Opinion – Why? Economês in Portuguese: Which is the cheapest?

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Picanha sandwich without picanha. Product that looks like condensed milk (even with the famous image of the girl on the packaging) which is actually a condensed mixture. These are just a few recent examples of companies accused of “cheating” consumers.

In the midst of an intense routine, it is very difficult to pay attention to everything when shopping. Some attributes are more salient, such as the price of the product. And we often miss out on some relevant information. An example is in the photograph below, which I took myself in a supermarket of a giant chain in the country.

To choose which one to buy, the consumer compares prices. A quick look at the labels suggests that the one on the left is cheaper. But notice that he also has a smaller amount –200 g against 240 g of the other. This information is often overlooked. And, if noticed, the consumer would need to make an account to infer which of the two is more worthwhile. A person with a big shopping list and little time would hardly stop to do this.

The cereal on the left is actually more expensive: it costs BRL 48.45 per kilo against BRL 44.96 per kilo for the one on the right. But the difficulty in making the comparison makes us often take home something more expensive, in the illusion that it is cheaper. And companies can take advantage of this mess to make money at our expense.

How can public policies help in this case? One option is to standardize the size of packages. Cereal boxes should all be 200 g, for example. But this can bring harm, in the form of less product diversity for consumers. Some of them may prefer a larger package, and would be harmed by such a measure.

A better option is to provide consumers with information so they can make better choices. We’ve talked about this recently, in the Chilean case of seals that indicate whether a product is unhealthy.

In Brazil, there is already a law that obliges establishments to inform the price per unit of measure (per kilo, liter, etc.). This would be enough to reduce the consumer’s difficulty in comparing products with different quantities.

However, if you look at the price tags in the image, you’ll see that the information is there – that is, the supermarket is complying with the legislation. Only the letter is lowercase! See below for enlarged labels. If the idea was to make information salient to the consumer, it’s clearly not working.

Will we need a law change, also specifying the font size of the price per kilo?

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