I suppose it all started with the Toblerone news; at the end of last year people were in uproar to learn that our favourite airport purchase was being tampered with. Specifically, the gaps between the famous chocolate peaks were being widened and thus the total amount of sticky confectionery per bar was being reduced. Apparently the 400g bars now weigh 370g and the 170g bars now weigh 150g. The packaging has not been changed, so the full horror is only revealed once you have opened up the inviting flap at the end of the box.
Now I probably only eat Toblerone once every few years, but I have seen pictures of the revised model, and concur that it does look wrong. One of the joys of biting into a Toblerone was having your teeth gnaw at one of the choccy triangles while taking a surreptitious lick of the next one down the line. Now there is no chance of that happening. With the enlarged gap there is no hope of even the longest tongue finding its way down to the next triangle.
Sweetness aside, the debate has, not surprisingly, provoked a furious backlash. Horrified of Heathrow Airport made his views clearly known, followed by Gutted of Gatwick, Sickened of Stansted and Livid of Luton. But there is, as ever, another side to the argument. Some consumers have applauded Mondelez International, the makers of Toblerone, for publicly announcing the change. They could have called it ‘new, improved Toblerone’. How many times have you bought the latest version of a product you know, love and trust only to find it isn’t quite the same as what it was last time? A classic example of this is when the amount of product has been reduced, the packaging resized to fit a smaller item, but.. the price is just the same.
This doesn’t just happen with foodstuffs of course – quantities in individual packets of cosmetics and toiletries are frequently altered, and usually without the accompanying frankness employed by Mondelez. Apparently there is a correlation between the amount of product reduction and price, and it is snappily called the ‘JND’. Or ‘Just Noticeable Difference’ to you. It is typically held at within 10% of the previous product size. In real terms this means that companies can reduce the content of say, a packet of crisps, by 10% without formally alerting the consumer, on the assumption that they probably won’t notice. Then, later down the line of the product’s lifespan, the manufacturer can reinstate the original quantity of product whilst trumpeting it as ‘10% extra free’. Clever, eh?
Another aspect of this is the attraction of the in-store promotion – buying something which has apparently had its price significantly reduced. How many of us can resist this one? The Government’s current pricing practice guidelines state that before a price is reduced in a sale, the product must have been sold at a higher price for 28 consecutive days in that store within six previous months. However, unlike my late mother-in-law, who kept a daily household diary including expenditure for some 70 years, I do not record reams of tightly itemised domestic figures, with the result that if I’m being conned I’m unlikely to notice it. I’ll just happily pay what it says on the packet and hope the guidelines are indeed being enforced by the store to which today’s loyalty belongs.
Faced with these levels of trickery, I feel positively glowing about Mondelez’s honesty. Let them eat Toblerone.