06/05/2022

What is shrinkflation and does it affect you?

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Have you ever been enjoying your favourite chocolate bar when you realised that the packaging (and the chocolate inside) not only used to be bigger but cheaper too? Well, your mind isn’t playing tricks on you and this phenomenon – known as shrinkflation – is, unfortunately, very real.

But it isn’t just sweet treats that have experienced some shrinkage with toilet paper, washing powder, and baby wipes amongst the latest victims of shrinkflation as household items on a whole have slowly but surely gotten smaller and pricier over the years.

So, what is shrinkflation and how does it affect you?

In this article, we’ll explain what shrinkflation is, what causes shrinkflation, what products have undergone the biggest transformation, how you can avoid paying more for less during your next weekly shop, and if the effects of shrinkflation can be reversed.

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What is shrinkflation?

In the simplest of terms, shrinkflation is when companies shrink the size or quantity of their products with customers paying the same (or more) for less.

It is a combination of the words ‘shrink’ and ‘inflation’ and is sometimes referred to as inflation’s sneaky twin because it is a subtle way for retailers to save money whilst battling rising product and labour costs.

But whilst this can help brands claw back losses, it can leave consumers with no choice but to stretch their budget that little bit further which, during the worst cost of living crisis in decades, is not always an option.

 

What causes shrinkflation?

Shrinkflation usually occurs in waves and alongside rising inflation, but it can be caused by a number of different reasons.

The latest addition to the flation family is, however, usually triggered by increased production costs with manufacturers switching to cheaper ingredients, raising prices, or downsizing packaging to compensate for higher fees.

It can also be triggered by strong industry competition with supermarkets striving to keep the cost of their customers’ weekly shopping basket to a minimum, even if this means slashing the size of their packaging.

With consumer trends and demands changing on a regular basis, companies have also been known to reinvent existing products by introducing smaller sizes. This includes single-serve items for on-the-go snacking and smaller portions for health-conscious consumers.

 

What products are shrinking?

The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) identified 285 products that decreased in size between September 2015 and June 2017 whilst prices remained largely unchanged. This proves that, whilst shrinkflation existed long before last year’s cost of living crisis took hold, it will hurt households already teetering on the brink of poverty.

In 2009, for example, Quality Street weighed 1200g but by 2021, had halved by almost 50% to 650g in a move that sparked outrage from fans of the rainbow-coloured chocolates on social media. But what household staples are the latest to be stung by shrinkflation?

  • Coco Pops – was 800g now 720g
  • Roses – was 1100g now 600g
  • Sensodyne – was 100ml now 75ml
  • Doritos – was 200g now 180g
  • Maltesers – was 103g now 93g
  • Mars Bar – was 62.5g now 51g
  • Terry’s Chocolate Orange – was 175g now 157g
  • Toblerone – was 400g now 360g

It may not seem like a substantial amount of shrinkage but if the weekly shop is already starting to pull on your purse strings, you could be forced to buy more, and more often, just to keep up with inflationary pressure.

 

What can you do about shrinkflation?

There is unfortunately little you can do to tackle shrinkflation on a personal level but by paying attention to the size of your favourite foods, you can get supermarket savvy and make smarter choices.

With consumers more sensitive to price changes than quantity changes, companies are exploiting this fact to justify unprecedented price hikes and, essentially, pass the buck to the customer because whilst shrinkflation is sneaky, it is not illegal.

If the cost of a box of cereal increased from £3.50 to £4 overnight, for example, you would probably notice and opt for another similar but cheaper brand. If the size of the packaging decreased from 16oz to 14oz, however, you would probably fail to notice such a minor difference and continue to chuck it into your trolley.

Because shrinkflation happens so subtly, it can be tricky to notice. But what can you, the consumer, do to get the most bang for your buck?

If your favourite snack has shrunk in size but still costs the same, keeping an eye out for sales, discounts, and promotions, buying in bulk, opting for own-brand products, and comparing product labels can prevent you from digging deep just to cover the cost of your weekly shop.

 

Can the effects of shrinkflation be reversed?

In the current economy, some degree of shrinkflation is inevitable, but with the cost of living driving millions of households further into debt, consumers are fighting back.

In 2015, for example, a class action was brought against food manufacturer McCormick for under-filling the black pepper in its spice tins by 25% and its grinders by 19% without alerting customers or switching to smaller packaging in a process known as slack filling.

The lower weight was updated on the packaging but because consumers had grown accustomed to the container holding a certain amount of black pepper for decades, the company was forced to pay $2.5 million in 2021 to settle consumer claims.

In 2016, Toblerone owner Mondelez International also faced legal action when it increased the spacing between its distinctive triangular peaks to keep prices steady at £1 per bar in the wake of Brexit. It was later forced to reverse its decision after the move sent fans into a chocolate-fuelled frenzy on social media.

The confectionary company – which also owns Cadbury – made a similar mistake earlier this year, however, when it announced its 200g bars of Dairy Milk would shrink to 180g (a 10% decrease) but would still cost £2. This comes a decade after its 49g bars of Dairy Milk shrunk to 45g but still cost 59p (this price has since risen to 70p).

Shrinkflation can be frustrating to deal with but with businesses also struggling to stay afloat and the cost of living expected to keep climbing, staying informed is key to getting the best value for money during your next weekly shop.

 

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