The Times has an excellent article on hidden food inflation. Rather than raise prices, packagers, as they did back in the inflationary 1970s, are reducing the amount of food in their standard-sized boxes and bags. You think you’re getting the previous amount, while they pocket the difference:
For Lisa Stauber, stretching her budget to feed her nine children in Houston often requires careful monitoring at the store. Recently, when she cooked her usual three boxes of pasta for a big family dinner, she was surprised by a smaller yield, and she began to suspect something was up.
“Whole wheat pasta had gone from 16 ounces to 13.25 ounces,” she said. “I bought three boxes and it wasn’t enough — that was a little embarrassing. I bought the same amount I always buy, I just didn’t realize it, because who reads the sizes all the time?”
Ms. Stauber, 33, said she began inspecting her other purchases, aisle by aisle. Many canned vegetables dropped to 13 or 14 ounces from 16; boxes of baby wipes went to 72 from 80; and sugar was stacked in 4-pound, not 5-pound, bags, she said.
The creative destruction of capitalism provides Lisa with an alternative today that wasn’t available in the days of Jimmy Carter: big box stores and cheap, sophisticated vacuum-bagging gear.
For about six months now, ever since I noticed food prices creeping upwards, I’ve been buying in bulk at Costco and dividing up big-ticket items — including oversize cuts of meat, cheeses, fish, and Starbucks coffee beans — into two-person-sized portions with a nifty little vacuum-bagging device from Foodsaver. Getting rid of the air around the food, as opposed to merely wrapping it in foil or plastic, works wonders. Supplies keep in the refrigerator much longer, and in the freezer practically forever without freezer burn. By eliminating waste and buying in bulk, the Foodsaver folks claim its possible to save up to 43 percent of the cost of food you buy at big box store, as opposed to the local supermarket.
I haven’t been keeping score with my own budget, but the claim doesn’t strike me as outrageous, particularly since I’m shopping, and therefore driving, less. With such a potentially huge impact on prices, it will be interesting to see, over the next few years, whether inflation will radically change shopping and eating habits, with consumer increasingly becoming compulsive vacuum-baggers and big-box-store shoppers.