Thursday, January 13, 2011

Corporate greed at your local grocery store: Saltine price fixing

Okay world, here's your shocking expose. Moms of the world have probably noticed the same thing I've noticed, but as far as I know, I'm the first to blog about it. Prepare yourself, food industry, because I'm about the blow the lid off of your whole mafia-style corporate malfeasance. It used to be that one would go to their local supermarket and buy a box of saltines for, say 79 cents 10 years ago, 98 cents a few years ago- that's fine, that's inflation. One day when I was reaching for my ol' standby Great Value El-Cheapo saltines, I noticed something. The GV saltines were a normal price, but all the name-brand ones were around $2.29. GV is known for saving you a few dimes, maybe 15-20%, which is good money- but not over half. It's not that GV was so much cheaper, it was that all the other saltine brands leapt up in price suddenly. What happened?

Maybe a saltine factory burned down someplace and that created a ripple in the market. Well, no- for that there'd have to be two or three factories churning out ALL the saltines for the non-GV brands for the entire country, because I noticed this trend in Texas, Iowa, and Utah. Hmph. It couldn't be the price of ingredients, because the GV price would have reacted to that too- and it didn't. I watched for a year and more wondering if Zesta sold ANY of their $2.39 crackers when there was a $0.98 cent box of the exact same thing right next to them. (I'm sure they did, P.T. Barnum's Rule) If some real event took place that would legitimately cause prices to explode, GV wouldn't have taken a year and more to catch up.

So... what happened? Allow me to throw a wild accusation out there, based entirely on a single perspective and conjecture. I think that someone out there realized that saltines were too much of a steal. I always kept a box of saltines around to augment my meals because they're cheap and tasty. You can put waaay too much Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning on something, but tone it down by eating it on a cracker, like chili. It stretches your meal, too. Now, saltines aren't too much of a steal- well, they're not a steal at all. GV saltines at my local walmart just jumped up to $2.28 overnight- and they're advertised in the aisle as being an item of special interest! I agree- but because there's some backdoor saltine-management shadiness going on.

I don't think it's too crazy to think that such a thing might happen. Would this be the first time that prices went up on something because someone wanted to make more money? Of course not. It happened so much in the post-industrial-revolution days that a law was passed to specifically address this problem. It also wouldn't be the first time that corporate bigwigs have thrown the law to the wayside and done what they wanted to do. But crackers? Come on Ned, why would some CEOs meeting in a back alley wearing hats with their collars turns up target crackers as their big money maker? They would do that because it's smart. Crackers are stable, cheap enough to produce that the profit margin is already substantial, and people are not likely to stop buying them- or at least, less likely than if they tried the same thing on LCD TVs- there's competition there and undercutting that wouldn't ever let a scheme like this go over.

Furthermore, crackers are unsuspecting. Who ever links crime with crackers? Barring some weird CSI-esque criminal cases out there, nobody's ever committed a crime with crackers before. (Prove me wrong) Your average person is going to keep grabbing the same color box of crackers whenever he runs out, slide his card at the checkout after making sure the total is the right number of digits, and eat his crackers. All the snack crackers are expensive anyway, so the $2.29 saltines will fit in great with the $2.99 Club crackers and $1.89 Wheat Thins. The buck saltines were an anomaly to begin with.

If someone DID crack the case of the cracker crime ring, who in the world would care enough to actually crack down on these guys under the federal anti-price-fixing statute? Crackers in the media don't sell. It could be true, but they'll probably discover that Michael Jackson recorded a funny-sounding sneeze once and give that all the media coverage while CORPORATE STRATEGISTS ARE TESTING THE LIMITS OF OUR COMPLACENCY BY MESSING WITH CRACKER PRICES. Don't say it couldn't happen. You heard it here first, folks. If the great cracker conspiracy of 2009-2011 blows up soon, you know who to thank for breaking this story.

What do cracker prices look like where you are? Leave it in the comments.

Also, I'm out of crackers and now they're $2.50 a box. Forget you, Nabisco.


  1. So I was told to comment on this post because you were sad no one was reading it. So HI! I read it. And I am pretty sure saltines aren't worth buying now.

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  3. Ned, this post is scathingly insightful.

  4. Ned, Working with the products stocked at your local WM, I tend to agree with you completely. Worse, I believe it has happened with the yogurt as well....And why, might I ask, do we have such a monopoly on the little yogurts at our store? Did you know that we only sell Yoplait little yogurts? What about the GV brand then?