Odd and inconsistent product descriptions

We highlight an oddity in Waitrose product description and pricing, recently picked up in an article on msn. And no, this is not a belated April fool story.

There was recently an article published on msn.com about Waitrose selling empty jars for more than the price of full ones. Two pictures were supplied by John Kilbride. The left picture showed the empty jars with the description of “Waitrose Cooking 1lb jam jar” and a price of £2 while the right picture showed the full jam jars with the description of “Bonne Maman conserve strawberry”, a mass of 370 grams, a unit price of 46.2p/100 grams and a price of £1.71.

It is odd that one measurement system is used for the empty jars while a different one is used for the full jars. Britons seem to be so blasé about it that they accept it as normal. It is not. If they go to any other European country, they will see only one measurement system used and that system is the metric system. Another thing I found odd about the empty jars is that they are described as “1lb jam jars”. The pound is a unit of mass, not of volume or capacity. The amount the jar will weigh when filled depends on what you put in it. If you fill it with lead, it will weigh a lot more than if you fill it with foam. The figure of 1lb in the description is based on the assumption that it would be filled with jam.

Also, why are these empty jars described as jam jars when they can be used for anything (e.g. peanut butter, chocolate spread, vegetables, pins, paper clips)? Their shape and size may commonly be used for selling jam but they can be used for selling other products. These jars are empty and could have been described as vegetable jars, liquid jars or any other adjective that describes their plausible use. Hence they do not weigh 1lb but a lot less than that. If Waitrose wanted to describe the mass of the empty jars, they should have quoted the mass of the empty jars, not the mass based on an assumption of what they would be filled with.

If Waitrose wanted to describe the size of the jars, they should have used a unit of capacity/volume such as cubic centimetres or litres. One cannot use a unit of mass to describe the size, capacity or volume of a product because the mass of a material that occupies a fixed amount of space will depend on its density. There is a major loophole in British law for product descriptions. Retailers can use whatever units they like to describe a product, even if they are misleading or inappropriate. This is a classic example of the problem with the current loophole in British law for product descriptions. Units of mass should be used to describe how heavy a product is, not how heavy it would be if a container were filled with a particular product.

Anyway, there is still a problem with using two incompatible systems for the full and empty jars. One cannot directly compare their mass, size or capacity without converting from one system to another. For the conversion, you need to know what the conversion factors are. If the same unit is used for both, you would just need to compare two numbers.

You can read the full story at:

http://www.msn.com/en-gb/foodanddrink/foodnews/no-jam-for-29p-more-waitrose-mocked-over-offer/ar-AAol4mc?li=AAnZ9Ug (“No jam for 29p more? Waitrose mocked over offer.” 15 March 2017)

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One Response to Odd and inconsistent product descriptions

  1. Charlie P says:

    @Ronniec
    You say it's "odd that one measurement system is used for the empty jars while a different one is used for the full jars." There's nothing odd about that, particularly in the UK. You surely must know that although jam has to be sold by metric weight, there is no such requirement on empty glass jars. And what would be the value of the weight of the glass anyway? All that consumers need to know about the jar is how much weight of jam it would hold. And with the overwhelming preference apparently still being for imperial measures in the UK, then clearly where there is no regulation forcing the use of unwanted units of measure, the retailer will choose the measures their customers demand. Jam jars have traditionally held 12 oz, 1 lb and 2 lb of jam, so that is the natural size of the jars - to state them as anything else would be ridiculous. The same is true for loaf tins, still sold as 1 lb or 2 lb, based on the weight of the bread they hold, not on the weight of the steel they are made from.

    All this shows is that where there is no legislation imposed to pervert the natural unit selection, the UK consumers generally still prefer the traditional measures. Think TV screen sizes, laptop sizes, paint brush and most other DIY tool sizes, clothes sizes, shoe sizes, desk fan sizes, bathroom scales' scales, etc., etc.

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