Undersizing: trends and regulation in Canada and abroad


Geneviève Charlet


Option consommateurs




What could be more shocking than to discover, once you get home, that the box of cereal you just bought contains 20 grams less than the one you bought last week? Especially since you paid the same price! Has something like that ever happened to you? It may very well be that the product you purchased has been undersized.
Undersizing: an increasingly popular practice that allows manufacturers to raise the price of their products without the consumer noticing. How is this possible? A study by the Harvard Business School published in 2004 shows that consumers are more likely to notice a price increase than a change in the quantity of a product. Just put a little less in the container or change the packaging and hope that the difference goes unnoticed.
Are Canadian consumers protected against such tactics? There are a couple of legislative tools available at the moment for comparing prices and quantities. However, one of these does not seem very effective in counteracting undersizing , and the other is only available in Quebec. All Canadians should have access to such a tool.
Is undersizing legal? From the standpoint of current Canadian laws, it would seem so. On the other hand, the practice goes against the ethical codes established by marketing experts and is contrary to the spirit of consumer protection laws. If our regulations were formulated more along the lines of those in force in the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom, we would be able to give more teeth to our legislation and better protect consumers.
Is that what we should do? We think so. Although the reduction in quantity is usually not significant, undersizing is no trivial matter. It has an impact on the consumer’s purchasing decisions. It also has an impact on competition. And who knows where that could lead!

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This research received funding support through the Office of Consumer Affairs' Contributions Program.

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Source: Consumer Policy Research Database

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