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A packaging trick by Johnson and Johnson!

June 27, 2008
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Recently I purchased a prickly heat powder by Johnson & Johnson and like most people did not read the quantity mentioned on the pack – 300 gms (10.25 oz). I was attracted to the large bottle and assumed it would be at least three quarters full. I was aware that manfacturers pack mostly air in some product packs (potato chips have more air than chips) but I was a little surprised to see that a bottle of powder was also packed in a similar manner. Here is the photograph. The level of the powder is a little more than half. I paid Rs 89/- MRP ($2.25) for the bottle.

shower to shower bottle

This is a sealed pack as you can see:

shower to shower seal

I have bought other brands of talcom and prickly heat powder in in the past but have never come across this kind of trick. After all, the packaging material is also expensive. Why is the company wasting so much plastic just to fool consumers? I wanted to see if J&J did this in their home market in the United States and from their site I downloaded these pack pictures:

J&J packs

It is difficult to make out the level of the powder but for a 225 gms pack (or 8 oz. ) one has to pay a price of about $2.89, which comes to approximately $1.28 per 100 gms.

The price of Shower to Shower sold in India works out to be about 75 cents or less than a dollar for 100 gms, much cheaper than the American one.

Let’s see if one can make out anything from the ingredients, which may not be the right comparison as the kinds of powder are different. Well, I assume that the powder sold as “prickly heat powder” in India is at least a little similar to their “sport” sub-brand.

These are the ingredients of the “Sport” sub-brand of Shower to Shower and taken from their site:

Zea Mays (corn) starch, Talc, Sodium Bicarbonate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Fragrance, Maltodextrin

The Active ingredients in the Indian version are:-

Salycyclic Acid IP
Boric Acid IP
Zinc Oxide IP

Different huh. Well, I have no idea what the difference means, whether it translates into cheaper ingredients. I think this must be the case otherwise the company wouldn’t sell the powder at less than a dollar for 100 gms. No company is here to do charity.

However what I would like to know is whether J&J leaves its plastic packs almost half-empty in the United States, like they do in India.

Related Reading: Poisons in our food packaging
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34 Comments leave one →
  1. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    June 27, 2008 8:43 am

    Nita,

    Did you empty out the contents and check if they actually weighed the 300 gm. claimed? To give the devil his due, it just may be more economical for the company to order containers in a single size.

  2. June 27, 2008 8:51 am

    I guess many transnational corporations have double standards when it comes to different countries😡 They are forced to meet the regulations in the industrialised countries while they take the consumers in other countries for granted😡

    Transnational companies from the People’s Republic of China have an ugly business strategy😡 Products made by the Dragon can be classified into broadly three types. The ones of good quality are exported to countries in the E.U. where they have stringent quality norms. The ones of medium quality are sold in China. The vast majority of products that the Dragon manufactures are of a very poor quality that are then dumped on the developing countries (including India). It is by following this ugly business strategy that the Dragon has managed to wipe out local manufacturing industries in different countries😡 and has virtually become “the factory of the world”.

  3. June 27, 2008 9:07 am

    No, they don’t… In the US, consumer rights are very strict, and companies have been sued over trivial claims for millions..

  4. June 27, 2008 9:58 am

    yeah, exactly. I agree with Nikhil. You think the Americans are stupid like us? Ha! India is becoming more worse now…!
    And I think those ingredients have no harm. They differ form different versions of their products…

  5. batta420 permalink
    June 27, 2008 11:29 am

    Salycyclic Acid IP
    Boric Acid IP
    Zinc Oxide IP

    probably are cheaper compared to the american ingredients. Thats why they are available in low price.

    And also there is an INdian mentality and many people buy a powder not based on its weight and based on its size.

    In India if Size:Price is more sales are more.
    Most people doesn’t bother to look at weight:price ratio.

  6. June 27, 2008 11:31 am

    I think it would be just a marketing trip, people tend to buy the bigger bottles by checking its price and comparing it with other product bottles.
    Or like vivek said it could be econimical for the company to order containers in a single size.

  7. June 27, 2008 12:57 pm

    Vivek, no I didn’t empty the contents but I wouldn’t have been surprised if they were a few gms less. I believe some companies do this deliberately. However I think you are being too kind about the motive. Two sizes are available in this powder, and I purchased the bigger bottle. Also the shape and size of the plastic bottles are very unique to India. In other countries they use different shapes and sizes.

    Raj, yeah I guess the double standards exist and to some extent we have only ourselves to blame. India needs to beef up it’s regulatory laws. So important in a country where the consumer movement is weak!

    Nikhil, Joel, agreed, amercian consumers are smarter than us!

    batta420, yes I think so too. In fact I am sure of it! I know for example that in soap brands which are common across the world, the quality of the product sold here is poorer because they are selling at a lower price. And yes Indian consumers rarely check the per unit price. We get affected by the size but hopefully we will learn.

    Xylene, that bottle certainly looks much bigger than competitor’s products and yes I agree, that’s the strategy!

  8. June 27, 2008 1:58 pm

    true , but the inflation and the input cost and supply inflation means that they have to increase prices or decrease volume
    vivek has a valid point

    i had been to big bazar , there was a 3 pack of detol soap and man it was supposed to be at a discount with free batteries
    when i compared the per bar cost to that of savlon which was at a 3 rs discount – i instantly decided Savlon would be what i purchased cause there was a big gap in mrps of both – dont remember exact numbers

  9. June 27, 2008 2:26 pm

    In the US, the JNJ cosmetic powders and lotions are HUGE, and fantastic value for money. Indian products have nowhere near the quality or the cost-effectivity of US products. I can tell you that from personal experience. In fact, it is in the US that you really get a taste of what a free market paradise could be.
    BTW, Nita, the Indian powder you bought is a specific semi-medicated product for irritation and itching you get in hot seasons. The American products are regular talcum powder.
    My impression is that all multinational companies, whether it is JNJ or Sony, behave like Indian bania stores down here. They would never DARE behave the way they do in the US. They would be finished if they harassed consumers in any way.

  10. vish permalink
    June 27, 2008 2:28 pm

    “Transnational companies from the People’s Republic
    of China have an ugly business strategy”

    Why are you blaming China when your country is not able to set or enforce standards? Is China the only country doing that?

  11. June 27, 2008 3:21 pm

    hey congrats on 1 million hits! wow thats cool.

  12. June 27, 2008 4:30 pm

    hmmm…we all need the thing and so they do what they want…time we have a proper inspection system…but then i don’t know when the right people and time will come..

  13. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    June 27, 2008 5:22 pm

    Nita,

    A “few grams” less is one thing, and I understand it is quite common (though even that is a serious matter), but a whole half bottle empty is worth investigating, and dragging the company into court about. I am sure it involves several laws — the weights and measures act; unfair trade practices; wilful misinformation; or simply plain cheating.

    Since a major multinational is involved, they must have their noses bloodied and be made an example for others to see. I am sure the consumer courts would take a serious view of this. You mjust make a trial case of this, invite others to join it as a class action suit, and make sure it gets wide publicity. If you wish I can sound out the managing trustee of CERC on this.

  14. June 27, 2008 6:21 pm

    I am amazed at the kind of research you do and the findings you come up with. Most of us just look for a brand and reputation of the company and pick up the product and feel we are discerning consumers. Time I started looking at all the stuff in my kitchen and bath.

  15. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    June 27, 2008 6:41 pm

    Usha,

    To survive in the modern world, dominated (worse still, domineered over) by marketing and advertising people — clever and shady flunkies of the corporate capitalist sharks — it is very important to have a healthy skepticism about everything that carries even a hint of the involvement of these two smartass tribes.

    There can be no greater naïveté than believing in brands and reputations. Look out critically for content, quality and value-for-money in each product (even in each batch of the same product), not the brand. And always believe the worst until you are proven wrong in a supposedly free market the customer is sovereign. Assert yourself aggressively. Don’t let yourself be trodden over or taken for a ride.

  16. Ravi permalink
    June 27, 2008 6:49 pm

    Nita

    I bet J&J would never do that in USA. Unlike in India, businessmen who cheat american public would be brought to justice by their stringent laws. The cousumer laws over there are deviced in a way….if any common american happened to find these sort of cheap tricks J&J would be sued big time. Some cheap Ass**** from one of our management schools might have planned this trick on Indian public. Not many indians check for the quantity since we blindly trust a reputed brand like J&J. I wonder if you know the procedure to sue J&J (india.pvt.ltd) and brought this fraud to light.

  17. June 27, 2008 7:02 pm

    //I was attracted the large bottle// u have missed a word there.
    U should write a letter or an email to the company asking for reason or compensation. Nowadays in Indian supermarkets expired foreign products are being sold with the expiry date scratched put or a black strip put upon it. There are still many consumers who do not check expiry date of products and there are still some products in which neither exp date is mentioned nor are the contents. Also this chips packet thing is really a robbery.

  18. June 27, 2008 9:25 pm

    Prax, they may have to increase prices or decrease volume for sure but most companies there are other ways, ways that other companies employ.

    Rdoc, true over there the system is better. Here the multinational cos behave like the Indian cos!! No, actually they behave a little better because they are scrutinized more carefully than the Indian cos by the govt.

    Xylene, thanks.🙂

    Vishesh, the right time has come.🙂 We will slowly improve. I am optimistic.

    Vivek, that sounds like a good idea, I mean passing on the tip to CERC.However let me assure you that we have no legal standing in Indian courts. The law simply states that you have to mention the quantity and J&J has not broken the law. I’ve checked with an insider and I hope this post creates an awareness amongst consumers.

    Usha, thanks.🙂

    Ravi, yes you are right, the american public wouldn’t take this sort of thing and might file a suit and would win win for misleading the consumer! Here even if someone files a suit, they have very limited laws which do not make this illegal. In any case any court case will take years. And you know I wouldn’t be surprised if some Indian has devised this strategy. J&J in India is run by Indians. I know because I worked for Business Today. I never liked this company because they are extremely secretive, dont answer calls, don’t reply to emails, and don’t give interviews! Once I wrote an small article on J&J in BT without a single quote from a J&J executive!

    Reema, the company has done nothing illegal by Indian law – not technically. People get away with anything in India. And yes you are right about the expiry dates. I have found this specially on fruit juices which are sold at half the prices which are about to expire that same month. I lived in Africa, in Tanzania, a third world country where the laws are better than in India. All products there are imported as there is hardly any manufacturing there but the shop-keepers are terrified about selling products which have expired. The law comes down very hard on them.
    And I am correcting that typo. Thanks.

  19. June 27, 2008 9:55 pm

    Vish,

    I am not blaming just the Chinese, but transnational companies from different countries.

    Ofcourse, looked at from an ethical point of view, the Chinese(who are going to dominate world trade in the future) are much better than the Americans(who do it now) and the Europeans(who did it in the past) because the Europeans colonised other parts of the world, looted their natural resources and dumped their finished products on them. The notorious killer American companies are at it now – by asking their government to wage a war based on pure lies and destroying an entire country to award “reconstruction contracts” to a filthy corporation, and killing more than a million people to loot all their oil wealth. The Chinese companies perform much better in this regard – they don’t have blood on their hands!

  20. vish permalink
    June 28, 2008 12:40 am

    “Unlike in India, businessmen who cheat american public would be brought to justice by their stringent laws”

    Watch michael moore’s ‘sicko’!

  21. June 28, 2008 12:41 am

    All plastic bottles and containers look like that Nita. ‘The contents settle during shipment’ is what’s on the label.

    Brian, all of them don’t look like that, not in India at least. We use talcum a lot and I buy a lot of different brands. In fact I have tried almost every brand available in India. I have never come across this. they are all three-quarters full – Nita.

  22. June 28, 2008 2:38 am

    I checked today at the local Walmart store for the J&J brands you showed. The plastic was opaque so it was not easy to ascertain the quantity filled. I tried to find it out by shaking, and there was little space. I bet it was more than 95% full. But please don’t compare the prices between India and US. Here in US, everything expect electronics is more expensive than in India. Of course, the quality is better and the variety is mind-boggling.

    Thanks Ambuj. I guess if the pack is totally opaque it’s difficult to say. I am not surprised that the bottle was 95% full, well I bet it is at least 80% full! I do on occasion try imported creams and have never found them to be half-full. – Nita.

  23. June 28, 2008 2:42 am

    “There can be no greater naïveté than believing in brands and reputations. Look out critically for content, quality and value-for-money in each product (even in each batch of the same product), not the brand. And always believe the worst until you are proven wrong in a supposedly free market the customer is sovereign. Assert yourself aggressively. Don’t let yourself be trodden over or taken for a ride.”
    Ah, Vivek! You have shown here to the world that you are best suited for precisely the same capitalist world, by being such a tough customer. That is one more beauty of the market: even you have your rightful place under the corporate sun! Why don’t you accept and understand this?
    PS- one of my favorite sayings is: “When you swim with the sharks, make sure you don’t bleed!”

  24. June 28, 2008 3:35 am

    Being an American with experience in India and with JNJ products and consumer products in general a few thoughts come to me:
    1. The same exact product made in different countries have different ingredients. I learned that in writing a post on Special K cereal (http://livingwithconsumerism.blogspot.com/2007/12/special-k.html) Interestingly, the US version of Special K has more varieties of sugars (Including high fructose corn syrup) where as other countries selling this same cereal did not have the fructose corn syrup or so many sugars, consequently, in my opinion, making the American brand more unhealthy.
    2. Price for volume. In case of Special K -High fructose corn syrup is subsidized by US govt, so it may be true that the box of special K in US is not only bigger, but cheaper. Yet again the boxes abroad not so full of yucky sugars. Recently on news here they say because of gas price increases manufactures are reducing the volume per price. Many cereals and other items will reduce by 2-4oz but price remain same. But your post makes me wonder if the packaging will remain the same size with so much of waste!
    3. JNJ products in US vs India. I have only one comparison to make. I love to use the baby soap made by JNJ In India. Don’t know why but whenever I go there (and we go yearly as my hubby’s family is there) JNJ Baby soap is the only soap that doesn’t dry my skin. This is the bar soap. Of course it is cheaper than in US. But I also noticed if I bought the JNJ baby soap (Bar soap not liquid) in US my skin doesn’t feel the same and the soap doesn’t feel the same. The ingredients must be different, but never checked it fully. That’d be a good comparison. If you can get your hands on it there and post me the ingredients I will get one bar here and see if it differs.
    4. Regarding talcum powders specifically they do sell them here in US but I am not sure they are in general as popular as they are in India. Indian women (esp my experience in South India) love to use talcums and there are many many varieties. In US I think more people just go for deodorant/antiperspirant. (This may be more damaging to health also..)
    Thanks for posting this.

    Jennifer, thanks for that detailed comment. Very interesting your observations! I agree with you about soaps as I have checked soap ingredients here and abroad and seen TFM (oils) differ. Also quality of ingredients (which will not come up in checking ingredients) also differs. For eg, a biscuit will use a higher grade of wheat flour if it is made in the UK as compared to the wheat flour used here. I will check J&J soap and will post the ingredients here, in a few days. Thanks again! – Nita.

  25. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    June 28, 2008 8:31 am

    @Nita:

    //However let me assure you that we have no legal standing in Indian courts.//

    I don’t quite understand you. I am aware of a number of cases that CERC has taken to the courts and won.

    @Rdoc:

    //“When you swim with the sharks, make sure you don’t bleed!”//

    While I don’t quite agree with your implicit equation between human society and the Wild, at least you DO agree that there ARE sharks🙂 . I can think of more proactive courses — preemptive as well as punitive — than simply not bleeding.

    Vivek, I am aware of food packaging laws because of my previous experience as a business journalist and that is why I said that. I may be wrong, but as far as I know J&J has not broken the law. – Nita.

  26. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    June 28, 2008 8:38 am

    Nita,

    I may just be splitting hair, but as far as I am aware, it depends on whether the term “quantity” applies to volume or weight. In this case, what is marked on the container is weight, so that is what the manufacturer must be held accountable for.

    The same would apply to Brian’s argument. Settling during shipment would not reduce weight.

    Solids are decided by weight not volume. in liquids volume is required, but there are always exceptions. J&J has not broken the law. They have used a loophole in the law because there is no law (in India at least) which says you cannot use a larger bottle than necessary. I am not sure about American laws but they probably don’t want to upset the consumer. – Nita

  27. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    June 28, 2008 9:54 am

    Talking of the law, I am reminded of a case some years ago between two food product giants (I think it was Kissan and Maggi). The one represented in court that the other was guilty of infringement of the law because it was selling bottled tomato ketchup in a quantity not permitted under the law (I think it was 275 gm vs. 300 gm or something like that) and won the case. There was no misrepresentation or cheating involved, but the plaintiff still won. The law is indeed an ass.

  28. June 28, 2008 10:24 am

    ooh…thats obnoxious….half of the bottle is empty that means they are making double profile and we are losing 50 percent of our money.
    i wonder how many more companies do soemthing like that and go unnoticed..

  29. vivek mittal permalink
    June 28, 2008 4:07 pm

    n

  30. June 28, 2008 8:05 pm

    It is often more economical to use one size container for many offerings, to save on die, storing and transport costs. It is also easier to monitor the quantity to be filled by setting at the nozzle site rather than keep changing containers. If the net weight of the talcum inside weighed the 300 gms or more, there should be no cause for complaint.

  31. June 29, 2008 2:27 am

    u have been tagged

  32. June 29, 2008 1:29 pm

    Vivek –
    . There was no misrepresentation or cheating involved, but the plaintiff still won. The law is indeed an ass.

    the politicians love to interfere in everything – their solution – make laws and more laws – what we need is lesser more practical better worded /drafted laws – but who will bell the cat? that when political donations both public and private do matter.

  33. July 12, 2008 2:50 am

    wow that’s a clever observation. did you figure out whether american counterpart is similar although i am certain it is not.

    Ramana: i do see your point … however, the consumer is tricked by a bigger bottle u see. 300 gm is only fine print. i am sure the powder in it would be 300 gm and the company is being very legal about it all …. but the truth of the matter is as nita puts it …. they’re tricking their consumers ….

    just like there are ads that state … oh u can lease mitsubishi lancer for only 79 dollars ! and the fine print mentions “per week” and also “for the next 25 years”. but if i didn’t read the fine print, i’d think it was 79 bucks a month ….. which is how usually leases work. it’s just a trick being employed by the company to bring in potential customers. thats all. once they are in, they’ll find a way to hook ’em and keep ’em.

  34. R.shankar permalink
    July 17, 2008 9:19 pm

    The bulk density, makes them to fill the powder
    in half the bottle empty,
    flow will be good, when they squeeze, the bottle

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