/ 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?

Kath says:
18 April 2012

I think you are a little unfair on Tesco. I bought a pack of Carte D’Or icecream in Waitrose last week – no choice of size, so just picked it up and brought it home. Reading your article today, I have just checked, and yes it is 900ml, and checking old boxes (saved fo re-use) they are all 1lr. There was no notice to tell me of the change. Of course had I noticed I would still have bought it, as this is the brand I like.

Antonio’s and Waitrose’ own have both reduced to 900 ml a long
time ago.

In case of ice cream, worth going for the dearer premium

Lyn says:
18 April 2012

You say above that “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.”

Sometimes the reduction in size is very apparent but it is still charged at the higher price. Today I thought I would stock up on Tesco Finest Madagascan Vanilla ice cream which I have been buying for a number of years as it is delicious and was considerably cheaper than similar premium branded ice cream. It use to be sold in 1 litre tubs and was usually on offer of 2 for £5.00 It has now shrunk to * 500ml* tubs, but still on ‘special offer’ of 2 tubs for £5.00 or individually at £3.99. This was such a considerable drop in size for the same price I was flabbergasted and didn’t buy any especially as it is now only a few pennies cheaper that the branded ice cream. Did they think shoppers wouldn’t notice? All this after reading that Tesco are trying to win back shoppers – I would suggest stop trying to rip the customer off would be a good start. (would agree that the premium brands of ice cream are the ones to have). I also bought some Innocent smoothies which also seem to have shrunk in size but cost the same .

For the second time in as many weeks, have been stocking up
on both Innocent apple and (smooth) orange juices on a BOGOF
offer at Sainsburys.

Contrary to what has been said elsewhere as to it being partly
constituted from concentrate, it says on the label:

“Our oranges are picked and squeezed in 24 hours.
Our juice is never concentrated and never sweetened.
Not now, not ever.”

Same assertion also as to apple juice minus the 24 hours

Used to come in one litre carafe but now with a 10%
reduction in volume that has been for quite some time, and not to
750ml someone else alluded to previously.

Argonaut, the Innocent juices are also currently on special offer at Tesco (at least when I went a few days ago) and I think are cheaper there and can be bought singly. The 750ml sizes that someone else mentioned relate to the smoothies, not the juices. The 1 litre cartons of smoothies used to be good value whenever they were on special offer (not at full price) but now they are 750 ml cartons and have yet to see a reasonable price tag on them. Also, I think it is devious the way they reduced the size of the cartons. They reduced the volume by reducing mainly the width and depth, while the height was only reduced slightly – presumably because a difference in height is more noticeable.

So innocent is guilty (of doing the same as many other companies). 🙂

Pangit says:
20 April 2012

Innocent was If my memory is correct taken over by coca cola.
Remenber coca cola was selling tap water in bottles as mineral water – which of course tap water is as it contains minerals e.g limescale, flouride.
Don’t buy coca cola products, just buy coca cola shares they are one of the best marketing companies in the world and give very good dividends. Theres money to be made in muck.

My life long loyalty to Tesco is looking threadbare.
Shrinking pack size is just one problem, but I’m unaware if all the supermarkets are up to the same trick. On the till receipts, Tesco ask “How did we do?” I’ve emailed them at least 3 times, with minor complaints, without response. If they cared, they’d reply.
The pack size trick, and I think it is a trick, can only be carried out once. If food inflation carries on, Tesco can either continue reducing the pack size or charge more. Obviously pack size reduction can only go so far, so what is the point of the exercise?
My belief is they think we’re mugs, although my experience of other supermarkets is limited. It’s obviously time I found out what’s going on in other stores, and stopped being lazy!!

Lyn says:
19 April 2012

And Tesco’s response to the shrinking ice cream tubs….

“Firstly please let me apologise for the delay in my response.

A litre tub has been discontinued at the end of February 2012. The newly introduced 500ml pack is currently sold at £2.00, which is indeed an introduction price. This is not compared to a previous multi buy offer price, as this price was for 2 tubs and not the single unit price.

I hope this helps to show that the 1 litre price was on intermitted price reductions that our buyers managed to negotiate with our supplier, but those weren’t meant to be permanent.”

Unfortunately, the price she states of £2.00 for 500ml is wrong, it is currently £3.99, which was also the single unit price also of the 1ltr tub which I still have in my freezer.

Lyn says:
22 April 2012

I replied to Tesco’s email above to point out that the information in their response was incorrect and that the price for their ice cream both in store and online was actually £3.99 per 500ml and that the volume had decreased from 1litre to 500ml despite the price remaining the same. I also mentioned to them that I had forward this on to the Which bulletin board where other consumers had also noticed that other products appeared to be decreasing in size and had the following response.
On 21 April 2012 13:42, wrote:
You mention you have also forwarded your query to Which Consumer Service. When a customer does this we’re unable to make direct comments to you until we are informed that all investigations have been concluded. No customer details are released until that time.
As soon as we receive confirmation that the matter has been finalised, we will contact you.

Looks like they don’t like being asked such pertinent questions or having their rather manipulative pricing questioned.

My suspicion with regard to all these shrinking products is that lots of companies, not just Tesco’s, are trying to maintain margins and profits which is understandable, so rather than increase the price which would hit the headlines, they have tried to disguise the reduction in size which probably 99% of people won’t notice and if they do the worst they will do is grumble but will still carry on using the same supermarket, buying the same products (in a smaller size).

I wonder if the ‘average’ weekly shopping basket which the government use to measure inflation takes into account that you are actually getting less product for your money despite having the same number of items in your basket?

All4One_One4All says:
4 May 2012


I look forward to Lyn giving us all an update as to what Tesco eventually come up with – it’ll probably need three corporate lawyers, 9 senior managers, and 27 directors to all agree an answer that by then is nothing to do with the either the problem or the question.

Don’t forget to keep us notified. I’m in need of something to cheer me up.

Jeff Kaye says:
19 April 2012

It’s interesting that Carte D’Or is an example, as in my local Tescos they have contrasting weights printed on the pack. One states 500g = 900ml, while another states 1L= 500g. Surely they both can’t be correct?

Kath says:
19 April 2012

Jeff my newest pack of Carte D’Or says 450g = 900ml.

Ciggy says:
20 May 2012

I’ve noticed the same difference, but on different flavours of Carte d’Or – the difference would be selling it by weight not volume and the different flavours have different densities.

I’m sure another shrinker was Schloer: I seem to remember they used to be 1 litre bottles, (a few years ago now) disappeared from sale for a short while and came back at 750 ml for the same price (shopping at Sainsbury’s).

I think you may find many packets across all groceries have shrunk in the last few months. I bought a box of Morrisons 150 x 2 ply tissues recently, and found the box and tissues were about 1.5 inches shorter than the previous box in my cupboard. Likewise, packets of biscuits which used to be 200g are now 175g. I wonder if the Government Department which produces the Inflation Figures is taking this into account ?

Russ says:
19 April 2012

Blimey! what a mine field!! Shopping could be taking a lot longer in future, by the time I have checked weights, capacity etc. The supermarkets are really showing what they think of their customers. They have had it too good for too long. Time to vote with your feet! A trickle of punters through the ckeckouts, and they might wake up.

Lofty says:
19 April 2012

I’m guessing no Anng.

One states 500g = 900ml, while another states 1L= 500g. Surely
they both can’t be correct?

More diluted, more watery stuff in one.

Marge says:
19 April 2012

Who are we kidding here? Don’t try and tell me that a business as large as Tesco can’t keep tabs on the size of the products that they are ordering from suppliers and the price they are selling them at.
All suppliers and supermarkets are continually shrinking the size of their products and offering less weight for the same price, and every shopper knows it.
Supermarkets and suppliers will use any scam they can get away with, they are not interested in their customers opinions, asking for feedback is just a PR ploy so that they can appear to be listening to consumers. Actually, they know that they have us over a barrel as we all need the stuff they sell and they are in the business to make profits.
It should be mandatory in law for changes in pack sizes to be notified to the consumer by a label at least one third of the size of the full label for a period of six months, so that we are aware of the change and have a choice of buying alternative products.
The answer is for consumers either to shop elsewhere or to buy different products, if enough people did that, you can bet there would be changes.
Sorry to rant, it winds me up, its just like the banks only in a different area of business.

Lofty says:
19 April 2012

Well said Marge,the culture of avarice and deceit!


Agree… already shop where the best deals are, unfortunately
shops being businesses take not the slightest bit of notice
as to customer opinion or feedback until critical mass is reached
adversely affecting their profit margins, also Trading Standards
are slow to intervene in cases of clear breaches/transgressions
as doing absolutely nothing in two separate cases I’d reported.

Vote with our feet/wallets but the average Joe Bloggs/Jane is much too
inert or complacent to change their shopping habits.

Hopefully naming and shaming here shall do some good.

This sort of scam has been going on for quite a while. Frozen peas used to be 1000gm packs now they’re 900gm. The price being generally the same. Iceland do it, Morrisons do it etc. In fact “Birds do it, Bees do it, every Supermarket do-es it, lets put the price up”.

In a rising costs situation supermarkets have choices such as, cut their margin, put the price up, sell less at the same price. The first is a no no, the second – if you’re saying you’re cheaper than the competition is again a no no, so the only option left is the third.

Tesco’s attitude to customer service as exemplified by their staff is generally “its an honour for you to grace our store and if you have a problem & complain we’ll do everything to mitigate our loss”. That’s why they’re losing customers.

Steve B says:
19 April 2012

Its a bit of a cheek of Tesco to blame their suppliers.. The onus MUST be on Tesco to check what is being deliverd by their suppliers and update their website accordingly. I don’t suppose the label on their shelf is wrong so why not get their website up to date? Surely this is in breach of the sale of good act to offer 1L at a charge and then supply 900ml in it place. I know someone involved in the supply chain to Tesco and they inform me that Tesco have a ruthless approach to suppliers and hauliers alike so its time practice what you preach and get it right or compensate!

Joanna says:
19 April 2012

I’ve supplied Tesco in the past, and their fines are hefty for non-compliance with their many regulations. I’m sure that issues do slip through: as I’ve experienced it, essentially they put the onus on suppliers to get everything right to avoid checking costs in-house. But it’s also a very convenient excuse.

Pangit says:
19 April 2012

Now Tesco has lost business in the UK – the latest UK profit figures are down.
What are they going to do, spend 1 billion £ repainting all their stores to get customers back.
Just how stupid can they get, do they think people go into the store because it looks newly painted,
no we go to shop for the best value for money. Roll on LIDL, ALDI etc.

Tesco used to be, pile it high and sell it cheap 50years ago – Thats why they did so well then.
Tesco should spend 1 Billion £ and go back to it’s root success – pile it high and sell it cheap.

yawner says:
19 April 2012

What’s pathetic is that a business like Tesco can have such a huge investment in a loyalty scheme while the merchandising side of the business is deceitfully displaying products (e.g. side by side with different units making it difficult to price compare).

Every time I visit Tesco and experience this and other transparently sneaky merchandising, I have the impression that Tesco management must have disdain and low regard for their customers.

No doubt their ‘Everyday Value’ campaign was designed to address this feedback, but it was a campaign not a real change in the way they do business and only servers to underscore the lack of authenticity.

Tesco have many talented managers and loads of consultants and agencies, some of whom must be giving good advice… its a shame that management hasn’t been able to take it.

I Rate says:
27 April 2012

Agreed Yawner about tescos making it difficult to relate prices to products. What’s more tescos have another trick up their sleeve in this particular area: the disappearing price label of ordinary products that would compete with something they are trying to shift via an offer. As I am aware this is their practice I now ask about the missing price, so I can compare products and almost invariably the one which turns out to be cheaper is the one without price label. What a sneaky way to make the customer think they are getting a bargain, when in fact tescos are pedalling what they want to get rid of, at the consumers’ expense!

Tony says:
19 April 2012

I am a new convert to on-line shopping and was very put off by the approach ASDA take. On our first order we decided to order mostly special deals such as 2 for the price of one. However, when delivery arrived some of the special deals had finished and instead of being notified of this prior to delivery arriving the missing special deals had been replaced by the same number (ie 2 instead of 1)but at the regular price. So instead of an item on special being priced singly at 2 pounds for example and ordering two and only paying for one – the price doubled. I feel that all special promotions on-line should have an ending date clearly marked so that customers know if they can safely order an item. It seems misrepresentation at the least not to inform customers. This is more important as in-store this problem would not arise at the checkout, whereas on-line most orders will not be shipped until 48 hours has passed after placing the order, and by that time a special promotion may have ended..

Admittedly they do notify on-line customers of this in the on-line small print, but nonetheless it would not hurt for ASDA to be up-front with their customers. Even more so in these difficult financial times as it could easily push the delivery price too high if people are on low incomes. Especially if, like me, they are pensioners.

Alastair says:
20 April 2012

Interesting reading the comment regarding Asda above. We’ve been using Tesco on-line for a few years now and generally find it good. Drivers are courteous, they always do bring substitutions to your attention. I guess pack sizes are a different thing – if they don’t know that a pack size has been reduced from 1kg to 900g they wouldn’t necessarily know, but as has been said previously, that’s either a management or system failure or a deliberate attempt at deception. In either way it’s reasonable to contact trading standards.

As far as offers go though, the Tesco website does warn you if you have selected an offer that expires before delivery.

One area where we have had problems recently has been with the more complex multibuy offers and substitutions in that – for example the meal deals where a particular bottle of wine, a main course, a side dish and dessert for £10 – but the offer fails where an individual item is substituted. In the past I’ve ended up sending things back if I’ve caught it, but as this has thrown out reasonably sorted meal plans out this wasn’t ideal, and I spoke to the telephone helpline (which is sometimes busy but you do at least get to talk to a real person who has details of your order) – they suggested better to accept it and then call the hotline, so I tried that, and I have to say I was impressed. Compared with most hotlines you have the pleasant experience that the person that you talk with actually has the authority to fix the issue – and we have had a balancing credit to the credit card sorted very quickly.

We have had occasional laughs about completely inappropriate substitutions; but then I’m sure there are times when I’ve returned from the supermarket with something that I can’t remember why I bought!

jim s says:
20 April 2012

Picking up from Anng’s point, if the changes to packaging sizes are not inflationary then it seems there must be a cosy relationship between the supermarkets and the government. The supermarkets make more money and the government doesn’t have to worry about the impact on inflation. Perhaps Which? should be raising this with the Office for National Statistics.

Joanne Hodgson says:
20 April 2012

50 years ago I can remember running to the Coop for shopping with a list (posh kids had a small notebook) and the assistants writing the price on the list and adding it up for me to take home so mum could see I had the correct change in my purse and they would tell me to tell my mother that the price of baked beans would be going up in 2 weeks by one (old) penny so she needed to stock up. In those days it seemed the shops were on the customer side but did the rot start when Wagon Wheels became the size of micro scooter wheels. Our local bakery, has put the price up of all its products and reduced the size. A bite sized cheese scone is now 96p.