Saving costs by reducing quality

I am not a big fan of sweets (I have never been able to get used to the word ‘candy’ that is the term used in the US) and even then I only like a very few, like Cadbury’s milk chocolate bars or Kit Kat. Leigh Morland is annoyed at what is happening to chocolate bars.

Chocolate lovers are restless. Many much-loved chocolate bars are changing shape, getting smaller, or contain a lower cocoa content, so they just don’t taste as good. When it comes to choosing a sweet treat, there seems to be a greater range than ever – but, for many people, the bar they’ve enjoyed all their lives just doesn’t seem the same.

And the truth is, in a lot of cases, it isn’t.

But a balance between cost and function is not always achieved. A recent Which? survey revealed the widespread shrinking of grocery products with no corresponding reduction in price.
As well as the shrinking Dairy Milk bar, Creme Eggs have gone from being sold in packs of six to five, Yorkie has been reduced to five chunks. Mars and Snickers are smaller, although they are less calorific.

I can understand the dilemma for manufacturers faced with growing costs of production. Raising prices may lower sales. Making the product size smaller may be less noticeable for the buyer than raising the price and so one has seen the steady shrinking of the packaging.

This is defensible. If people want more, they can buy more. What I find mystifying are decisions that are taken that lower the quality of the product by switching to cheaper ingredients. Surely that will alienate consumers who will stop buying it altogether? I wrote before about how I used to always buy Breyers ice cream because of its quality but stopped when they replaced its natural ingredients with artificial junk. I noticed the change only because the product had become so inferior to the taste. So rather than buying less of the same product, I stopped buying it altogether. That post got a large number of comments. Clearly I had struck a nerve.

So why do manufacturers do this? Do they think that the next generation of consumers will have no standard for comparison and so treat their new shoddy product as the best that they can do?


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    Sometimes these things are the result of a change in ownership. For example, Cadbury was bought by Kraft in 2010. Breyer’s was owned by Kraft for a long time, then wound up being owned by Unilever in 1993. The slide in quality began in 2006, and is cited as a “cost-cutting measure.”

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    So howcum we have higher costs and lower quality for even products bought only by the elite, such as Congress and presidents?

  3. mnb0 says

    “So why do manufacturers do this?”
    Because you and I are in the minority. Most consumers don’t notice or don’t care, especially if the quality drop is gradual.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    Pierce R. Butler #3: products bought only by the elite, such as Congress and presidents?

    Such as?

  5. jrkrideau says

    3. Pierce R. Butler
    So howcum we have higher costs and lower quality for even products bought only by the elite, such as Congress and presidents?

    Because the customer does not have the time or desire to do anything about it? Or does not think they have the power to do anything about it?

    Also if one makes the changes slowly the consumer may not really notice until it either too late or until the situation becomes really drastic. Have a look at the Hershey Bar graph by Stephen Jay Gould mentioned below.

    If one can generate enough indignation or a boycott then the “whatever” will return.
    Funny in a way but it illustrates my point

    Here we have weird nationalism plus total indignation by fanatical French’s Ketchup lovers in action but, in any case French’s Ketchup is back on the shelves of one of the largest grocery chains in Canad

    There is a great essay on reduced size and the cost of Hershey Bars, called “”Phyletic size decrease in Hershey bars” by Stephen Jay Gould found in his collection of essays, HEN’S TEETH AND HORSE’S TOES
    One can see it on page 12 of this horrible and apparently bootlegged copy of chapter two of Leland Willinson’s book.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Reginald Selkirk @ # 5: Such as?

    Funny you should ask, as I voted in Florida’s primary election today.

    I didn’t get to vote for any Congressional candidate, as the Democrats offered only one sacrificial lamb who will get zero support from the state party in this gerrymandered district.

    The Senate box had a set of five choices: two I’d never heard of and probably never will again; one known only from a friend’s vaguely positive response to her talk at a party dinner; one a notorious loose cannon with serious personal problems; one a status-quo warrior with strong Republican proclivities. The last will almost certainly get the nomination, to challenge a Republican incumbent already far beyond his level of competence. In any case, millions will be spent promoting and denigrating deplorable individuals; the continuing health, ecological, and economic disasters along growing swathes of coastlands* under the carpet along with the homeless and the bleeding and the world.

    *not just in The Gunshine State™, either.

    jrkrideau @ # 6: Because the customer does not have the time or desire to do anything about it? Or does not think they have the power to do anything about it?

    Our friends the 1%ers have their faults, but they rarely suffer from feelings of powerlessness. Except for when the leather straps come out, I s’poze.

  7. fentex says

    Over the course of my life I’ve noticed a lot of sweets I enjoy disappear and a vast increase in the quantity of simple flavoured gum gelatins.

    Hard sweets have nearly disappeared, I have to go on-line to boutique manufacturers to find hard cinnamon bars, real aniseed wheels, hard toffees. And much of what persists has changed flavour.

    A few years ago Cadbury in New Zealand switched from whole milk to palm oil in their chocolate and much to my delight their sales just stopped. Flat out stopped. And in the fastest corporate turn-around ever seen within two weeks there were profound apologies and promises to go back.

    I get especially annoyed by those corporations that buy competitors, shelve their product, and will not sell recipes to others, while using the brand to sell more bland gelatin. This has happened often in NZ and is why I buy from some boutiques who are trying (it’s interesting to experience the efforts) to replace old favourites.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    I have some professional experience in this area. A few observations:
    -- how something tastes is incredibly complicated. You might think it’s mostly to do with the taste buds on your tongue -- wrong. That’s a very low-resolution instrument that can distinguish four or five different things and not with any great degree of accuracy of intensity. You might know that, and believe that taste is more to do with smell -- most of what you think of as the taste of something is actually how it smells. But there are demonstrable, repeatable effects on consumers’ impression of taste achievable by changing the shape (but not texture) of a product (i.e. using a different mold) and even by changing the colour of the packaging or style of packaging. I’m old enough to remember when chocolate bars came wrapped in foil with a paper outer wrapper, rather than the “flow-wrap” familiar today. The experience of opening it was different, which made the experience of eating it different. Heston Blumenthal has a lot to say about how the environment affects our impressions of food, but you don’t have to be eating bacon and egg ice cream at the Fat Duck to be the receiving end of molecular gastronomy. The makers of your sweets work hard to make you feel a particular way about them because it provably affects how it tastes and whether you buy it.
    -- whether something tastes “good” is not an objective judgement. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk made in the UK tastes different to Dairy Milk made in Dublin. The difference is subtle, but everyone I’ve tried it on (couple of dozen) has been able to discern that there’s a difference. There’s no pattern to which people prefer, in my experience. There is a pattern when people try Dairy Milk made in Poland -- if you grew up with UK Dairy Milk, Polish Dairy Milk tastes foul. But if you grew up with the Polish version, UK CDM tastes nasty. Neither is better or worse than the other objectively, they’re just different, and most people buy chocolate as comfort food and the most important part of that comfort is familiarity. The upshot of this is that whoever owns the company, they move production of that product (and thus alter the flavour) at their peril.
    -- years ago (before I worked there) I saw a documentary about Creme Eggs, where schoolchildren were shown the Creme Egg machine (yes, there’s just the one). At the Q&A, a kid asked the tour guide/engineer whether it was true that Creme Eggs had got smaller. He adopted his finest condescending tone and said “Young man, when you have a product which is as successful as Creme Egg, you don’t mess with it.”
    -- THAT being said, they did mess with it (a bit), and with a lot of their other products, but for reasons forced on them. Dairy Milk is the “gold standard”, the chocolate that needs to be the best they make because nothing dilutes the flavour -- it’s sold as a moulded bar with no additives, or just fruit and/or nuts. There is however simply no point using that top-drawer product to coat something like a Picnic, because the flavour of the wafers, biscuits, raisins, caramel and so on overpower it. Coating bars like that used to be done with lower-quality chocolate made partly from “rework” -- reprocessed misshapes and so on. Creme Egg, filled with gooey, sickly glucose, used that slightly lower quality chocolate for its entire production run for decades, and nobody had any complaints. Then in about 2007 there was a scandal involving the presence of salmonella in the production stream. Part of the fallout was a stronger corporate focus on traceability, and the use of rework was discontinued. What that meant was that now ALL Cadbury products, not just the moulded bars, would use Dairy Milk. Costly, but necessary from a PR point of view.
    Fast forward a few years and the decision is made to use a lower cost, lower quality process to make chocolate for “countlines” -- Picnics, Creme Eggs and so on. Still a fully traceable process, just one that doesn’t use the very specific, expensive cocoa butter mix you need for Dairy Milk. Cue tabloid fury, because although it’s less than a decade since Creme Eggs were made BETTER, and nobody complained in the four or five decades before that, now they’re being made WORSE (although I defy anyone to tell the difference in a blind test).
    -- chocolate makers are in a double bind. Their profits depend on people spending ever greater amounts on chocolate (and spending on chocolate bars goes UP in a recession, because it’s a cheap treat). At the same time, with every passing year the message gets louder that chocolate, and specifically the enormous amount of sugar in the average chocolate bar, is really, really bad for you. The companies still want to sell the bars, but now label bigger ones as “good to share”, and make the small ones smaller to assuage the buyer’s guilt. It’s a tricky line to walk from a marketing point of view.

  9. Marshall says

    @sonofrojblake #9,

    Interesting post. It looks like Dairy Milk is dealing with something that many producers of goods face: they know better than their ignorant customers. So what do they do--cater to the truth, or to customer demands? It’s probably frustrating.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    @ my # 7, pls read --

    … sacrificial lamb who will get zero support from the state party in this ** Ted-Yoho-for-crysake ** district…

    Add extreme emoticons per your choice.

  11. Mano Singham says


    The point of the same brand tasting different from different countries is interesting. As I said, I like Cadburys Dairy Milk and preferred the ones made in New Zealand (I have family there and so can get regular supplies) over the ones made in the US. The NZ ones seemed to me to be creamier and less harsh, somehow. But the last batch that I got from NZ this June did not taste as good as before and I was not able to figure out the reason.

  12. david73 says

    It is tragic, most sweets are now controlled by Kraft and Nestle. One difference I do remember is that Smarties (like US M&Ms) used to have different flavoured chocolate corresponding to the colour of the shell. Orange had orange chocolate, coffee, dark and milk etc. That probably changed before Nestle took over Rountree.

  13. fentex says

    I like Cadburys Dairy Milk and preferred the ones made in New Zealand

    Next delivery ask your relatives to send Whitakers as well / instead. A superior NZ product.

    I never tasted the palm oil Cadbury’s, nor have I had any since that disruption so I’ve no idea if in the flip-flopping the end result was a different product and / or taste.

    I remember going to work in the UK in the 1980’s and buying some Cadbuy’s Dairymilk while waiting for a train and spitting it out in disgust at it’s plastic taste.

  14. sonofrojblake says

    I’m out of the loop now so can’t comment any more on how Cadbury is operating its processes in various territories. I have first hand technical experience only of the UK and Ireland processes, but I imagine processes elsewhere are similar.
    One notable thing about Cadbury chocolate (in the original UK manufacturing plants and in Ireland, that is) that distinguishes it from competitors is the use of a different kind of cocoa butter. Most manufacturers clean and debacterise cocoa beans, roast them, remove the shells, grind the kernels, then filter press the liquor to separate out the solids to produce butter and powder. Cadburys do that, but they also take some beans and don’t roast them, just debacterise them, dry them gently, remove the shells and simply press the raw beans directly. This produces a more acrid, more brittle butter that gives Cadbury chocolate a distinctive texture. I’d be interesed to know if Cadbury plants in the US and NZ do this, because it make a big difference.
    Another thing that (I was told) makes a big difference is the quality of the milk used. Anecdotally, at least some of the difference in flavour between Irish and UK Dairy Milk is because of the difference in the milk between the cows in Ireland and the cows round Herefordshire. I imagine the milk used in the USA and the milk used in NZ has some rather noticeable differences too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *