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Shoppers discover boxes of Cheerios, bags of Loblaws chips that weigh far less than advertised

Paul Jay of Ottawa thought something was wrong with the weight listed on each box of Cheerios purchased as part of a jumbo two-pack when he noticed a bigger box of the same cereal, on the right, listed a much lower weight.

Paul Jay of Ottawa thought something was wrong with the weight listed on each box of Cheerios purchased as part of a jumbo two-pack when he noticed a bigger box of the same cereal, on the right, listed a much lower weight.

Photo: (Marc Robichaud/CBC) Social Sharing

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General Mills says Cheerios packaging being fixed; Loblaws says shorted packages are rare

Chances are you've scanned your grocery bill for mistakes, but have you ever checked the weight of products you've bought?

Some Ontario shoppers have uncovered packages of Cheerios and a Loblaws brand of potato chips that weighed far less than what was printed on the package. 

CBC News investigated both cases. Here are the details.

Mislabelled Cheerios weight

General Mills has admitted a packaging error with its honey nut and multi-grain jumbo two-packs of Cheerios breakfast cereal. The weight printed on each cereal box is double the actual amount.

The flawed jumbo packs have been selling in Canadian stores for more than four months and are still on the shelves, CBC News has confirmed. 

It should have been corrected fairly quickly, said food industry consultant Walter Dullemond, who has viewed the packaging. It's misleading to consumers and the law is very clear that labels may not be misleading. 

In response to a CBC News inquiry, U.S.-based General Mills said the correct packaging will appear in stores sometime this month. 

It's not the swift action customer Paul Jay had hoped for when he alerted the food company to the problem back in July. 

It didn't seem to me that they wanted to do anything about it, he said.

Jay had bought a jumbo pack of Multi-Grain Cheerios, containing two attached cereal boxes. Each box of the twin pack was labelled as weighing 1.01 kilograms. He grew suspicious when he noticed that a much bigger box of Cheerios in his cupboard was labelled as weighing far less: 585 grams.

So Jay got out his scale. Turns out, each box in the jumbo pack contained a little over 500 grams of cereal and the 1.01 kilogram printed on each box is actually the total weight of the two boxes combined — a detail missing on the packaging. 

The one-kilogram box doesn't contain one kilogram, said Jay. You should make it clear to customers who are buying your product exactly what weight they're getting.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), manufacturers must post the accurate weight (new window) on the label of prepackaged food. When posting total weights for multipacks, the packaging must make clear how many items make up that weight (new window) — something both the multi-grain and honey nut jumbo two-packs fail to do.  

Isolated incident?

Jay first complained to General Mills about the problem on July 19, according to emails viewed by CBC News. 

In a reply on Aug. 4, the company told him it has worked with the manufacturer to identify and resolve any issues and that it considers the matter an isolated incident. 

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Their email kind of sort of shut me down, said Jay. However, General Mills did provide two vouchers for a free box of cereal. 

Jay continued to find the mislabelled Cheerios boxes in stores, so he reported the issue to the CFIA on Aug. 24. 

The agency told CBC News it has received two complaints about the matter and is still investigating. It wouldn't comment on the case. 

General Mills says it's working quickly

CBC News visited two major Toronto grocery stores on Monday and found all the honey nut and multi-grain jumbo two-packs on shelves had the flawed packaging.

However, jumbo twin-packs of regular Cheerios listed the weight correctly. Each box stated it weighs 500 grams and it was clear the two boxes combined weigh one kilogram. 

They do have a package that has the correct weight, said Dullemond, president of FTC International Consulting in Pitt Meadows, B.C.

Considering this, General Mills should have been able to easily change the packaging for the other boxes well before a December deadline, he suggested. 

It's unlikely that it takes a lot of time, unless they just want to use up their current inventory, said Dullemond.

Each box in the regular Cheerios jumbo two-pack, left, states that they weigh 500 grams and that the two boxes combined weigh 1.01 kilograms. Both boxes in the multi-grain package, at centre, and honey nut, on the right, do not clarify that the weight listed on each is the total of the two boxes combined.

Each box in the regular Cheerios jumbo two-pack, left, states that they weigh 500 grams and that the two boxes combined weigh 1.01 kilograms. Both boxes in the multi-grain package, at centre, and honey nut, on the right, do not clarify that the weight listed on each is the total of the two boxes combined.

Photo: (Sophia Harris/CBC)

General Mills spokesperson Andrea Williamson said in an email the company started working on a fix in September and that correcting labels is a lengthy process.

In this particular situation, the timeline to adjust the label was significantly reduced, she said.

Williamson suggested the mislabelled jumbo packs aren't an issue in stores, because the two boxes are sold attached, so listing the total weight is accurate.

But both Dullemond and food regulations expert Mary Labbe, who viewed the attached packaging, said they felt it was misleading. 

Loblaw No Name chips underweight

Labbe, a nutritional sciences professor at the University of Toronto, said incorrect weights on food products only add to customer frustration as they try to get the best deal to combat high grocery prices.

That's really making the job for cost-conscious consumers that much harder, she said.

Labbe suggested companies should alert shoppers, such as on their website, as soon as they detect an error on a food label. 

Why mislead consumers and why do it unnecessarily?

Cheerios isn't the only product to face customer scrutiny over weight. In September, two people posted TikTok videos that showed unopened Loblaws-brand No Name potato chips weighing far less than the amount printed on the bags.

In one video (new window), a TikToker placed a bag labelled as containing 200 grams of No Name onion ring chips on a scale. It weighed in at 132 grams.

Jocelyn Dilworth of Toronto posted the other video (new window). She said she bought two bags of No Name ripple chips at Loblaws-owned No Frills in September, and weighed one of them after noticing it was much lighter than the other bag. 

CBC News has independently verified Dilworth's lighter bag of chips weighs 103 grams — almost half the 200 grams printed on the bag.

It was frustrating because we're all trying to save wherever we can, she said. [You] buy the cheapest products in that store, and then you get home and it's not what you paid for. You were misled.

When Jocelyn Dilworth of Toronto weighed a bag of Loblaws-brand chips she bought in September, it weighed in at 103 grams instead of the 200 grams printed on the chip bag.

When Jocelyn Dilworth of Toronto weighed a bag of Loblaws-brand chips she bought in September, it weighed in at 103 grams instead of the 200 grams printed on the chip bag.

Photo: (Submitted by Jocelyn Dilworth)

Loblaw Companies reached out to the two customers and launched an investigation.

While the investigation indicates this is an extremely rare occurrence, the final quality of the product obviously does not live up to our expectation, the Canadian retailer told CBC News in an email.  

Loblaws said it's working closely with its vendor to ensure this doesn't happen again. 

The company offered Dilworth 20,000 PC Optimum loyalty points, which would allow her to spend $20 in its stores.

But Dilworth said she didn't accept. 

I would have taken a refund. I would have taken an apology. But 20,000 PC points to just … put back in their pocket? she said. It's not enough to bring me back into their store.

The CFIA said food companies must ensure their products comply with Canada's labelling regulations. Companies found breaking the rules could be ordered to relabel packages, recall the product if there are health concerns and/or pay a fine, said the agency.

Sophia Harris (new window) · CBC News 

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