Like the current day “cheater paper” phenomenon where dishonest distributors are duping customers into unknowingly purchasing less paper on a roll of toilet tissue and paper towels, another product sector where end users are being swindled is trash can liners. Jan/san distributors say some of their competitors are intentionally selling end users “cheater can liners” at lower prices just to gain access into new accounts.

Cheater can liners are products that are not the proper thickness, weight or size that they claim to be. However, distributors pass them off like they are but sell them to end users at much lower prices.

Louie Davis Jr., senior territory manager with Central Paper Co., Birmingham, Ala., says his company has fought this trend for the last decade, but adds that the threat has increased during the recent economic downturn.

In fact, Davis says his company recently encountered a competitor who gave one of his customers a quote on can liners that came in 20 percent less than his company’s price. Davis, who says his price was already extremely competitive, was surprised that the competitor’s pricing outweighed his company’s by so much, so he began investigating.

“The first thing I said was ‘gee whiz, is my cost out of whack or are they just quoting below cost,’” says Davis. “As we started investigating, instead of it being a 1.5 mil can liner, 38-by-60-by-1.5 mil, it was a 38-by-60-by-1.1 mil. But the labeling on the case didn’t specify that.”

Distributors say cheater can liners often weigh less and have gauges, also referred to as mil counts, that are lower than customers expect them to be. But customers cannot tell the difference unless they weigh the product and use a micrometer to measure the mil of the product, says Vince Sortino, vice president of sales for Philip Rosenau Co., Inc., Warminster, Pa.

“You find liners that are less expensive and you say is it the exact same liner? You can argue the thickness but without putting a micrometer on there you can’t really tell the difference,” says Sortino.

Charles Moody, president of Solutex Inc., Sterling, Va., has also been forced to fight off distributors trying to undercut his can liner pricing. The only successful way to do so, he says, is to fight back by educating customers that there are deceitful distributors selling these cheater products in the marketplace.

How To Catch A Cheater

Distributors say cheater can liners can often be tipped off by the verbiage — or lack there of — used on the packaging of can liners. Words that are commonly used are “nominal gauges” and “market quality.”

High density can liners are measured in microns. A common sized can liner is 43x48, 16 micron. Moody says sometimes there will be an asterisk next to the gauge, so the item number will be 43x48x16 ‘C,’ for clear and then they might put a letter ‘N’ afterwards, which means nominal. Nominal, according to Moody, means plus or minus 10 percent on the gauge, meaning that a customer could end up getting a can liner that is 10 percent thicker than 16 microns or 10 percent thinner than 16 microns.

Davis says some packages will be marketed as “equivalents” such as a “1.5 mil equivalent” or it will say 38x60 “heavy.” Moody adds that some cheater can liner packages are also marketed with the term “market quality.” Other terms he’s seen on liner cases is “performs like.”

“It says it performs like a 2 mil bag, but it’s not,” says Moody. “People don’t always look into it, they just trust the labels. Usually they make the attractive things in big letters and not the important things.”

Determining if a can liner is a cheater can also be determined by weighing the case of product.

Moody says recently a customer of his was made to believe that what he was being offered from another distributor was the same can liner that Solutex was selling. It was far from the truth, though.

“I went out and visited with the customer and I took a scale with me,” says Moody. “The customer said there was a $7 difference in cost. All I could do was be humble on the phone and say, ‘God, that seems odd, but you know what, I’ll come out and I’ll bring a case and if you have a case of theirs we can check it out.’

Moody weighed his 43x48, 2 mil can liner on a scale and did the same with his competitor’s. To the customer’s surprise Moody’s case weighed seven pounds more than the can liner case in question.

“The customer immediately bowed his head and said ‘That’s crazy,’” says Moody. “And he said ‘You know what, I don’t want to work with people like that.’”

What Moody found most interesting was the fact that both can liners were labeled the exact same way on their packaging.

“Mine and the competitor’s said 43x48, 2 mil, but the manufacturer we use puts the weight on the cases,” says Moody. “The other vendor didn’t have the weight on the case and it weighed seven pounds less. We then got the bag out to feel it and the customer said that he could immediately feel that it was thinner but it was advertised as a 2 mil bag.”

When in doubt, distributors tell customers to stick with a product that is reputable in the industry.

“There’s a lot of different stuff out there,” says Sortino. “Stay with a manufacturer with a good name in the industry. That way you get what you’re paying for.”