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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Santitas Frito Lay Scam

Santitas chips always seemed like a pretty good deal to me -- a one pound bag for about $2.  The lettering on the bag even proclaimed the good deal:  "$2 only".  Not available in the DC area, which didn't make a whole lot of sense, but available in places in downstate Virginia like Roanoke and Abingdon.  I used to "import" them in fact (i.e. I'd buy an extra bag down there and bring it along).  But was just at the Roanoke Wal-Mart, saw the Santitas bag at "$2 only," reached for it, only to have it slip through my nerveless fingers as I became aware of its size.  12 oz now.  So it's shrunk by 4 oz, or 25%, and they are still calling it a good deal.

I'll admit it's possible that they went from 16 oz to 14 oz without my noticing it (or without my caring a lot about it) (but see blog comment quoted below)  But the decrease to 12 oz is very noticeable.

Just googled around and found a blog from a while ago commenting on what a good deal the chips were.  Turns out they are made by Frito Lay, and the blogger thinks they are as good as Tostitos, Frito Lay's other tortilla chip product (and of course, the only one available in the DC area).  Commenters in January and February 2011 noted that the bag size had shrunk to 12 oz.  But I'm positive I bought one pound bags -- or maybe it was just 14 oz -- after that.  So the bag shrinkage may well have been gradually implemented, region by region. 

The blog is http://www.frugalfunfortune.com/2010/03/03/santitas-tortilla-chips-loop-hole, and the original post is from March 2010, but it actually looks like she's holding a 12 oz bag (can't read the ounces, but the grams seem to be 360 or so, which is between 12 and 13 ounces).  So perhaps in her region they had shrunk as early as March 2010.
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One reply dated July 1, 2011 says:

 "I just bought my last bag….I thought something was different with the size and Googled it when I got home. Sure enough, the 16 ounce bag has shrunk to 12 ounces but the price remains at “ONLY $2.00″ That’s just not right…and this is the last bag for me."


So as usual, I'm not the first to notice something like this.  But it's good to have validation.

Quite possibly a method of predatory pricing.  I.e. Frito is facing generic competition since tortilla chips are cheap to produce.  So they produce a quality chip at a lower price to stave off that competition.  I'll keep on buying generics -- most of the supermarket chains seem to have a generic brand of tortilla chips that come out to about $2 a pound, although they come and go.

Note that one of the commenters on the aforementioned blog said that the quality of Santitas had been going down, as of April 2011:

"The santitas chip brand owned by fritos has been converted to a poor version of one of the other tostitos. They used to be great and now they suck… I’m so very disappointed. I used to buy them all the time. The triangles are greasy and too thick and heavy. They also taste like lard. Complain and tell the company that they made a huge mistake."  

Of course, it's not necessarily a mistake at all.  I've often suspected that brands produce lower quality generic lines for the sole purpose of driving consumers back to the brands.  If Frito Lay actually reduced the quality of Santitas on purpose, that would be perfectly consistent with this theory.  It hadn't occurred to me that the brand might intentionally cause its "generic" version to fluctuate in quality, but you have to admit, that would be pretty brilliant.  Consumers will go back to the tried and true.

On the tortilla chip theme, that's my one regret about leaving Sam's Club for BJ's Wholesale Club.  Sam's used to have (as of a year ago, or whenever my membership lapsed), boxes containing 2 two-pound bags of decent tortilla chips for $5.99.  I.e. that's $1.50 per pound.  But BJ's doesn't have anything comparable, and their chips (they have a strong Frito Lay promotion going -- you can buy two 1 pound bags for $6, and can mix and match) are all in the $3 or more per pound price range.

Now I'm not advocating a lawsuit against Frito Lay or anything.  But I do think that this kind of behavior should be reported, and consumers should be aware of it.  Maybe this is a job for the FTC's consumer protection branch.





24 comments:

  1. It's down to 11 oz now. With the same label.

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    1. It has been 16 oz at my supermarket for $2.00, but suddenly it has gone down to 11 oz. My husband brought home a bag and I was surprised they disappeared so quickly. I went to the store and looked for the regular 16 oz bag and was shocked that the writing on the bag was even smaller--only an 11 ounce bag. Also, they were way saltier, not as good as they had been. I will never buy these again.

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    2. Still 16 oz somewhere in the US in 2016? So maybe there's a regional element to this as well. Just be glad you got to enjoy the 16 oz bag so much longer than the rest of us!

      I'm pretty sure I witnessed something similar just recently with Safeway's "Snack Artist" line of tortilla chips -- for a while they were a decent buy at $1.50 or so for a 13 or 14 oz bag. But now the price has gone up to $1.79 or so, and -- you guessed it -- the size has shrunk to 11 oz.

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  2. Yep, 11 oz now. They must think we are all stupid.

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  3. They just hook you and then reduce the size as if we're too stupid to notice. Sorry Frito-Lay, we have noticed and we are disgusted with your sneaky ploy.

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  4. many manufacturers slowly decrease the unit size in order to avoid raising the price on an item due to monetary inflation, AKA "quantitative easing"

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  5. 16 oz is back. Labeled as "grande" AND costs more than the quietly shrunken bags. Thanks????

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    1. 16oz Grandé is gone altogether in 2016, it was my preferred purchase size, "Only $2" just a waste of time...

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  6. You do realize that prices of just about everything rise over time, and the food market is particularly vulnerable to global market swings. It would be far more surprising if the price/product ratio point never changed with market fluctuations. Stop acting like Frito is personally attacking your intelligence.

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    1. Economics professor? As soon as Frito-lay purchased the Santitas chip maker, the price/size "fluctuation" began. You would think with a larger market, access to more assets, the price of Santitas should go down......by the way, the price of Tostitos never budged during this period. Big corporations hire analysts who do understand peoples' "intelligence"...and yes, they are much more intelligent than you.

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    2. Santitas was ALWAYS a frito-lay brand. Frito-lay introduced the brand in 1985.

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  7. I don't think this can be attributed to a global market swing -- at the time period in question, Frito Lay kept the price of its "high-end" tortilla chips (Tostitos) constant, while monkeying misleadingly with the price of Santitas (by advertising "$2 only" even as the bag was shrinking).

    And since then I've discovered that Trader Joe's makes a pretty good tortilla chip that it sells for $3 for a 2 pound bag (i.e. $1.50 a pound, cheaper than Santitas ever were). So your premise that Frito Lay had to raise its prices because of global market swings is almost certainly wrong;

    Finally, I'm not sure why you think that I feel that Frito Lay is personally attacking my intelligence. I'm just trying to draw people's attention to what seems to be a pretty clever -- if basically dishonest -- marketing tactic.

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    1. I truly appreciate this. I thought I was going crazy when I saw the 11 oz bag. I know I always check price per pound when I buy things. I wonder if Wal-Mart marketing has something to do with it? It is not unheard of for them to have items specially packaged for them, and if they were using 12 oz and 11 oz bags, maybe they prevailed upon our local small grocery chain to allow the adjustment of their bags also. Can anyone know? Same with toilet paper. You have to watch them. I get the Trader Joe's chips also and they are way better than the Santitas. I will never buy Santitas again. They are not a good deal and the quality has gone down also, way too salty. Of course, compared to Trader Joe's they are really inauthentic tasting also.

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    2. Thanks for your appreciation -- as you can see from some of the comments not everyone appreciates me!

      Interesting question about Walmart -- that might explain why the rest of us (who were probably encountering them at Walmart) experienced the shrinkage so much sooner than you did. Kudos to your local chain for holding out for so long; too bad they finally caved (if that's the explanation).

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  8. I think they are great, my last bag is 11 oz but no chemicals added like most other packaged foods. What else can you buy for $2 plus there will be less broken chips at the bottom. All prices are increasing except electronics , look at coffee now 11 to 12 oz also. There is terrible inflation but our gov;t doesn't count gasoline or food...DUH

    Key West conch

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  9. The price of manufacturing them went up, but they cannot raise the price without little minds freaking out thinking of some conspiracy. So they put less in a bag...Simple economics.

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    1. I believe this basic comment has appeared before, and this one misses the point just like the others. The point is that our "little minds" are annoyed by the fact that the bag still says $2 only -- and looks just like it did before -- when what you get for $2 is much less than before. It's just misleading.

      Even if their price of manufacturing has gone up (which I doubt, given that the prices of other corn-related products, including other chip brands, have stayed constant), it's still an attempt to make money by misleading consumers.

      And nobody here said it was a conspiracy; I have no idea what you mean by using that word in this context.

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    2. The price really should go down. There was a super bumper crop of corn this year. The farmers are practically giving the stuff away. Frito Lay is making a killing.

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    3. Good point. There does tend to be a kind of "ratchet" effect with this sort of pricing game. I.e. the price will go up on any excuse, but when the economic indicators would suggest that it should go down, it doesn't.

      The free market economists (and some of the commenters here) all tend to believe that our economy is governed by perfect competition, whereas in fact, it's mostly run by oligopolies tacitly conspiring to squeeze as much as possible out of consumers, preferably without the consumers ever realizing it.

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  10. It is now 2011 and these same chips are still $2 but only 11 oz :)

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    1. Actually, I think it's 2015. So the price has held steady for about three years -- it's the new normal!

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  11. The bag im eating right now says 11oz and its april 2016. But faced with paying almost 4-5 dollars for tostitos or others, i will continue to buy them and they know that. Its the way of the world unfortunatly. Sorry folks...

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  12. 11 oz bag, today, October 17, 2016.

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