Big Bun Small Patty - © Coast Beach Club - Samui Thailand

Slack-Filling: A New Way To Camo Product Shrinkage

Product overpackaging is not illegal. But lately ‘slack-filling’ has become embarrassing. Even little kids know they’re being cheated when they open a package and see it’s really only half full…

Slack-filled Chocolate Box - © via Wikipedia Commons

Started with ‘product shrinkage’

The phenomenon originally called ‘product shrinkage’ has reached embarrassing new extremes. It all started with chip and snack bags, and cereal boxes containing less weight (and, therefore volume) of product for the same price. It was, even then, a desperate deceptive move to save costs for the manufacturer by giving the customer less. The main issue was that the outer packaging remained the same size as before, and the price remained the same.

There were many lawsuits over that was clearly a deceptive practice. But the manufacturers always won, because they had said, on their labels – often in small print – that the net, or naked product weight was less than before. And consumers soon gave up challenging the cheap trick move because literally all manufacturers were doing it. No way to punish a brand for cheating them by changing loyalties.

Many variations have emerged

Since it’s initial appearance, the practice has sown up in several different guises. I alerted my readers some time ago to the dirty trick meat cutters use (on behalf of their supermarket masters) of including useless fat and skin, hidden in the bottom of tray packages under the actual product, to bump up the price of the overall package, which is sold by weight.

Again, it’s not technically illegal. But it is sneaky and deceptive to the point of being cynical. Like pumping up meat products (especially chicken) with water, to make the overall packages weigh more.


Now, in response to the rising cost of cocoa, chocolate companies have started using what has become known as ‘slack-filling’ to give you less for more.

Here’s how food writer Dylan Pavlik describes the new cheat:

“Let’s do the math: a standard box of Valentine’s Day chocolates is roughly 10″ x 10″ with an average of 11 chocolates inside [that eaach] measure[s] approximately 1″ x 1″. Not even including the plastic heart-shaped tray the chocolates are housed in, this means that the ratio of chocolate to packaging is less than 50%.”

Slack-filling is technically illegal

But manufacturers are still posting actual net product weights on their package labels. So, the makers insist, customers are still (again?) responsible for their own disappointment when they remove the lid from the box. But slack-filling is deceptive. The thing is, it’s harder for a plaintiff to prove intent to deceive, than it is to prove outright cheating on, for example, product weight.

And manufacturers are also claiming, “their packaging helps protect their product while in transit.” That’s guaranteed to keep the whole mess in the courts for a long, long time, all by itself. And that’s how big corporations eventually win lawsuits. They delay and argue and file motions until the financially disadvantaged plaintiffs in cases like this run out of money.

My take

As I’ve said before, your only real defense against being cheated by slack-filling is to be aware that it happens, and the practice is almost universal. Then you can decide whether or not you want to patronize a manufacturer who does it.


~ Maggie J.