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Sunday, February 14, 2010

This business story flew under the radar

By Dick Hirsch

There were several big business stories in the headlines recently. You surely noticed. The annual World Economic Forum was underway in Davos, Switzerland, with governmental leaders and corporate honchos from all over the globe jetting there to anguish about the present and worry about the future. They do a little skiing and fondue eating, too, but mostly they talk about the potential for a global monetary system, the status of banks, and the shift of power from the Group of 8 to the Group of 20.

I hope you’re up to date on your groups because I won’t try to explain what was discussed since, although I know it should interest me, it doesn’t. I don’t understand it. I suspect there are many who attended who don’t understand it, either. But we’ve come to realize that there must be many essential topics on the agenda when they convene each February in the Alps. Please note that one headline observed: “In Davos, Signs of Shift in Global Power.” So be on the alert for any shifts, either subtle or abrupt, although I suppose the result could be shiftless.

Meanwhile, as all of that deep thinking, accompanied by continuous rhetoric, was underway in Switzerland, there was major business news breaking simultaneously on the domestic front. After weeks of uncertainty, the Senate voted to confirm Ben Bernanke for another term as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. It was a decision not lightly arrived at; some portray Bernanke as a hero, while others claim he is part of the problem rather than part of the solution. But the debate leading to his new term deserved coverage.

While those two stories were attracting widespread media attention, there was another event on the business front that received no attention whatsoever. As you have probably surmised, I am about to report on that development, which is creating a situation affecting millions of families. How does such news go unreported? I can’t explain that, either, except to say that sometimes in the rush to find what is regarded as “the big story” members of the media overlook other news that impacts innocent persons in households, schools and offices across the land.

Yes, a very newsworthy situation went unreported and, with the 24/7 news cycle, it would be interesting to know how a story that affects so many, a story of great magnitude, eluded the press. It involves peanut butter.

Peanut butter? Yes, peanut butter. Although it is ordinary, it has attained a remarkable status in our society, being nutritious, tasty and a favorite of Americans of all ages. It has always been a product deserving of attention since its invention in the late 19th century as a foodstuff initially created for persons whose ability to chew had been compromised by their poor teeth. Yet the major media outlets have failed to report on the peanut butter matter.

Here are the facts, uncovered while browsing in the jelly aisle: The peanut butter manufacturers have quietly reduced the size of their jars. To the untrained eye, it is hardly noticeable, but the jars, which for years were filled with 18 ounces of either smooth or crunchy, have been reduced to 16.3 ounces. That is a reduction of just under 10 percent. According to my calculations, the missing 1.7 ounces are about enough for a PB&J sandwich. And isn’t it a coincidence that the major brands dropped the size at about the same time?

Reducing package size is not a new strategy. It’s a way of improving profitability; keep the price the same, but reduce the amount of product and make sure the new package is difficult to distinguish from the old. When they reconfigured the jar of mayonnaise from 32 to 30 ounces, I never complained. And when they revamped the package of coffee from 16 to 13 ounces, I never uttered a word, even in the privacy of our own kitchen. Why did I remain silent? Neither mayonnaise nor coffee meant that much to me. However, I have a loving relationship with peanut butter that dates back to childhood and it has grown more intense as the years passed. While others were refining their palates to prepare for wines of rare vintages or ethnic specialties, I remained loyal to peanut butter under any one of several various labels.

I rant today not on my own behalf. PB ranks with Mom and apple pie and is on the shopping list of US families. There is something sly and underhanded going on here. Jif, Peter Pan, Skippy and the rest should be ashamed.


At 6:52 AM, Blogger Janie said...

Don't diss my Jif! I have a jar right here that says, "We're Still 18 oz.". You may want to check your facts.


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