Category Archives: June 2013

Remembering the Three Pound Coffee Can: The Story of Shrinking Food Packages

When I was young, my parents would buy three pounds of their favorite coffee packed in a sturdy, metal can.  These cans became the storage containers of choice once they were empty.  Mom stored party mix and holiday baked goods in them until needed. Slap some wrapping paper and a bow on one of these and you had the prototype for the modern popcorn tin.  I’ll bet there are tens of thousands of these cans still holding nails and screws in garages, workshops and barns across the nation.

3/365 -- A can of junk

3/365 — A can of junk (Photo credit: SomeHoosier

Why the sudden nostalgia for three pound coffee cans, you ask?  I travel to grocery stores around the state representing some of the largest food vendors.  One task I perform is checking if stores are changing the price and size shelf labels when our products have changes.  You might be surprised how often the product size gets smaller but the price stays the same.  You’re paying the same price for less food.


Food marketers know that consumers notice price increases more than shrinking sizes.  Companies and their marketing departments find creative ways to give you less for more money. The cereal box you bring home might be as tall and wide as the older one in your pantry, but it might be just a little thinner, or there is a bit more air in the bag.  That dimple in the bottom of your juice bottle could be wider and deeper than it used to be, robbing you of a couple of ounces.

If the marketing department can make you pay more for less, and make you think you are getting a bargain, that is a bonus.  A new, easy pour handle on a drink bottle is more convenient for consumers to use.  The bottle is also easier to pour because it contains a few less ounces of juice.  Environmentally  friendly new packaging is often another gimmick to shrink product size.  The new package may be better for the environment, but not so good on the wallet.  One company announced that their product now comes in a convenient six-serving size.  They forgot to mention the old size was eight servings.

Let’s not forget about our pets.  Many company’s  large bags of dry dog food were 40 pounds.  Most large bags now are 35-36 pounds.  Small 4 pound bags have shrunk to 3.2 pounds.  Some marketing executive probably got a bonus for this idea.  One company reduced their big bags from 40 pounds to 36 pounds without lowering the price.  A couple of months later they were selling 40 pound bags again, but this time they advertised that you were getting 4 pounds free.  You do the math.


While I’m working, I see many customers reading nutrition labels. These required labels make it possible to compare the nutritional value of different brands.  Most major grocery chains have price labels on the shelf which allow you to compare the cost of different brands.  This price label will show a unit price per ounce or pound for different sizes and brands of a product. Use the unit price information to chose between several brands which have the same or very similar nutritional composition.  When looking at the shelf labels, make certain the size listed on the label matches the size shown on the package.  Some stores do not keep up on price and size changes as well as they should.  If you find a discrepancy, please bring it to the attention of a store associate.  In most states, it is a legal requirement that this information be accurate.


All minimalists know to ignore the hype you hear in advertising.  Ads stating that the packages have a  “New design”, are  “Improved”, or Easier to use” are often code for “It will cost you more”.  As costs for commodities rise and transportation costs increase, we know that food prices are going to rise.  Avoid the hype, read the labels, and make your own informed buying decisions.

PS.  Please share your 3 pound coffee can stories in the comments section along with any observations you have about this article.