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Shopper's Special: NIST Seeking Consumer, Industry Input on Unit Pricing Labels

From NIST Tech Beat: February 21, 2012

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Contact: Mark Esser
301-975-8735

The Office of Weights and Measures (OWM) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is seeking volunteers to participate in a workgroup that will develop industry best practice guidelines to improve the accuracy and usability of unit pricing information offered on retail store shelves. The workgroup will convene as needed through the use of online web meetings and will include representatives from industry and trade associations, weights and measures officials, consumers and consumer groups, and other key stakeholders.

OWM is planning to begin the meetings in late March, 2012.

Offering unit pricing information is a common practice in many retail stores, especially in supermarkets. Unit pricing allows consumers to make value and price comparisons among products. Unit pricing labels on a shelf of barbeque sauces, for example, will display not only the price for the whole bottle but also the amount the customer will pay per ounce or other applicable unit.

“Unit pricing is one of the best tools a consumer can have during their shopping experience to help them make value and price comparisons,” says OWM’s David Sefcik. “It is especially helpful in an environment where ‘downsizing’, the practice of reducing the net contents of a package without a proportional change in price, is common. It’s a means of consumer protection.”

Weights and measures laws in the United States are the responsibility of state and local jurisdictions. Currently, 19 states and two territories have unit pricing laws or regulations in force. Eleven of these have mandatory unit pricing provisions, and many stores in states without regulations do so voluntarily. Those regulations and voluntary standards generally follow the guidelines set forth in NIST Handbook 130,* a set of model laws and regulations that NIST publishes in collaboration with the National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM).**

The eventual goal of the workgroup is to develop an industry best practice guide for unit pricing that will be made available online for use by anyone interested in improving the presentation and accuracy of unit pricing information. The guide will build upon the current Uniform Unit Pricing Regulation (UUPR) in NIST Handbook 130 and take into account any current mandatory unit pricing regulations in states in an effort to achieve and promote a more comprehensive, consumer friendly and uniform approach to unit pricing. The workgroup may also develop recommendations to revise the UUPR that would be submitted to the NCWM for consideration.

The Food Marketing Institute has volunteered to participate, and the National Consumer League and Consumer Union (the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports) have both expressed an interest in participating.

Those interested in being a part of the workgroup should contact David Sefcik, david.sefcik@nist.gov, (301) 975-4868.

* Handbook 130: see www.nist.gov/pml/wmd/pubs/hb130-12.cfm.
** NCWM: see www.ncwm.net.