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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10 Responses 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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  2. Daniel Jackson says:

    "And with the overwhelming preference apparently still being for imperial measures in the UK...."

    By what authority do you make this claim? Can you provide proof of this?

    If one judges the letter to the editor comments posted to each of the online articles claiming a return to imperial, the overwhelming majority oppose imperial.

    "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. "

    Or more true, units they claim their customers demand but in truth are units they choice to use because they know the public does not know them and use them to be deceptive.

    The units used to describe 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 are not the choice of the consumer but those forced on the public as a means to deceive by using units the majority do not know or understand and never will.

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  3. Bob says:

    A brief search of the web reveals jam jars advertised with a variety of units. Some are metric, some are non-metric, some are both.

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  4. Jake says:

    Charlie P:

    The above article says nothing about UK consumers preferring imperial measures. The oddity is in the use of weights by Waitrose, not in a choice expressed by its customers. What the article shows is that the UK is still in a total mess when it comes to expressing the weights and measures of everyday objects as compared with items bought or sold commercially. The UK doesn't have a proper system of measurement at all. I am sure you find nothing wrong with that, but for anyone looking in at the UK from outside it is an extremely eccentric state of affairs. Every country should have a proper system of measurement mandated for all purposes. Every other country does have.

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  5. Ezra Steinberg says:

    @CharlieP

    You mentioned bathroom scales, so I went and looked at the Argos web site and found this:

    http://www.argos.co.uk/product/8334242

    Note that for the maximum capacity "stones" is listed first, followed by "kg" and then "lb". Is there a law that requires the retailer to list "kg" ahead of "lb" in this product description? If not, it seems to me that a retailer would be sensitive to the desires or preferences of most of their customers and create their product description accordingly.

    Note also the description of the scale itself:

    Glass platform.
    Size H30, W30, D3.1cm.
    Batteries required: 3 x AAA batteries (included).
    Capacity 160kg (25st 3lb).
    Suitable for hard surfaces.
    Weight 1.9kg.
    Manufacturer's 15 year guarantee.
    EAN: 3030053089988

    How odd! Capacity has "kg" listed first, dimensions are in "cm", and the weight of the scale is given exclusively in kilograms. Boy, those harsh UK laws forcing retailers to avoid Imperial measures in their product descriptions is certainly quite evident here! 😉

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  6. Ronnie Cohen says:

    @Charlie P

    It is highly unlikely that a consumer would buy an empty glass jar for 29p more than a full jar of jam to fill it with jam from another jar, which also costs money. In that case, why bother buying the empty jar when you can just buy a full jar of jam? If I bought an empty container of any shape or size, I would be more interested in its volume or capacity. Describing a jar with a unit of mass of a particular substance is unlikely to be useful or helpful when it is likely to be purchased for something completely different.

    You give examples of products where imperial sizes are commonly used for their descriptions. I could also give you examples of products that are commonly described in metric sizes. Examples include litres for petrol tank sizes, bin sizes, luggage capacity, fridge capacity, freezer capacity, kettle capacity and plastic box sizes, cubic centimetres for engine capacity, centimetres and metres for the dimensions of pieces of furniture, metres for hose lengths and centimetres for diameters of chandeliers. I could go on and on.

    Look in any modern catalogue with a wide range of products and you will find many more product descriptions with metric units than with imperial units.

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  7. Daniel Jackson says:

    In addition to my previous post to Charlie P, a recent YouGov poll shows that only 30 % want to return to imperial.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/01/now-sovereign-nation-must-bring-back-imperial-units/

    Only 16 % or the remain group and 48 % of Brexiters want to return to imperial. In either case, these results are a minority. How does a minority equal an overwhelming preference?

    Also:

    http://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/brexfactor-gallons-of-imperial-guff-from-brexiteers-1-4966850

    "And, thanks to The Times’ Matt Chorley, we now know that while Britain today has 28.3m citizens born under pounds and ounces, it also has 36.8m born under grams and kilos. That means Heffer is the voice of The 43% and, as a representative of a minority under Brexit Rules, must simply shut up and get on with it. Although a newspaper called ‘The New Imperialist’ has a nice ring to it…"

    The truth is, the majority prefer metric.

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  8. Mark Williams says:

    @Charlie P:

    The same is true of loaf tins. Mind you, I always put 600 g of bread into each 2​lBs tin since, firstly, that is how much bread you get from quarter of a 1.5 kg bag of flour—and, secondly, 800 g (let alone ~1.763‍ ‍698‍ ‍097‍ ‍479‍ ‍020‍ ‍645‍ ‍77 imperial pounds or 2 bakers' pounds) of dough wouldn't fit in ours without making an almighty mess once risen.

    To give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe these jars are made out of depleted uranium crystal glass with solid gold lids—in which case, that would be a more useful description. It would also explain the price and the empty weight might then be true, albeit in a meaningless unit. FWIW, the empty/ full masses or volumes are often written on containers and utensils that I use so that the contents can be measured without removal; works equally well for paint, jam, screws, compost, etc… So that information is quite valuable to me; your metrage may vary!

    p.s. ‘overwhelming preference apparently’, snigger. What was your sample size?

    p.p.s. I've just bought a set of bathroom scales. Not for measuring bathrooms, as it happens. Instructions dated 2011, fitted battery, defaults to kilograms out-of-the-box. There is a button to change units, but I have no inclination to press it. No doubt the manufacturer would be horrified to learn that they have been ‘pervert[ing] the natural unit selection’ without legislation obliging them to all these years. Either that, or they know their customers better than you do.

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  9. jackthesmilingblack says:

    "1.0 lb jam jars"
    Illogical when you think it through, presupposing the "one pound" is intended to indicate future content capacity.
    As example, the relative density of say honey must be greater than than less dense jams. So a "one pound" jar must be traditional.
    But that's Brits for you, so thick they don't know what they don't know.

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  10. Daniel Jackson says:

    Mark Williams wrote: "No doubt the manufacturer would be horrified to learn that they have been ‘pervert[ing] the natural unit selection’ without legislation obliging them to all these years. Either that, or they know their customers better than you do."

    More than likely the scale was made in China and the Chinese sell the same scale everywhere in the world and default it to kilograms since the majority of markets use kilograms. Special default settings are possible but at an additional cost.

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