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Snack food companies increase volume

September 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Last year we saw shrinking packages with inflated prices as food makers struggled to stay afloat. But with a lull in demand for corn and other ingredients, prices are falling so companies are giving back, adding more food to their packages without raising the cost. "There are bargains in the snack aisle and the latest one is 20 percent more free," said market analyst Phil Lempert.

"I don't know whether to believe it or not," said shopper David Lennerds.

Believe it. At a Santa Monica Ralph's Phil Lempert found Doritos, Cheetos, Fritos and Tostitos had filled their snack packs with more, without raising the price.

"When we look at our weather conditions and commodities keep in mind when it comes to snacks, you've got commodity based products here -- wheat and corn," said Lempert.

Lempert says demand of these ingredients went down so prices eased up. Manufacturers are giving 20 percent more as a way of convincing consumers to continue snacking.

But with rising obesity rates, health experts aren't happy about super sizing snack foods.

"Products like snack foods, when I see those in larger containers, I do get a little disturbed," said dietitian Susan Bowerman. "One thing that we do know is that as containers get larger people serve themselves larger servings."

"It would have been nice I guess if the snack food companies had reduced the price a little bit," Bowerman adds. "Let us spend that extra money on veggies that might have been a good tactic."

But there is a challenge.

"All the estimates are that the prices are going to go back up," said Lempert. "So if a manufacturer reduces the price and then has to raise the price in six months, we as consumers are going to angry."

And of course while not giving you any more, one of your best values is the generic or store brand. It might not be as sexy but often its nearly the same as what you get from national brands.

"Store brands can be a great buy, but there's two things you want to look for. First, look at the ingredients make sure its the same, identical to what you find in the national brand," said Lempert.

He suggests checking to see if oils are healthy, transfat free and grains are similar to your favorite brand. And if you choose the bigger bag you should try making a snack pack.

"If you're buying these packages because they're more economical, then I would suggest that people make their own little snack packs," said Bowerman.

Yes, it takes a bit more time, but the price and calorie break are worth the extra minutes.

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