Not Biting

Dennis Friedman

MY WIFE AND I GET together occasionally with our neighbors for a glass of wine. We became good friends with Larry and Kathryn since they moved into our neighborhood. They‘re retirees, just like us.

When visiting them, they often serve cheese and crackers. One day, Larry said to me, “Try one of these whole wheat crackers. They won’t hurt you. I can’t say the same thing about the cheese, though.” He knows I try to eat healthily.

After eating Triscuits at their house, I became hooked. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something I like about those crackers. Maybe it’s because they’re only made from three ingredients: whole grain wheat, canola oil and sea salt. My wife, however, won’t go near them.

But recently, I stopped buying Triscuits. Not because I don’t like them anymore. I’m just not willing to pay what the stores are charging. This year, the price of a 12.5-ounce box of Triscuit crackers has skyrocketed to more than $5. I’ve seen them selling for as much as $5.69 at the local supermarket.

There may be good reasons for the price increase. Higher gasoline prices, supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine are contributing to rising grocery prices. But it seems like yesterday that I was paying under $4. Although the price has come down somewhat from its peak, I still refuse to pay the higher price. I feel like I’m being gouged.

I decided to switch to store-brand crackers that are cheaper. They have different ingredients. That’s probably one of the reasons they cost less. But I like them well enough to keep buying them.

Companies know people like me will buy an alternative product if they raise their prices too high. Instead of hiking prices, they sometimes shrink the size of the product instead. They call it shrinkflation. Companies do that to combat the rising cost of ingredients, while hoping you won’t notice the smaller size.

Powerade reduced the size of its 32-ounce drinks to 28 ounces, but stores continue to charge the same price. Cottonelle Ultra Clean Care toilet paper shrank the number of sheets per roll from 340 to 312, and didn’t drop the price. You see other manufacturers, including those that make paper towels, yogurt, snack bars and coffee, shrink the size of their product, while not lowering prices.

You also need to be on the lookout for companies that change to cheaper ingredients to save money. I doubt you’ll see that happening with Triscuits since there are only three ingredients. I’m always leery of products that say “new and improved,” unless they specify what exactly they changed.

Mondelez International, which makes Triscuit crackers and Oreo cookies, reported its second-quarter results on July 26. “Our second quarter and first half results were marked by strong top and bottom-line performance across all regions and categories, supporting the raising of our full-year revenue growth outlook,” said Dirk Van de Put, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Our chocolate and biscuit businesses continue to demonstrate strong volume growth and pricing resilience across both developed and emerging markets.”

Based on Mondelez’s strong second-quarter performance, it looks like a lot of people are willing to pay the higher price for its Triscuit crackers and other products. Not me. I’m sticking to my store-brand crackers.

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