generics. College textbooks which become more expensive every year. Anything at a movie theatre. Croutons – which are nothing but blocks of toast with delusions of grandeur.

Why do we put up with this? Indolence. Guilt. Modesty. Recklessness. To change the situation, we need to change our own buying behaviour first.


The Supermarket Role

Consumers, as a whole, are generally satisfied with the major retail shopping experience. Last year, the South African Customer Satisfaction Index (SAcsi) revealed the latest ratings on our supermarkets.

Research company, Consulta, surveyed nearly 3,000 randomly selected customers. These included clients of Woolworths, Shoprite, Checkers, Pick n Pay, and Spar. To get an overall result out of 100, the index takes into account the customer expectations, perceived quality and perceived value.

Last year, Woolworths came out on top.

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While satisfaction may be high, customer loyalty has declined across the board. Woolworths, also, achieved the highest loyalty percentage. Due to our tough economy, it’s no surprise that our loyalty has wavered. Customers now hunt for the best possible price. Price-loyalty, however, is fleeting, and retail supermarkets would be making a huge mistake if they were to stop their focus on creating a positive shopping experience.

You may recall a while ago, a Woolworths customer had weighed a 700g loaf of bread in-store and found that, in fact, it weighed far less. Woolworths came under close scrutiny for their illogical response.

So, even those on top make a few mistakes. Pretty much everything Woolworths stocks is a brand item, though, so should complaints arise they would have nobody to blame but themselves.

With the exception of house brands, such as Pick N Pay’s No Name, supermarket retailers have little control over what other manufacturers decide to do with the products.

Is it the supermarket’s responsibility if Coca Cola decides to sneakily drop the 500ml volume bottled drink to 440ml, and still keep the price the same? Are supermarkets profiting from this, or the manufacturer?

Other Misdeeds

Food manufacturers have a number of tricks up their sleeves to make their products seem more appealing to the consumer. Most of the time, things just aren’t exactly as they seem and what you’re buying isn’t technically what’s advertised.

For instance, they love to plaster their packaging with specific, deceptive key words. You already know what these are. Organic. Naturally Sweetened. You can fill in the rest. Gluten Free.

Perhaps the biggest con of all, a perilous pitfall none among us have been able to avoid and fewer still have even noticed, is the borderline-fraudulent act of Shrinkflation.

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What Is Shrinkflation?

Shrinkflation is when, instead of hiking the price of an existing product, manufacturers re-package that product in a slightly smaller pack without notice. And then they hope and pray we won’t notice.

They’re not exactly lying. Most of them make sure to state the new volume on the packaging. But manufacturers know that the average consumer doesn’t look at this. We look at the price tag. We notice that the price hasn’t gone up, and so we don’t kick up any fuss.

This is exactly what happened with the aforementioned Coca Cola situation. Except, they fumbled their packaging and consumers immediately noticed a difference. Coca Cola then made some comment on trying to save us from ourselves by limiting our sugar intake. Thanks, Coke. Trying to disingenuously tell us what to do with our bodies is somehow even worse than trying to rob us.

Shrinkflation is nothing new. They’ve been doing it with our peanut butter for years by adding dimples into the bottom of jars. Kellogg’s has been making our cereal boxes thinner, but keeping the width and height the same so that we wouldn’t notice. We trust our eyes, and then our eyes betray us.

Chocolate bars, such as the very noticeable Toblerone, and slabs have also been shrunk. So has baby formula, soap, toilet paper and ice cream. According to the UK’s Telegraph, over 2500 products have seen Shrinkflation in the last 5 years.

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There’s no conspiracy here, and it’s not illegal at all, but it is bad practice. Some would even go so far as to call it fraudulent. See, if companies put their prices up, we would have the choice whether or not to buy the products.

Now, they’re doing it with the hopes that we just won’t notice.

But, we do. We see you.


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  • Sl0m0

    How about a straight forward rip-off. I used to pay R25 for a pack of 4 razor blades. These now cost R160-R200. I worked in the plastics moulding industry and the cost of producing a plastic moulded razor blade is about R3.50 per blade. Just as the REAL cost of producing a 3-series BMW is about R90,000 – but we pay R500,000 for the same car.

  • Beaulah Strydom

    And i ask….WHAT GETS DONE ABOUT THIS? We all know and see what they doing. They underestimating our intelligence and insult us with the labelling & packaging. This is a crime. To steal from us. …and nothing happens! Every single week the prices fluctuate. How? Bought mince at Woolworths on 2 occasions and it tasted like cardboard. Is it meat? How does fillet cost R289kg? Chicken R110? Seriously? Everyday we are told to eat healthy. We cant eat healthy at this rate.
    Shame on them.

    • Ash

      As a farmer we have no control over what we are paid, unless we go and sell somewhere else. Every week the price is different. One month you’ll sell a nice 50kg lamb for R2000, the next you get R1000! Our costs don’t ever decrease – but somehow the supermarket can justify charging you R200/kg and all they do is slap a label on it, it takes us 6 months till a lamb is ready to sell and we get a whopping R74/kg…it’s time consumers started asking why they are being ripped off!

      • Beaulah Strydom

        Ash we feel your pain as a farmer. This is so wrong on all levels….what to do but to fight and complain daily and take a stand together against Retailers.
        Thank you from us and putting food on the tables…..

        • Ash

          🙂 Thanks Beaulah. As long as people know who it is that is making all the profit and don’t blame the farming community for the exorbitant prices of things. The more folks we have asking the real questions, the better.

  • Italia 2017

    Nothing new. The great South African business people, we all know who they are, are the greatest thieves this country has ever produced. South Africa is owned by 10 families and their greed is unfathomable. Bring in a super tax and use that money to feed the poorest of the poor after all the filthy rich are brought up thinking they can take their wealth to the grave.

  • Rusty

    Yip we are on the fast track of a loaf of bread for a days wage. and the richer are getting richer the middel class now poorer. and the poor? well, hell they are dying of hunger. never mind a roof over their heads. and the fatcats in the government is running away laughing like hell.