Companies change their products from time to time. The packaging may change color, the box may get smaller, or they may adopt a new logo. Most of the time consumers notice these changes.
Other changes may escape our notice, but they don't get by at least one consumer – Susan, of Kenton, Ohio, who says she has been buying General Mills' Multi Grain Cheerios cereal for years.
“For years the product has boasted not only whole grains but, like the company’s Total cereal line, a wide range of vitamins and minerals,” Susan told ConsumerAffairs.com.
But now, says Susan, the company has “reformulated” Multi Grain Cheerios. The box is still the same size and is still the same color. What's different is the list of vitamins and nutrients on the side, along with the percentage of the recommended daily allowance. Most consumers might not notice, but Susan did.
Reductions and eliminations
“Out of the sixteen vitamins and minerals of the previous formula, the new version of the cereal has reduced the percentage of eleven vitamins and minerals and completely eliminated two others.”
For example, Susan says the amount of vitamin C has been reduced to 10% and iron reduced to 45%.
Susan says when she contacted General Mills by email, she got this response:
“Multi Grain Cheerios’ vitamin levels have been reformulated,” the message read. “The vitamin and mineral profile of Multi Grain Cheerios is now similar to that of Yellow Box Cheerios. Multi Grain Cheerios now delivers an excellent source of 8 vitamins and minerals for our all-family consumer base.”
Reducing the product but not the cost
Maybe so, but Susan's point is the product is not what it once was but still costs the same. Susan says she would have preferred the company either raise the price of the product without making any changes or reduce the size of the box, which she said would be easier to detect than reduced vitamin content.
“Had I been given the choice to either pay more to cover the increased manufacturing costs, or have the vitamin/mineral percentages of the food altered, my wallet would have been wide open,” Susan said. “But consumers were not consulted; the company simply took it for granted that money is more important to the general public than physical well-being.”
Caught in a squeeze
All kinds of businesses caught in the squeeze between higher manufacturing costs and the retail price consumers will accept face a dilemma. If they raise their prices to reflect the real cost of the product, Susan may keep buying it but a lot of other consumers will look for a cheaper alternative. Sales will go down.
For competitive reasons, businesses selling mass market products want to keep their prices as low as possible. Unfortunately, that can mean products that aren't what they used to be.
If Susan truly wants a cereal that has more vitamins and minerals than the reformulated Multi Grain Cheerios offers, she should check the cereal aisle at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Wegmans or other chains that offer a wider range of nutritious foods.