Thursday, April 21, 2016

Non-Functional Slack Fill

Because I enjoy cooking and because pepper is one of my favorite spices, I perked up when I heard NPR's take on this story on the car radio yesterday morning: McCormick Sued by Minnesota Competitor over Amount of Pepper in Tins.

It seems that McCormick, one of the leading marketers of spices in the US, has reduced the amount of pepper in its containers by 25%, but without packaging in smaller tins or making any outward changes in its packaging other than the small-print "net weight" label on the tin ...

The suit, filed by competing Watkins, Inc, contends that McCormick is gouging customers by not making it clear that they are being charged the same price for 25% less product. 

At issue is an obscure (to consumers, anyhow) manufacturing and packaging concept called "slack fill" - the amount of empty space left in a package once the proper amount of product has been put into it. There are two kinds of slack fill: "functional" and "non-functional." Functional slack fill serves a useful purpose, as when a bag of potato chips contains a large amount of empty space to prevent the chips from being too tightly packed and crushed*, or a product requires a certain extra amount of air space to keep it fresh. Non-functional slack fill, in contrast, is unnecessary empty space left in a package of a particular size to create the illusion that the package contains more product than it actually does.**

One could argue that the emptor ought to be caveating more carefully ... that the customer is responsible for carefully reading the labeling on the package to be sure of what he or she is buying. But in the case of the McCormick pepper tins, the size and design of the container had remained unchanged for many years, and so a customer would probably assume that it contained the same amount of pepper that it always had, see no need to check the labeling more closely, and end up paying more for less***.

Since I usually buy my pepper and other spices at Penzey's, McCormick's pepper-marketing shenanigans don't directly affect me. But I think that the concept of non-functional slack fill has wider applicability.

Consider the current crop of presidential candidates. It seems to me that the very considerable difference between their campaign rhetoric and the mundane details of how they propose to deliver on their empty promises constitutes a prime example of political non-functional slack fill.

Another example is movie trailers, which invariably show the most dramatic and exciting two minutes of the film, artfully packaged to obscure the fact that the rest of the movie is devoid of content and interest.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Watch out for the non-functional slack fill in other areas of life and commerce, because as much as we might wish it so, some people just ain't honest.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for the naming of April's Left-Cheek Ass Clown.

More thoughts then.


* Which is why a bag of chips has a note on it warning that it has been packed by weight, rather than volume.

** Some of you may remember the famous "where's the beef?" commercials from the Wendy's chain, in which a chain called "The Home of the Big Bun" created the illusion of a huge hamburger, but with a tiny beef patty. Same idea.

*** Pretty much what we do when our taxes are used to pay Congressional salaries.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

So they have a term for that! That's good to know.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

How about a t-shirt captioned "nonfunctional slack fill"? Or political ads labeled same? Or certain academic courses?

Linda Kay said...

Thanks for the tip and warning on slack fill. I would have no idea from my kitchen to the store, what my current net weight might be, so even reading the label wouldn't help me. Freaky!

Mike said...

And wouldn't you know there's a federal regulation on slack fill.

John A Hill said...

Functional slack fill -- when size really does matter!

Bilbo said...

Mike - I might have known that you would look it up!

allenwoodhaven said...

Nonfunctional slack fill - sad that such a term is needed. I guess honesty in marketing is too foreign a concept!

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Size is not all that matters!