Check the bottom line: Are you really getting the cheapest toilet paper?

22 January 2018 - 06:21
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All two-ply rolls used to be 350 sheets, and most still are.
Image: 123RF/Maitree Laipitaksin All two-ply rolls used to be 350 sheets, and most still are.

Given the cost of toilet paper, most of us shop around for the cheapest pack. But if you don’t look beyond the price, you’re likely to end up buying the most expensive toilet paper on the market.

“I don't know if you’ve written about this,” Bandi Mchunu asked me via Twitter last week, posting a photo of a pack of "Aloe Vera" toilet paper. “I got shocked just now. To think we were once at 500 sheets.”

Actually, all two-ply rolls used to be 350 sheets, and most still are. But in 2002, the regulation compelling South Africa’s toilet paper makers to produce no fewer than 350 sheets per roll was amended to allow for 200 sheet rolls as well – but only provided the number is disclosed on the pack.

Some of those smaller-roll packs are labelled “Mini” to make it very clear to consumers that the seemingly good price is thanks to the fact that each roll is substantially smaller. But in the case of the product Mchunu tweeted me about, this was not the case.

The price was the same - R59.99 - for the standard 9-pack of Baby Soft and the “Aloe Vera” variant. Only sharp-eyed shoppers such as Mchunu would spot that the one has 350 sheets and the other just 200, making the Aloe Vera pack far more expensive.

When the 2002 regulation came into force, the South African Tissue Manufacturers Association justified the move like this: “What these changes ultimately mean to the consumer is that they will now be able to purchase toilet rolls at a cheaper price point due to the reduction in sheet count of the new offerings.”

Translation: you’re paying less, getting less, and the cost per sheet makes this the most expensive toilet paper on the market.

The bottom line (sorry, I couldn’t resist) is to always check the sheet count when you’re buying toilet paper.

The same goes for tissues. Those boxes all look the same size, but some contain 200 tissues, others 180 or 150. Beware the words “more affordable”.

Supermarket aisles are full of products which are regulated in terms of their definitions, most of which are lost on the average consumer.

Consumer tip: Know exactly what the different tuna labels mean, and you won't get caught out.
Image: Wendy Knowler Consumer tip: Know exactly what the different tuna labels mean, and you won't get caught out.

Take tuna, for example. You may know that shredded tuna is the most inferior of the canned tunas, but do you know the difference between tuna chunks and solid tuna?

Canned tuna is regulated by the National Regulator of Compulsory Standards, so the descriptions are anything but random. With tuna chunks, no more than 30% of the drained contents can be pieces of less than 12mm. A product described as solid tuna can’t have more than 18% of “free flakes” in the can, and the contents must turn out of the can in a single portion.

So the solid tuna is the most superior of the three, and knowing that can open your eyes to real bargains on the shelf.

Last week, for example, I spotted the Pick ‘n Pay brand 170g solid tuna cans selling for R3 cheaper than the tuna chunks ones. Often they are the same price, so knowing which is the superior product helps you make the best choice.

The legal definitions behind pet food descriptions are also illuminating, and I dare say, lost on most pet food buyers. Given that dogs and cats are carnivorous, what you should be looking for - apart from the price per kg - is a product with the highest meat content.

So here’s what those descriptions on the packs mean in terms of legislated meat content, using chicken as the example:

  • “With chicken flavour” means up to 4% chicken;
  • “With chicken” means at least 4% chicken; and
  • “High/rich in or with extra chicken means at least 14% chicken.
  • At my local SPAR there are two 1.75kg packs of dog food selling side-by-side. One, described as "with chicken flavour”, is priced at R116.99 while the lesser-known brand is described as “rich in chicken and rice”. In other words, this second option is a meatier product and, at R69.99 costs far less.
Despite what you might think from the prices, the cheaper of these two products is actually the meatier.
Image: Wendy Knowler Despite what you might think from the prices, the cheaper of these two products is actually the meatier.

And so to fruit juice. A question I often get from readers who’ve read the label of a “100%” fruit juice is: “How can a product described as 100% juice have all that other stuff in it?”

Fair question. The answer is that the regulations allow it.

Legally, a 100% juice must consist of the natural juice of the named fruit or fruits, but it may also contain permitted preservatives, citric acid, ascorbic acid, carbon dioxide and natural essences or aromas. 

Most of that “100% juice” is reconstituted: juice from fruit such as apples, grapes and oranges is extracted and then concentrated by removing the water via evaporation to reduce the volume and protect its shelf life, and then, for ready-to-drink consumption, the concentrate is diluted again before bottling.

If it’s freshly squeezed fruit juice that you’re after, with no additives at all, the description to look for is “fresh fruit juice”.