Buying Empty Space in Products Creates a Low Fake Inflation Rate

Frito-Lay chip bags are half-filled
Photo Credit: Consumer Reports

Selling air has become big business in America. This article continues my series called Hiding Inflation through deceptive packaging. And it's not just the fault of the manufacturer - most consumers are not, sad to say, handy with a calculator (translation: stupid).

This isn't something new; five years ago an investigation by Consumer Reports turned up a number of products with packages that were as much as 50% empty:

Consumer Reports, Packages That Are Full Of Air

Did you ever wonder why some packaged products in the grocery store have so much empty space in them? Consumer Reports’ recent investigation turned up several products with packages that are as much as half empty. Those include One A Day Men’s 50 + Advantage vitamins, where the plastic 50-tablet bottle looks about 40 percent empty, and Lay’s Potato chip bags that are half-filled.


Other products with ample wiggle room include Mrs. Paul’s Lightly Breaded Tilapia Fillets, Pasta Roni Garlic & Olive Oil Vermicelli, and Quaker Oatmeal to Go Brown Sugar Cinnamon bars.

Some manufacturers will give plausible excuses for mostly empty bags. Here is the caption for the photo above:

A Frito-Lay customer rep confirmed that chip bags are half-filled. But why? Delicate items pose several challenges. Chips can be broken by rollers on the packing line or pressure from machinery that seals the bags. Extra air limits pressure on chips when bags are stacked. Even altitude matters. If a bag lacks the "headspace" to accommodate pressure changes when a truck passes through high-altitude regions, for example, the seal could break.

I'm not buying it - eggs are very delicate to ship and stack, yet they haven't yet started selling single eggs in a carton.

Manufacturers tell us that consumers prefer less product if that means keeping the price low rather than raising prices. The problem with this is that it skews the Consumer Price Index which in turn means seniors will find that their social security checks will not cover the same amount of food over the years. Think about it: if a box of cereal eventually goes down to one tablespoon of product for the same $3.99 that once covered a few bowls of cereal, we are all in trouble when we retire. Social Security checks will barely increase over the years and the interest rate that banks will pay on our savings accoounts will not rise enough to cover the true inflation rate.

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