A tempest in a coffee cup

I always pay attention when I get two almost identical complaints within a few days. So, I wrote a column last week about a problem at Second Cup. It seems the small and medium cups for cold drinks are almost the same size, but the medium costs 40 cents more than the small.

Second Cup’s head office told me different stories. The problem was caused by old cups that should have been retired a year ago, when the 360-outlet chain acquired a new logo and changed its cup sizing system. There was also an issue with the small cups, which were actually 18 ounces (not 16 as ordered). When filled to the top, they were close to the medium size (20 ounces).

This week, I did what my two readers did. I bought a small strawberry lemonade and a medium chocolate chiller, both delicious, and drank the contents. Then, I filled them up with water to see how much they held. The interior volume was virtually the same, but disguised by the shapes. The small is short and fat, the medium tall and thin.

I thought this was an interesting story about economic justice. A large Canadian company is pulling one over on customers by selling the same cold drink in small and medium sizes that are not discernibly different. But some readers thought it was trivial and not worth mentioning. I got litres of feedback about this (see comments below). It seems everyone is an expert when it comes to coffee cups.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

21 thoughts on “A tempest in a coffee cup”

  1. I have always been reluctant to go to Second Cup mostly because of their price quality ratio. Their pricing is so close to Starbucks, but quality is so far behind.

    Now, they have given me one more reason not to visit their store.

  2. 40 cents x 3 coffees a week = $1.20 x 48 weeks = $57.60 a year in extra costs, compounded over 30 years at 6% means you forego $2,430…

    Dave, I’d love to live in your profligate paradise.

  3. This doesn’t really concern me, as I rarely go to these places. What I find shocking are the comments by those who say that it is too trivial to worry about, or that 40 cents doesn’t matter, etc. I am disappointed that they would condone this kind of dishonesty and deception.

  4. Hey folks, 40 cents is certainly not a big amount to all you big spenders. However, next time you order a product from Second Cup, Starbucks etc., ask them to sell it to you for 40 cents less….do you really think they will, why should I???

  5. “profligate paradise”???

    Really? I think anyone who is buying $3 coffee 3+ times a week for the rest of their lives doesn’t have any right to critique someone else’s extravagance.

    Just think how you have the inside track now and can get a medium for small price. So clever.

  6. In a similar vein, I’ve twice noticed pricing quirks at the Ontario beer store. They have always marketed that it’s cheaper to buy a 24 case than a smaller quantity (sometimes it’s the same price). However, sometimes it costs MORE to buy the same thing in larger package sizes!

    I found one case where they charged MORE for 24 then two 12-unit cases of the same brand. Another time, it cost more for a 12-can case than 12 individual cans of the same brand.

    Their email “customer service” contact must be the worst in existence, ignoring initial inquiries, then blowing off follow-ups. However, tracking down the contact to their marketing VP, I did get them to adjust the pricing in both cases.

  7. Heads up to all you coffee drinkers… After the recent price increase at Tim Hortons, the price of the extra large did not increase. Still $1.58 in Ontario. A large is almost the same price.

    Now, whether you consider Tim Hortons a decent cup of coffee or not is up to you… but that’s another argument.

  8. The reason pricing is all so similar between a small and a medium is because you are paying for the service, not the content.
    It takes the same amount of time to take your order, blend the drink and serve it up to make 16 ounces of chocolate chiller as it does to make 20 ounces.

    To expect half the price is laughable, as you are paying for the time and service. That’s why a latte is twice the price of a simple coffee. It’s not the materials, or amount you get. it’s the work involved in its creation.

  9. The Second Cup customers started to worry they were getting ripped off for their hot cups of coffee. We had to assure them that the article was only for the cold drinks. There was a major confusion about the author’s research about this subject.

    When Second Cup launched their new sizes in 2006, it was obvious (just by looking at them) that the sizes between the small-medium were identical. And the medium-large just the same.

    So right away, I tested them and there was no difference in ounces, just the pricing. I’m not sure why people didn’t notice this from the beginning, when it’s common sense.

    The fault is Second Cup’s head office, which pushes these products to the franchisees and franchisees have to sell them to the customers. It’s a chain reaction and can only stop where it originally started.

  10. Here is one experience that I had. Perhaps it needs a bigger debate.

    At a local coffee franchise, I was approached by one of the associates at a time when 70 per cent of the place was empty. “Can we help you with something?” he asked.

    Five minutes later, the manager approaches and asks, “Would you like to help to be helped?” Only a few minutes later, he asks if I knew the place is a self serve, just in case I didn’t get the message.

    Minutes later, I was embarrassed enough that I went and bought the coffee that I was going to buy anyway. But it led to an interesting incident nonetheless, which I think needs a conversation on the web.

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