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Worth the weight?

Worth the weight?

It's ironical how we hate to lose out on a few grams of vegetables while haggling with the vendor, but are blinded by the bright lights of a store while picking up grocery.

It's ironical how we hate to lose out on a few grams of vegetables while haggling with the vendor, but are blinded by the bright lights of a store while picking up grocery. Why else would we ignore the weight of soaps and detergent powders?

If this question had you scrambling-as it should-to check the weight stamped on the soap wrapper, you would have breathed a sigh of relief. After all, the bold letters read: Filled weight 120 g. Wipe off that smug grin. Go through the fine print and you'll come across a decidedly illegible piece of information: Net weight 109 g. So, where did the 11 grams go?

Evaporated, say FMCG companies. Their reasoning for the disparity is that the weight is correct when the product is packaged but evaporation tends to reduce it. This may be true in the case of soaps and washing bars, but how can detergent powder evaporate from air-tight packets?

What's Vanishing?
ProductFilled wt Net Wt Difference
Bathing soap125 g116 g 7.2%
Washing soap 200 g 190 g 5%
Detergent1.5 kg 1.43 kg 4.7%

You can't cry foul as FMCG companies aren't resorting to any illegal practice. They're just taking advantage of a change in rules to counteract the rising input costs, which has been pushing up the prices of their products, especially soaps, detergent bars and washing powders.

Instead of increasing the price, they are reducing the weight. For instance, instant noodle manufacturers have reduced the content weight from 100 g a few years ago to 85 g. So you are paying the same price, but taking home less.

One would have accepted it if they had been upfront about it, but it has been a subtle change that most consumers have failed to notice. Perhaps you've puzzled over the washing powder running out in 45 wash cycles instead of the usual 50. But you've probably ignored it, figuring that there is scope for such discrepancies.

Except that this one is here to stay. Unfortunately, this indirect inflation is eating into your budget. Companies are resorting to this tactic for low-end product variants, which are bought mostly by the middle class. Hence, it's pinching where it hurts most.

Till 2006, there were stringent rules about package sizes under the Standards of Weights and Measures (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 1977. Companies could only sell in specified sizes. However, this was amended in July 2006 after the industry complained about increasing costs of raw material.

As it wasn't viable to change prices constantly, they wanted the flexibility to alter the weight, which was agreed to. But they had to specify that the package was a 'non-standard size'.

Companies have used this rule to progressively reduce the weight of the products. To ensure that you are not alarmed by the smaller package size, they are highlighting what they refer to as 'filled weight' on the wrapping and are relegating the net weight to an obscure corner.

This phenomenon and its variants are creeping into other products too. Recently, Consumer Voice, an NGO working in the field of consumer awareness, tested tinned rasgullas of eight popular brands. Though each can stated that the weight was 1 kg, the actual weight of rasgullas after the syrup was drained was between 179 g and 367 g, not even half of the weight declared on the container.

Another way to hide the change in weight is to pack less in a bigger container. "You now have much bigger packs, while the product inside is comparatively small, a difference that is noticeable as you can hear the product rattling inside," says Debabrata Dev, a packaging consultant. So the next time you pick up an FMCG product, keep your eyes peeled for the fine print.

Reading it may save you more money than haggling for a fistful of coriander.

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