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Why Toothpaste Cost is Impossible to Tell

Exactly which tube is larger? Which one is cheaper?

Exactly how much does a tube of toothpaste cost?

Looks like an easy answer, right? I mean, it’s exactly the amount you pay for the tube.

That’s until you walk into a supermarket and realise that something weird is happening.

Other than the very small tubes, most of the other tubes look the same size. Or rather the boxes look the same size.

But then why do they cost vastly different prices - why do some tubes cost twice or almost thrice the price of others if they are the same?
It does not help that different manufacturers use different measures to detail what’s inside. Some put it in grams, others in millilitres. Maybe others in millimetres, though this is a unit of length and you would therefore need width hence I doubt anyone uses it.

What then happens is that if you are comparing toothpastes and if you are hoping to get the one that’s cheapest, you get very confused.

Are milliliters and grams the same? Of course they aren’t, unless you are comparing water. To convert between the 2, you need a mathematical formula containing the density of the particular toothpaste - or the weight in grams per millimetre.

But why are the boxes the same or almost the same size? Well, you open up the boxes and find the tubes inside vary in size and do not necessarily reflect the size of the box. Some are wide and short, others are narrow and long. It needs a little more than a simple glance to determine which one holds more toothpaste.

And that’s how it becomes impossible to determine which toothpaste brand is cheaper than the other as you walk down the supermarket aisle.

The game is rigged and is better left to mathematicians who can easily figure which is which. Your choices are going with what you think is the cheapest simply based on cost, what your mother bought, or the toothpaste you last saw on an advert.

The same game plays over at the tissue aisle, though to a lesser extent. Tissues are more standardised at 200 sheets and 2 ply, and either virgin pulp or blended.

What happens here is that a pack of 2, a pack of 4, a pack of 8 and a pack of 10 all cost different prices for each tissue brand. Some brands have deeply discounted 2 packs or 4 packs but their price per roll costs more for the 8 and 10 packs. Again, it does not help that the prices are usually not multiple of 10s or multiples of 2.

A price like 279 shillings for an 8 pack becomes very difficult for many to determine what the price per roll is. There are too many remainders and decimals involved.

What tissue and toothpaste makers are practicing is a form of price-discrimination. Price discrimination means realising that different people are ready to pay different prices for the same thing - a Toyota LandCruiser VX and a Toyota Passo both have 5 doors and 4 wheels, but very different prices. Same as a mug of Senator Lager and a bottle of WhiteCap, which are both half-litre beers from the same brewery.

Price discrimination is a strategy that a business person deploys to ensure that they are not “leaving money on the table” by under charging those who want to pay more or overcharging those who can’t afford a high price.

While the tissue rolls is a good example of price-discrimination, the toothpaste tubes is more a case of appearances - the same way you buy a swollen packet of crisps only to find 5 crisps at the bottom of the pack and a lot of air at the top. 

125 grams/100 ml of Close Up toothpase will cost you between KSh. 238 for buy one get one free (2 packs) at Carrefour and KSh. 239 for one at Naivas. 

140 grams/100 ml of Colgate at Tuksys goes for KSh. 200 (April 2019 prices), while 220 grams of Colgate at Carrefour goes for KSh. 220 (December 2019 prices). 

Give it a try next time you buy toothpaste or tissue at the supermarket. Try to rank what brands are cheaper than the others, and whether that rank remains the same both for small and larger packs. Good Luck, you will need it!

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