Cheat sheet: How to deal with cheating manufacturers!

They encourage you to buy more, charge double and fill packets with air - its all a ploy!

Sufia Zamir December 28, 2012
We have all come across the famous ‘Lays’ jokes on social media, where jibes are made about the manufacturers of the chips brand only putting a handful of chips and filling up the rest of the bag with air. But an empty bag of chips isn’t the only way that manufacturers cut corners.

Here’s a list of the top 10 reasons why we are really paying more than we should for certain products:

  1. Bags of chips and biscuits that are only 1/4 full of their intended product. Technically, a certain amount of air, known as the ‘slack fill’, needs to be left inside the bag or box of chips or biscuits to maintain the crispiness. Government bodies, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in the United States allow slack fill to protect the contents or to allow for settling. However, their guidelines leave quite a lot of wiggle room. The Centre for Science in the Public Interest even submitted a petition to the FDA to take action against ‘violators’ for ‘misleading’ the public through ‘creative’ packaging techniques. One local violator is a leading foreign brand of chips.

  1. Inward dimple in jam jars, through which the consumer gets up to two ounces less per bottle. Manufacturers try to tell you that the dimple helps the bottle to balance properly and fits into your hand just perfectly, but that is not true. When you fill up your flat-based glass with water and place it on the table, does it topple? See what I mean?

  1. Shampoo bottles saying “For best results, repeat”. In truth, the actual amount of shampoo required to wash a head of hair is only the size of a small coin, and once is enough - an overdose of shampoo only strips your hair of its natural oils. Leading dermatologists and health experts also advise against washing hair daily, according to health website WebMD.

  1. Shrinking chocolate bars. In some cases, chocolate bars are up to 10% smaller. Chocolate manufacturers have raised the prices of their chocolate bars to combat inflation, making this shrinkage completely unjustifiable.

  1. Smaller or thinner sheets of toilet paper or tissue paper, even though the total number of sheets remains the same as before. According to ABC News, even a little paper trimmed off each square of toilet paper may mean 42 less square feet of paper in every four-pack.

  1. Charging more for a higher SPF of sun-screen even though it actually costs the same to make. This has caused one leading British retailer to eliminate price differences between sun screen lotions. MSNBC also reports that higher SPFs do not necessarily guarantee proportionately higher protection, so there is really no need to pay a higher price at all.

  1. Charging more for “whipped” bakery items, when all the whipping does is just adding more free air. Some manufacturers take it a tad further: In the case of “whipped” dairy products you might find that you’re actually getting less of the product and more ‘air’ that is occupying the container.

  1. Skimping on the quantity of food in cans. When food is sold in a can, normally some amount of liquid is added for protection. Even in a first world country such as the United States, the law only requires disclosure of the ‘net’ weight (inclusive of the weight of the liquid) on the label, rather than the ‘drained’ weight (without the liquid), so that there is no way of knowing how much food there is until the can is opened. If that is the case in the USA, one can only imagine the situation for Pakistan.

  1. Plumping’ meat by injecting saltwater. A standard practice in the fresh meat industry, plumping adds to the weight, so much so that up to 15% of your fresh chicken may actually be only saltwater – so that you only get 850 grams of actual chicken per kg.

  1. Expiration dates. Manufacturers encourage you to throw out products which have crossed their expiry date, in the hope that you will buy replacements. The truth is that despite the expiry date on the packaging, food items are good as long as they look, smell and taste fine, or as long as nasty things have not grown on them. The United States Department of Food and Agriculture advises that storing food items appropriately can extend their life for a few days more. However, caution is advised if fridges and freezers have been off for extended periods of time due to load shedding.

As a consumer, what can you do?

The simple solution is to switch to brands that do not indulge in these practices. The other solution is to register a complaint with the concerned company. If enough customers raise their voice, there is a good chance that someone will take notice.

Read more by Sufia here, or follow her on Twitter @sufiazamir
Sufia Zamir A marketing communication planner, blogger, creative content writer, and a part time Urdu translator, Sufia blogs at and tweets as @sufiazamir
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Kashif | 11 years ago | Reply Very informative and serious issue. The Govt. should take action about it. Also hope that the writer should also go ahead for the similar nature of research in Telecom Sector also as the service provider (mobile network) are also cheating with people through various bogus prize schemes though attractive media campaign while reportedly the same has been baned.
John B | 11 years ago | Reply The air in the potato chips is nitrogen /argon to keep the chips from going rancid and it increases the shelf life. It also acts as a cushion and prevents chips from crumbling during transport and package. The jam bottle is packaged in product weight content and so the dimple in the bottle has no bearing. The bottle and steam and vacuum packaging and cost of bringing the jam to the store shelf costs more than a skimpy savings of jam assumed from the bottle dimple. Higher SPF does offer better UV protection and it does cost more to make compared to lower SPF rated product. If an ignorant consumer is willing go pay more for lower SPF product, why should I care. USDA graded meat by definition is cured in 4 degree Celsius for 24 hr (which brings the natural water content down ) and only after refrigeration the flesh of an animal is considered as meat. Meat undergoes muscle glycogen breakdown during refrigeration and that is why USDA graded meat tastes better compared to freshly slaughtered animal. Flesh has to cure for at least few hours before it is considered as meat. Injecting "salt" (brine) water is a curing process which adds flavors to smoked /cured meat and they are considered as processed meat. Prices vary. As far as market is considered, less water content in the meat is better for shelf life and fat decay is restricted. Everything is not a cheat sheet by the manufacturers; there is a reason and standard for everything and each product has specific value in food preparation. Tuna in water Vs tuna in oil for example. All said, packaging costs a large fraction of finished product cost and every manufacturer wants to reduce cost and increase profit. There are legitimate way of making profit and as long as the market and competition can bear it, manufacturer can try the legitimate and ethical way of making profit. Because, it will take only one bad incidence to destroy the entire market share of a product in a second. The small potato chips packaging were made in repose to consumer demands ( who cannot control their cravings and close the big bag of chips) who wanted a small snack of junk food and were willing to pay for the increased cost of the packaging. So, the assumptions of cheat sheet are not correct and are ill informed.
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ