The 2009 CHOICE Shonky Awards

The year’s worst of the worst for all things consumer.
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02.Shonky products

The CHOICE Shonky for Plugging Stuff and Nonsense

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Reegen Micro-PlugReegen-Micro-Plug

Financial crisis, rising electricity costs, global warming … all this bad news is enough to make you reach for your Micro-Plug Power Saver and chill out.

This electronic device claims to reduce energy consumption by up to 30%, so you can plug in your 6.8m plasma TV, turn your air-con down to arctic and watch the savings roll in, guilt-free. There’s just one problem: it’s virtually useless.

CHOICE put it to the test with a fridge, freezer, garden water pump and vacuum cleaner, and used a power meter to measure the kilowatts drawn, with and without the Micro-Plug. The result? No difference.

We also tested it with a drill and recorded a small saving of 5%, so after approximately 10 years of using your drill 24/7 – as you do – you’ll have earned back the $150 price tag.
We contacted the distributor, who claimed we hadn’t tested correctly and that some of our appliances were too powerful or not powerful enough to get any benefit. As proof, they volunteered their own test data, including scans of electricity bills from Rich Rich Fried Chicken Restaurant in Seoul before and after Micro-Plugs were put into in use. Apparently – and we’ll take their word for it, as our Korean isn’t great – the “before” bill was more expensive.

Perhaps we should outsource all our future lab testing to Rich Rich?

The CHOICE Shonky for Cheese-Fearing Surrender Monkey

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Tiffany FP807 Food processor Tiffany-FP807-food-processor

When we tested food processors earlier this year, we included the $40 Tiffany FP807. Granted, it was by far the cheapest on test, but we didn’t expect it to fail so spectacularly at the first hurdle – the cheese-shredding test.

And we’re talking about normal cheese here, not some ancient, diamond-hard specimen mined from the caves of Lascaux. But the Tiffany crumbled faster than you could say “garden variety cheddar”, with the plastic parts of the shaft that are supposed to hold the shredding attachment breaking off during processing.

Figuring we might just have been unlucky enough to have bought the only shonky sample manufactured, we bought another and tested it with something less challenging: mixing mayonnaise. As we marvelled at the perfection of the final product, said product slowly but surely oozed its way out of the bowl and into the electrical components of the processor – a potential electrical hazard.

Slightly dazed but undeterred, we cleaned up and moved on to the cheese test. But alas, machine number two committed suicide in much the same way as number one. Tired of throwing good money after bad, we didn’t persist with a third machine to see how it would handle the real test of a food processor’s mettle: kneading pastry.
(Published in CHOICE, September 2009) 

The CHOICE Shonky for Water at What Price?

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Chef’s Cupboard and Massel liquid stocksChefsCupboardandMasselliquidstocks

Chicken stock is the liquid you get from boiling bits of chicken carcass, vegetables and seasoning in water. These days, most people don’t bother making it themselves – and why would you, when you can buy it ready-made from the supermarket? We took a look at what’s around, and some of the liquid stocks triggered a distinct blip on our Shonky radar.

Overlooking the fact that many chicken stocks have never actually been anywhere near any part of a chicken, what really surprised us was that of the seven brands of liquid stocks we found in shops, only two – both gourmet stocks available at gourmet prices – were genuine liquid from production to shelf.

The other supermarket varieties were reconstituted from powder and/or liquid concentrate. So when you buy some liquid stocks, you’re paying an extra $2.50 per litre for the convenience of pre-added water.

The ones made from powder, ALDI’s Chefs’ Cupboard and Massel, are particularly galling. All that extra packaging of the Tetra Paks and transporting unnecessary water, when you could just as easily add the powder to the water yourself at home.

OK, so it’s not quite up there with water purporting magical mineral properties being shipped from Europe or the Pacific islands. And in these time-poor times, you might consider $2.50 a fair price for saving the few seconds it takes to add your own water. But really, if it’s reconstituted, particularly from powder, shouldn’t this at least be made clear on the label so we can make an informed choice about what we’re really buying?

The CHOICE Shonky for Honey (Oat crisp), I shrunk the groceries

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Uncle Toby Oat Crisp Honey cerealUncle-Tobys-Oat-Crisp-Honey-cereal

What do Cadbury, Nestlé, Sorbent and Smiths all have in common? These iconic brands have hit old age and started shrinking their products. The trouble is, prices haven’t shrunk accordingly. And disguising the shrinkage with extra packaging is fooling no one: we’ve been inundated with correspondence from consumers who are pretty miffed at the deception.

The competition is tough, but we’re giving the award to Uncle Tobys for its Oat Crisp Honey cereal. We found the old and new packets on the supermarket shelf at the same time, which makes any attempted sleight of hand embarrassingly obvious. The new pack is the same height and width as the old, but not quite as deep, so you get 14% less product. And the honey-coated news for consumers is that they’ve also shrunk the pack price – but while the recommended retail pack price has decreased 6%, the unit price has jumped 10%.

The company freely details the changes in pack size, recommended retail and unit price on its website, also explaining why the price increase was necessary (“increased costs of ingredients”, apparently). We reckon consumers are prepared to wear price increases over time, but why the sudden decrease in pack size, if not to confuse? According to the website, it’s to “ensure our products remain affordable”. Yet the serving size hasn’t changed, so you’d have to buy it more often – 17 boxes a year more often, for a family of four. Shonky logic indeed.

Thankfully, you won’t need to take your magnifying glass to the supermarket just yet – the spate of shrinkages seems to have slowed down in the past 12 months. And just in time, it seems, because unit pricing on supermarket shelves will make changing sizes and price confusion far more transparent. Coincidence? We think not.


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Video: Tiffany Food Processor

The Tiffany FP807 versus a block of tasty cheese. The cheese wins.

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