Apparently, I don’t understand cheese mathematics…

Pic of Kraft American Singles

We'll charge you double for 1/4 more of our product!

The wife asked me to drop by the store this evening and pick up a gallon of milk and some cheese slices, the latter for the hamburgers she plans to cook tomorrow.  So I hobbled my way into the store — my knee surgery was only a week ago and the knee is still pretty weak, but I’m managing to get around — and when I reached the fridge with the Kraft American Singles in it I had to decide if I wanted 16 slices or 24. Now this is pretty basic cheese we’re dealing with and the only difference between the two packages was the number of slices with one having an extra 8 in it. There’s not a lot else to base the purchase decision on.

Or so I thought.

Turns out there was one other thing to consider and that was the price. There’s quite a difference in cost between 16 and 24 slices of Kraft American Singles. You see, the price for 16 slices was $2.49 and the price for 24 slices is $4.89. That’s nearly a doubling of the cost for only half as much extra cheese. If I were to buy two 16 packs I’d spend $4.98 and I’d have 32 slices of cheese so why was the 24 slice package priced a mere 9¢ cheaper?

Was there something particularly amazing about those extra eight slices that justified nearly doubling the price over the 16 slice package? Had they been hand dipped in cognac or cocaine prior to packaging? Did they come with a secret decoder ring? Were they simply more cheesier than the first 16 slices? What the fucking fuck?

My guess is they were counting on folks to look more closely at the number of slices than at the cost of the slices themselves. At $2.49 for 16 slices you’re paying around 16¢ a slice and at $4.89 for 24 slices that price per slice jumps to 20¢. Ah, but you only have to carry one item to have 24 instead of two items to have 32. I guess that 4¢ difference in the cost of slices was for the convenience factor.

It probably says something that I sat down and calculated all of that out. Or that it was obvious enough to me while standing in the store that I paused long enough to be boggled by the audacity of it. I don’t often notice such things, but when I do I’m always amazed by it.

19 thoughts on “Apparently, I don’t understand cheese mathematics…

  1. I guess most people don’t look closely.

    In the UK larger stores have to include extra info on price tags to show the cost per unit, 100 grams or 100 millilitres (or sometimes per litre) to make it easier for the shopper.

    Because of this I have got into the habit of checking when I am trying to decide what size to buy.

    I guess the USA doesn’t do this?

  2. I cannot say that nearly all the major grocery stores in the U.S. also have unit pricing marked on the shelves with the product prices. I can, however, say that it’s been decades since I’ve entered a major grocery store that did not include unit pricing. Conversely, I don’t recall ever seeing unit pricing in the smaller mom-and-pop shops or the convenience chain stores.

  3. Maybe the slices are thinner in the smaller packet.

    Did you know that some peanut butter jars are now formed with dimples in the bottom so it takes the companies less peanut butter to fill each jar without changing the size of the jar? (there IS something wrong with us for noticing such things.)

  4. Are you absolutely sure that they were the same product/made with the same ingredients? I mean, was one a “Cheese Food Product” and the other, more expensive per slice package, Cheese?

  5. Yeah, they’ve been doing that sort of thing for a while now. Wally world has been charging more per unit for larger, so-called “economy” sizes. Over on Consumerist they’ve discussed it, along with the “shrink-ray”. Many shoppers will buy the larger size by default because they are conditioned to do so, and the stores are taking advantage of that. Gotta pay attention to the tags!

  6. That is nothing. Think about all the products that have cut the amount of their product but still charge the same or more. We use Dial soap and one day I noticed that the bar didn’t seem as big or heavy as it once was. I just pawned it off on a design change until I came across a bar that I had put in a bag for travel and forgotten to take out. It was a whole half ounce more than the current ones. I haven’t checked prices since I don’t normally keep grocery receipts, but I am sure they never lowered the price for a half oz per bar difference. They are cleverly hiding these with “new designs” and not telling you that you are actually buying less.

  7. SteveUK, I seem to recall there was some discussion about passing a law here that would require packaging to include a cost per unit info, but I don’t recall if it ever passed or went into effect. I didn’t notice if the Kroger I shop at does it or not, but I’ll play closer attention next time.

    Oh, and in checking their website to see if they did put such information out there I learned that the package of Kraft American Singles I bought were on sale for $2.29 — 20 cents less than usual — making the price difference that much more ridiculous.

    Nick, yes I was aware of that. I’m a big fan of The Consumerist blog and Mouse where they post info about stuff like that all the time.

    K. Engles, the only difference between the two packages was the number of slices listed on them.

  8. It almost sounds like one of those graduate-school ethics experiment questions. “You can hugely increase your profit by exploiting the innumeracy of typical consumers, many of whom cannot afford to pay more than they should. Only a tiny percentage of shoppers will ever notice. Would you do it? 1) Definitely, 2) maybe, 3) not sure, 4) probably not, 5) Never.”

  9. I went to buy one of those digital photo frames for my mom, and there was a 512mb version and a 2gb version, everything else was exactly the same, including the price (and the bar code). It’s a good thing I wasn’t in a hurry and took the time to check the details on the box.

  10. The product I buy that I notice this with is Eggo Waffles. Depending on which is on sale two packages of 8 might be cheaper than one package of 16 and vi ce versa. Same product, same amount of waffles, but at times you’re paying more merely for the prveledge of having only one box to carry instead of two.

  11. One I noticed over the past 20 years is spaghetti sauce. My mom gave me a lasagna recipe she had in the 80s that called for a 32oz jar. I think they are at 27-28 oz now.

    Sometimes the sales do work out like that – I picked up small jugs of HE laundry detergent on sale like that. There are some staples that I’ve noticed the swap in regular prices – rice, cereal, Velveeta slices, those have been cheaper per oz for the smaller sizes.

  12. First off, been there, done that with the Kraft cheese. It’s just stupid pricing, or trying to cash in on the “grab the bigger one, for the better deal” mentality. (In my case, it makes me look for alternative products.

    My real complaint though..Ice Cream. My favorite ice cream brand is now shipping 1.5qt packages. 25% reduction over the half gallon you think you’re buying. And THEN they have the nerve to say “20% more cocoa/chips/etc.” I can’t even easily switch to another good brand, as all the good brands are doing it.

    Complaint #3 – My local Busch’s grocery has one product which has reduced all it’s packaging by 10% (26.4 oz to 24.6 oz, etc.) and their shelf stickers and per-unit stickers all use the old values, DESPITE my bringing it to their attention 3 times over 6 months. Next time, I’ll just talk to corporate.

  13. I actually belong to a group that works professionally at mixing up stickers in the store. We move price tags around, and in some cases even provide a replacement price tag for some items. The check-out machine goes by the bar-code, not necessarily the price you saw on the item. And we know you don’t watch every item being scanned. Also the register reports the sales inventory to it’s home office and causes the product to be electronically reordered, thereby causing a jump in sales. Why would we do such a thing ?

    Well we buy and sell stocks. For instance lets say we want to buy Kraft Foods. We make the stock purchase. Then we go to stores and manipulate the price stickers. We also do a thing called ( Help Shopping ) where we place ( Kraft Foods in this case ) in the shopping carts of the unsuspecting consumer. We can as a group usually manipulate tens of thousands of stores in one day. We track the stocks via I-Phone and when the price hits it’s target, the stock is automatically sold.

    Think most things are just screwed up and not a conspiracy…..Think again !

  14. I can understand and appreciate corporate greed driving some of these things. Ever heard of caveat emptor? What I cannot understand, and have a major irritation with, is the idiocy of many beaurorats (intentional misspell) doing things like this, or worse, and not even realizing what they are doing. Usually it is a result of the head beaurorat making a bonehead decision and lowerings following without question. You are aware of the “Peter Principle?” (Think TSA, etc) 🙂


  15. Here in Colorado, most of the grocery stores I shop at have a per-unit price on them. It makes shopping very easy. I just find the lowest per-unit cost for the amount I’m going to use. I try to avoid buying so much I waste it because that just contributes to my per-unit cost being higher. (It changes from $/unit to $/used unit, in case I wasn’t clear, sorry!)

  16. Wow, leguru. You free market fundamentalists will protest any and all government intervention, eh?

  17. Chris,

    Only mention of government was an example of TSA. I was talking about any large organization, including, but not limited to, government. It applies to religion, grocery stores, etc. Dogma develops even in education. The “Peter Principle” was actually from large corporations.


  18. Perhaps it would be better to buy a block of cheese. That way, you can essentially cut as many slices as you wish, provided you can make them thin enough, all for the same low, low price. And you buy less of that wasteful packaging…

  19. I’ve been buying Kraft singleerfor years and just today noticed there IS a difference between the 16 count package and the 24 count package. It is the amount of cheese per slice! The 24 count package is 3/3 ounce per slice while the 16 count package is 3/4 ounce per slice. How weird is that?

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