/ Shopping

Tesco.com’s smaller packs left me feeling short-changed

If you shop for food online, you’ve probably had to deal with ‘substitutions’. But what happens if the substitutions are just smaller versions of the products you asked for, while the prices stay the same?

I like to do the bulk of my food shopping online, and most of the time it’s straightforward and hassle-free. But I was recently unimpressed when, as part of Which? research into online shopping, Tesco sent me smaller versions of several products I’d ordered.

I received a 900ml tub of Carte D’Or Light Vanilla ice cream instead of the one-litre tub I ordered; a 330ml pack of Magnum ice creams instead of 360ml; and a 592ml bottle of Ariel Excel Gel with Febreze in place of the 667ml bottle.

I wouldn’t have had a problem with receiving smaller packs if the prices had been reduced – but that wasn’t the case. As we’ve found in the past, when the pack sizes of grocery items are reduced, the prices often stay the same.

I could even have forgiven Tesco if it had informed me that I was getting smaller packs for the same price. But neither the receipt nor the delivery man made any mention of these changes.

Easy to miss errors like this

When we asked Tesco why this had happened, it told us:

‘Our suppliers are required to inform us of changes to their products, so that we can update our customers. We are sorry that this hasn’t happened in a small number of cases, and are reminding all our suppliers of their obligations.’

My research may well have unearthed an isolated incident, but unless you check your groceries against your receipt immediately – which is almost impossible to do, as in my experience drivers are keen to drop shopping off as quickly as possible – there’s no way to spot this kind of error until it’s too late.

It can also be difficult to keep track of shrinking products, as many don’t display clear unit pricing. With no standard way to compare products by weight, it can be easy to miss when your favourite ice cream suddenly gets a bit lighter in your shopping bag.

Do you always carefully check your receipt when you do food shopping online? And have you spotted size discrepancies in the products you’ve ordered?

Adrian says:
22 April 2012

I don’t do my grocery shopping online, but this story does just confirm my suspicion that Tesco appear to have a deliberate policy of confusing shoppers by inconsistent, misleading or simply false product pricing.

Last year I noticed an offer on Tesco ice cream which noted “2 for 1 on 1l or 900ml packs”. Yes, it was labelled, which was good, but was it just a way of easing in a price rise due to pack shrinkage?

The size of Tesco brand savoury slices was reduced some months ago. The shelf label showed the old size and, now incorrect unit price – and did so for at least two months after the pack size changed.

To say that they haven’t been informed by their suppliers is, to put in politely, disingenuous. They make the same ‘mistake’ with their own products and are very slow at correcting the ‘error’.

Paul says:
23 April 2012

What I’d be very interested to know if anyone has an before and after shrinking pack and compare the barcodes, they _ought_ to be different. If they aren’t then it looks like the supplier is trying to pull a ‘fast-one’. If they _are_ different then the supermarket must be complicit because they would have had to set this up in their system and therefore should have known that the pack size had changed.

ktc says:
25 April 2012

I regularly do on-line shopping with Tesco. The shrinking pack size at the same price is quite common. The items are usually labelled correctly, you just have to remember what the size was before. The two examples in my recent shop:

1)Tesco Baby Ultrasoft Wipes now come in packs of 64 instead of 80 (I’ve looked at bar codes – they are different. The packaging is exactly the same apart from number change)
2)Oaktree Estate 5 Sausage Roll 300g (as on my receipt)
Oaktree Estate 4 Sausage Roll 240g (what I actually got) (this is mis-selling?)

ktc says:
25 April 2012

To be fair, Tesco online do refund money no quibble when you do complain about items delivered

Morrison have a clever one.They put Ltr bottle of Whiskey on offer and fill the shelves with 70cl when the small quantity Ltrs go.You dont know untill you get home.

Aldi display a pack of assorted seeds as 150 gram.On the pack is printed 120grams.Maybe a case for trading standards?

Maybe just have a polite word with a member of staff.

Not strictly an online issue, but I have a Clubcard coupon from Tesco’s that gives me 75p off any skinless & bonelss red or pink salmon if I purchase a 180g tin; the coupon is recent and valid intil 25 May 2012. But, yes, you have guessed right – all the tin sizes have been reduced to 170g and the coupon is not accepted at the till!

Ann says:
26 April 2012

I usually shop at Tesco and have noticed that the bars of Nature Valley Cereal Bars sold 6 in a pack are noticeably smaller than they were, but are sold at the same price.
Tesco Super Concentrated Liquid Detergents, approved by the Good Housekeeping Institute, are now sold in smaller bottles, but at the original price.
Copella fruit juices are now sold in smaller bottles, but at the same price. The label on the bottles advises us of the “new size 750 ml”, they are not specific in saying “smaller size for the same price”.

All4One_One4All says:
3 May 2012

Tesco has assumed the Which? represetative that contacted them had no knowledge of the retail industry, and they look to be correct in their assumption. Here is what I would have done:

GS1 issue barcodes to manufacturers, suppliers, and vendors. GS1 has strict rules on barcoding. A barcode change is required on: (a) Any change to declared net content, (b) Changes to wording of the existing product name, product brand or product description, and (c) Any dimensional change to packaging of more than 20% in any axis.

Do the reduced size packs have the same barcode as the previous larger packs?
– If they do, the manufacturer/supplier has been extremely naughty. This is very unlikely. If they can’t be legally fined, the law needs to be changed.
– If the barcodes are different, then Tesco must get its EPOS data for the new reduced size item either from a data provider, or by creating it itself. Regardless, Tesco, the data provider, or both are at fault. This is far more likely.
– It only takes one person to complain, and the fault should be fixed. This should take minutes, but I’d give supermarkets an hour (just in case the person doing all the changes is overworked due to masses of changes), and then they’d be in the proverbial.

Supermarkets pretend to customers that they are at the mercy of the suppliers/manufacturers. In fact the opposite applies. Manufacturesr/suppliers supply the supermarkets with the exact specification they demand. So when supermarkets ask for say fresh fruit salad, they specify the content, how ripe it should be, shelf life, what the banana pickers should have had for breakfast (joking, but I guess you understand just a little bit more now just how powerful these supermarkets are).

In many cases, manufacturers/suppliers must rent shelf space for their products. Shelves in different locations have different prices.

Question: You say you were unaware of the pack size change, but the Barcode has changed. Where did Tesco get its EPOS data from for the new barcodes?

Question: Why don’t Tesco include barcode information on their website?

Question: Why don’t Tesco put barcodes on their till receipts?

Question: Why are barcodes on the shelf labels so small that they are almost unreadable?

Question: Are Tesco going to make shelf label barcodes numbers at least 12 point? Or are they going to supply free magnifying glasses? Or are they going to do nothing or make them even smaller?

So when they told the Which? representative that they were unaware of pack size changes, I think they were pulling his or her leg.

Lofty says:
20 May 2012

Further obfuscation,Tesco were selling pizza cheese last week.Large pack priced £7 per kilo.Identical product in smaller pack promoted as two for £3.50 came in and labelled as £1. per 100 gram.!

David says:
10 August 2012

Shopping at TESCO? Check that smaller packets have a lower unit price than larger packets, it is very often the case.

Also check unit price of sale items against normal sales, as again the unit price of the normal sales is often lower.

Simba says:
22 October 2012

Yes tesco I purchased a tesco finest chicken and beech smoked bacon pasta bake today and as always weight of 800grams however you’ve put the price up by £1 but the most insulting trick in the book was you mislead me to believe that I was getting more for my money by making the packaging flatter and wider making me think I was getting a bigger meal. Wasn’t I silly thinking I was getting more for my money from tesco. Silly me I suppose if you become greedy every little helps eh.

I buy walnut pieces to add to muesli. It turns out that the walnuts in the cooking section are around half the price of those in the healthy eating snacks section. However, the kicker is that 2x100gm packets are 12p cheaper than 1x200g packet (£2.38 vs £2.50). Common sense would suggest the same amount in one large pack should be cheaper (and greener in packaging) than in smaller bags. It is not a special offer, or multi-buy discount, etc., this pricing discrepancy has been in place for at least a year.

I posted a comment about this on the Tesco comments web site, and got a phone call back this morning from a customer services agent. The guy was very defensive about the pricing, talking about branch pricing, temporary pricing, and offers. I told him this was not branch pricing, not an offer, was confirmed by an independent price comparison site, and had been priced that way for at least 1 year. He got quite steamed up, saying he didn’t want a confrontation, before suggesting that it was their suppliers that determine the cost of each packaging size, and if they weren’t selling many of the larger packs, they’d make Tesco pay more for them(!). He then apologised for any confusion, saying their aim was customer satisfaction and lowest prices for the consumer. I told him that those aims would be best achieved by pricing large packs lower than equivalent in small packs. He repeated the claim that the suppliers dictated their pricing, and started talking about strange pricing on offers again. I thanked him and rang off.

Carl Hill says:
3 April 2015


Over the last year I have been monitoring various products and this scam is covering the bulk of our shopping. Coffee that was 200grms is now 190grm, ice cream is 900ml not 1 litre, spreads are 400grm not 500grm,soft cheese 280grm not 300grm etc etc etc. Can someone please explain to me how they calculate inflation, I know it is based on prices but in the case of food we are getting less for our Pound, so how can inflation be coming down.?

I have often quoted instant coffee as a product that is sensibly sold in multiples of 100g, so it is disappointing to read your message, Carl. 🙁

The answer must be to ignore the amount and focus on the unit price. I don’t do this for everything but I have got a good idea of what is a reasonable unit price for the products I buy most frequently.

Carl Hill says:
3 April 2015

Just to add it is not Tesco or any other supermarket it is the food manufacturer, supermarkets don’t produce their own food.

A report in the April 2015 Which? Magazine shows that the manufacturers are playing a sneaky game with price variations. They claim that their recommended reselling prices have changed proportionately to the weight/volume/quantity changes they have introduced [if so, why have they made changes – do they take us for fools?] and that the supermarkets make the ultimate decisions on the retail price; however, they won’t reveal what they are charging the stores at the wholesale level. In almost every instance quoted in the article the manufacturers have claimed that they have made recipe improvements, or introduced better packaging, or in response to unstated economic factors. There is a more up-to-date Conversation on this topic called “Are shrinking products a sneaky way of increasing prices?” [20/03/15].

In terms of the “economic factors” that manufacturers whinge about to justify their product changes, I am wondering when the positive economic factors like falling road fuel costs, cheaper energy, low interest rates, and stagnant wage growth will start to feature in their pricing calculations??

Mary says:
4 February 2022

If I request a substitute for a 120gm tin of Tuna, could I be given a 80gm tin & charged the same price as the 120gm tin?