Honesty in advertising: net weight of product

A month or two ago, at a local supermarket, I purchased 2 plastic containers of chicken livers manufactured by Sanderson Farms https://sandersonfarms.com/ in Mississippi. All the labeling on the container says “net wt. 20oz” for $4 each = $8 total.

When I got home and unpacked the shopping , as I had my kitchen scale out on the counter (it’s accurate), I decided for a lark to actually weigh the containers. The chicken livers WITH the container, unopened, weighed 18 oz. I was like: what? Took the chicken livers out of the container and weighed the container: 1oz and change… Then I weighed the 2nd full container and it was 17.6 oz gross weight.

So, after looking the company up on the internet, I decided to dash off an email to them, sent them the above data, with photos of the containers and their photos on the scale as it read their weight.

Got an email back “Good Morning! Thank you for contacting Sanderson Farms. I do apologize for this problem. Yes, they should weight exactly what the net weight is! I will be more than glad to send some type of a refund. I will need your address, what store you purchased them from, what you paid per pound and a plant #.”

And then another email: Thank you! I will get this started. It will take our Accounting Dept. several weeks to get this to you.


Lxxxx Sxxxxx

Secretary to the Director of Sales

So I sent them the pertinent data and lo and behold several weeks later I received a check for, hold on to your hats, for $1.80.

What’s the legality here? I mean, they must have thousands of these underweight containers of chicken livers out there.

Do you not have some equivalent of our Trading Standards Department there? If so, you should report the discrepancy and leave it to them to take action. I bet they are in breach of some law or another.

And the company hopes that their prompt customer service will keep you from doing exactly that. Shortchange everyone, refund the few who notice the difference, pocket the rest.

That company should do what all the other ones do: Replace the current labels stating the weight is 18 oz. Same price, of course. All legal. Just like the 30 oz. “quart” of mayonnaise.

I would say they’re obviously in breach of whichever law says packages can’t contain significantly less than the amount advertised. Maybe others, I have no idea - but at least that one.

There is a “Maximum Allowable Variation,” typically 9%, though it sounds like your deviation exceeded 9%. Greater deviation may be permitted for wet products that lose weight through evaporation.

While the purpose of “allowed variation” might seem to be to accommodate inaccuracies in the container-filling, it is more likely that a company would have very accurate container-filling equipment, but adjusted to fill all containers to a level near the maximum permitted negative deviation. To prevent this, there may be inspection regimes where large batches are tested and a smaller average deviation is permitted. But is government inspection still a thing in post-rational America?

Another similar complaint I have my my grocer is the amount of water being injected into burger and chicken. I have to believe it is approaching 20%. it has gotten much worse in recent years. I started shopping at a new grocery store and don’t have that problem.

Almost, but not entirely unrelated -

On a brewery tour, the subject turned to packaging. It was noted that, in the case of beer, (and, I assume, other alcoholic beverages), that it’s important to dispense the full amount stated on the label to avoid problems with the consumer protection folks, but not to dispense more than the stated amounts, to avoid problems with the people who take offense at selling alcohol without paying the required taxes.

I find that with a lot of packaged groceries, the actual weight exceeds the stated weight. It must be difficult to get exactly 250 grammes of chicken into a tray, so they tend to err on the high side for safety. Alcohol and fuel is a different problem altogether.

9% allowable variation seems a lot to me. My 250-gramme tray of chicken would then probably be reduced to 230 grammes; still allowing a 1% margin of error.

I totally agree about the water (and other chemicals) being injected into meat to make it weigh more. This seems to be reaching scandalous levels:

Personally, I know more about digital ads and I’d say honesty in advertisings is a complicated question. We all respect laws and rules and marketologist do not violate them but they do things that we ordinary customers don’t expect. That’s why we see dishonesty sometimes. Our misunderstanding of the laws causes it. Although today entrepreneurs tend to use fair to users advertising technology. Digital marketing is a challenging issue but solvable.

Spam reported. (Kirk8)

I worked on a patent application for a packaging system for foods like shrimp, which have natural variations in their size. They do put a lot of effort in making sure they get close to the correct weight, but do err on the side of being slightly overweight as you mention. This system weighed each shrimp, and then directed it to a particular packaging station based on modeling total weight per bag vs number of shrimp per bag, because they also wanted to guarantee a minimum number of shrimp per bag. It got quite involved, with options to discard shrimp that were significantly bigger or smaller than average, so as to not throw off their packaging plan by too much.

I find it amazing that an efficient packaging algorithm requires you to discard perfectly good product.

Maybe they donate the shrimp that are too large to homeless war widows?

(of course, cocktail sauce and lemons don’t exactly grow on trees…)

How do you know your kitchen scale is accurate? That’s my biggest question. Try taking it to a store and having them weigh it, or next time your at the store, grab a package and ask a cashier (or meat counter person) to toss it on their scale and see if you get the same reading.

While I certainly can’t speak for everyone else, in my jurisdiction the Dept of Weights and Measures has to certify scales every year. My guy probably spends 10-15 minutes per scale, just at my store.
At a big factory, where all the labels are preprinted and the distribution is much wider, I’d expect that on top of their scales be certified, they probably have their own internal checks a few times a year.

Actually, rereading the OP, I see that I read the numbers too quickly. They appear to be pushing a quarter of a pound (closer to a fifth) off. Assuming it’s not on purpose, it could simply be a mistake.
However, I’d still be curious how you know your scale is accurate to within a hundredth of an ounce.

And, FWIW, if you really wanted to find out the legality or report them to someone, you’d call the Department of Weights and Measures in the plant’s jurisdiction.

Looks like they rounded up from $1.76, so there’s that.