Don’t buy without checking the weight
The packet of Britannia Marie that I bought last week seemed shrunken. When I checked the weight I found that the quantity had been reduced. I wondered if this was happening with other products, but didn’t check. The thought slipped from my mind. I was reminded of it yesterday by this Hindustan Times article. It’s not just biscuits, but many other products, ranging from instant noodles and soaps to tea and detergents which have reduced pack quantities.
Maggi noodles, which always came in the familiar 100 gram pack, have gotten lighter by 5 grams. A 250 g pack of Red Label tea has slimmed down to 245 g. In both cases, prices have remained the same: Rs 10 for the noodles, Rs 52 for the tea… For some products, the difference is not so minor. Unilever’s Wheel washing powder has cut 200 g from its 1 kg pack to keep the old price of Rs 21. But mostly, the cuts are small enough for you to miss. You no longer get 100 g of Good Day biscuits for Rs 10 — you only get 92 g.
A new strategy
I talked to someone in the food industry and they told me that industry had been petitioning the government to relax the stringent rules in the Weights & Measures Act for years. The rules specified certain weights (and their multiples) for packs depending on the product. For example a company was allowed to sell biscuits in a 100 gm pack but not a 94 gm pack. That’s changed now. At one time cooking oil could only be sold by volume (litre) but now it’s allowed to be sold by weight…this happened quite a few years back.
Er…you might also notice that the taste of Britannia Marie has changed. Well, the company (in the HT article) admitted that they had to “refine recipes” !!
Well, we complained about the taste of the biscuits to the company. In fact I had a long chat with the company spokesman. He said very sorry ma’am and it must be a batch problem. He was quite eager to deliver several packs of biscuits free of cost to my house. I said no thanks, I don’t like Britannia Marie anymore.
Why did the government bow down to industry demand?
I can only think of three reasons:
- The government realised that Indian consumers are smart enough to read the weights on packs 😐
- The government believes we should go the global way where any weight is allowed. I wonder if we will go the global way and cut the requirement for MRP (Maximum Retail Price) next 😕
- The government succumbed to pressure from industry 😮
So is this daylight robbery?
Consumer organisations are calling this an unfair trade practice but let us see why companies are doing it. If you take the biscuit industry, it is facing a cost crunch. There has been an increase in prices of raw materials like wheat flour and vegetable oil. It is the small and medium sized industries which are facing the biggest problem as about 40 percent of the biscuit industry lies in the unorganized sector. Biscuits are price sensitive and margins on this product are fairly low in India and therefore any rise in price affects profits. VAT which has been recently introduced has been an additional burden. The industry is begging the state governments to reduce VAT to 4 percent as biscuits are a mass consumption item. So far nothing and finally the consumer has to bear the brunt. Poorer quality and lesser quantities for the same price.
We are used to it aren’t we!
We have to admit that we are all used to traders and manufacturers shortchanging us and at least these companies are writing the weight on the packs. In fact most of us are quite alert when it comes to dealing with shop-keepers and vendors. Whether it’s the next door kirana who sells adulterated stuff or quietly pockets the free gift or the raddi wallah who has a defective scale or the petrol pump attendant who forgets to set the petrol pump board display reading to zero, we know it happens all too frequently.
Petrol pumps cheat
In fact stories of petrol pumps cheating consumers by giving them less petrol are rife, and it is recommended that one should buy petrol from company owned petrol pumps to reduce the chances of this happening. Petrol pumps slyly filling in less petrol is far more common than them selling adulterated petrol. This shortchanging happens as petrol is another low profit margin (less than 2 percent) product. This makes traders feel justified in cheating. In fact petrol pumps very often sell you about 0.3 percent to 2 percent less in metros, and up to 5 percent less in smaller cities. The differences are so tiny that buyers don’t notice. Well, not ordinary buyers…rickshaw and cab drivers are very alert to this sort of thing. This shortchanging at petrol pumps is downright cheating as there is no way of knowing that it has happened.
Just by the way, Reliance is now out of the petrol selling business. It isn’t profitable enough for them what with the rising prices of crude and without subsidies that the public sector gets from the government.
(All the pictures accompanying this article are have been taken by me and are copyrighted. the second pic is of a pack of Parle Marie and not Britannia)