Slowly but surely ….

A reader of Metric Views reports on his regular shopping for essentials, and comes to an upbeat conclusion.

He writes:

“These are items that I regularly buy in imperial sizes:

1. Draught beer in pubs (pints)
2. Pasteurised milk in the supermarket (pints, though also litres from my local grocers)
3. Birds Eye peas (pound bags)
4. McCain oven chips (pound bags)

I am glad to say that frozen peas can now be removed from the list – they have just moved to the (relatively) rational size of 400 g and dropped the lb sizing on the packaging.

Shame it’s not a “10% extra free” 500 g bag, as they can be accused of using metrication to downsize (I don’t know what happened to the unit price), but I’m very glad anyway.

If I had kept a list of imperial purchases, then quite a lot of things would have dropped off it in the last 15 years or so:

petrol
loose fruit
loose veg
pub spirits
soft drinks
milk from local shops
just about any packet or jar

I know there are examples of imperial sizes left, but the examples above are the things I buy. I say this just to show that the survival of supplementary indications has probably come too late for the imperial lobby, as almost all food produce is going metric whenever plant or packaging are updated and the law allows. Manufacturers are unlikely to go back to lb/oz sizing now, and they won’t add spurious supplementary indications even if they’re allowed to.”

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4 Responses to Slowly but surely ….

  1. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Very welcome news, indeed!

    While the posting indicates that supplementary indications are disappearing in the UK on their own, I'm sure the trend will get a boost once the USA finally approves voluntary metric-only labeling on all products and in all jurisdictions, which I suspect will finally happen in the next couple of years.

    Many products are already poised here in the States to use metric-only labeling, having been converted to rational metric sizes with the US Customary units (our version of Imperial) relegated to second place in parentheses. All we need now is the legislation permitting companies to drop US Customary units and metric-only labels will quickly spring up all over the place here in America.

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  2. Alex Bailey says:

    In the recent past I've noticed a definite shift away from Imperial sizes in a lot of cases. Most of the larger supermarkets (with the notable exception of Morrison) now tend to pack their own brand products in rational metric sizes (except milk!) and I've noticed that in many cases the "price per lb" is disappearing from packaging.

    I've also noted that the larger pizza restaurant chains no longer sell pizzas in inches, having switched to using small, medium and large instead.

    I suspect that many companies already had long term plans in place to meet the deadline set by the much-discussed law banning supplementary indications from the end of 2009 and are still moving forward despite the recent and highly publicised comments from a certain EU commissioner and we'll possibly see more in the next 18-24 months.

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  3. Robin Paice says:

    I would like to think that this assessment is correct. Clearly, however, this evidence is anecdotal, and it would be interesting to see a more objective survey done. It might even be possible for UKMA to organise such a survey and, depending on the results, release it to the media - e.g. headline "Imperial measures dying out. Good riddance, says UKMA" (if this were the outcome).

    Although the article suggests that manufacturers convert to metric when they replace worn out packaging plant, it is difficult to understand why supermarkets still package, say, minced meat in clingfilm-rapped packets of 454 g (with no supplementary indication).

    One thing that does worry me is the effect of the EU's recent Directive deregulating Packaged Goods, which could in theory allow manufacturers to revert to imperial sizes - e.g. 227 g of butter or 1.36 kg of flour (currently required to be 250 g and 1.5 kg respectively). Worse, they could offer both sizes misleadingly, just as you now see 1 litre and 2 pint cartons of milk side by side - almost indistinguishable until you examine the label.

    This once again emphasises the importance of explaining and publicising the little understood concept of “unit pricing� – which, to its shame, was dismissed last year by the National Consumer Council as unimportant because most people didn’t understand or use it!

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  4. Daniel Jackson says:

    I believe Ezra is overly optimistic about the US making a change to its laws allowing metric only. Most Americans are die hard supporters of obsolete measurements and will do everything possible to assure they don't fade away. Dual measurements on labels, especially when the contents description shows nice rounded imperial numbers and difficult to fathom metric amounts to multiple decimal places, is what the US will continue to demand. In a way it makes the purchaser comfortable in feeling that metric will mean the same sizes but with difficult numbers to deal with.

    American industry that serves the consumer market does not want metric. Products in rounded metric sizes would end the ability of marketers to trick the consumer into thinking he/she is getting more then they really are. Unit pricing is an alternative to rounded metric sizing but isn't often employed, not always kept up-to-date, adds cost to the products being purchased, and is often ignored.

    Robin's idea for a survey is great. The UKMA could partner with companies that normally conduct surveys as part of their business. I'm sure the results will show that metric only predominates and would be a good reason to end dual labeling on the remaining brands.

    Even though it is possible for a company to down-size 250 g product to 227 g, I doubt this will happen. For what reason would someone do this? It would not be an optimum use of their filling equipment. Factories now use metric filling machines. Many may not have the ability to fill to a 1 g or 1 mL amount; the minimum may be only 5 g or 5 mL. Thus a 250 g size could be reduced to 230 g or 225 g. Of course, a 230 g amount could be labelled as 227 g, but what would be gained from such a silly number? A present milk pint may be filled to 570 mL and just labelled as 568 mL or 1 pint if it is filled to meet minimum contents laws. However if the "e" method of filling is used, then the milk pint could contain 565 mL or 570 mL or anything in between. I believe "e" is an average fill of +/- 2.5% (correct me if I'm wrong).

    Also, the raw products the companies buy are now in rounded metric sizes. If flour or sugar come in a 50 kg sack (not sure they really do), then the most efficient use of the raw materials in round metric sizes would mean selling the resultant product in a round metric size to be assured of minimal wastage.

    The deregulation of package sizes is not some secret attempt to reintroduce imperial sizes, but to allow for companies to reduce costs by allowing them to downsize and sell at the higher price. If they are forced to keep the same sizes, then they have to raise the price of the product which is noticeable by the shopper and may cause the shopper not to buy. The shopper is less likely to notice a decrease in product size, especially if the package looks the same as before. Governments approve of down-sizing. A down-sized product does not count as inflationary in their statistics. Price increases do. This is why down-sizing is so much in vogue. That is why frozen peas went from a 454 g size to 400 g and not to 500 g or even to 396 g. To chose 396 g over 400 g would have been proof their intent was to see an imperial size.

    Again, the industry is not in a position to make it easier for shoppers to compare. They will do whatever it takes to make sure the shopper is confused and hopefully by their confusion will make the wrong choice in favour of the industry.

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