Highercontinue to impact American consumers, even as its skyrocketing pace. The Consumer Price Index for April shows that the “food at home index” was up another 1% last month, and prices are 10.8% higher than they were a year ago.
And while prices of food, home and cleaning products, some products are also getting smaller. Package resizing is almost never obvious to customers, since we’re left to decipher fine print or compare new bottles or boxes. You might notice when the cost of your cat treats goes up a dollar, but do you notice when the amount of treats shrinks?
“Shrinkflation,” or package downsizing, has been a standard practice in the food industry for decades. Companies reduce items in size or quantity while keeping prices the same.
Shoppers across the US have recently reported smaller sizes for toilet paper, cookies, chips and other common grocery products. Read on to learn more about shrinkflation and how to track it, including a list of the latest products that have downsized recently.
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What does ‘shrinkflation’ mean?
Shrinkflation, or package downsizing, is the practice of reducing the size or quantity of a product while keeping the same price. It can be less chips in the bag, fewer scoops of ice cream in the container or a lighter cat food bag.
Basically, the total price remains the same but the cost per unit rises, and customers may not notice what are effectively price increases, according to John Gourville, a professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School. “We found that consumers reacted greatly to periodic changes in price, but not at all to periodic (yet systematic) reductions in quantity,” Gourville said in an interview back in 2004.
Why do consumer agencies criticize shrinkflation?
Shrinkflation is a way for producers to effectively raise the prices of items without making it obvious to consumers. Companies will often broadcast when they boost the size of their product but not inform consumers when it’s gotten smaller.
Some companies may take the opportunity of a brand redesign or new packaging to employ shrinkflation, as they promise better flavor or new features to distract from changes in the size of their products.
Companies may try to disguise shrinkflation by changing packaging, according to Gourville.
Packaging tricks can include adding dents to the bottom of bottles or claims of “lower calories.” In a statement to Quartz, a Gatorade representative said that they recently redesigned the bottle — which reduced the amount of Gatorade from 32 to 28 ounces — to be “more aerodynamic” and “easier to grab.”
How can I protect myself against shrinkflation?
As mentioned, consumers tend to pay attention to product prices far more than package sizes. Breaking that trend is step No. 1 for steeling yourself against shrinkflation: learn the package sizes and per unit pricing for your favorite products.
If you notice that a product has shrunk or reduced the number of included items, consider competitors who offer a similar product at a lower cost per ounce or item. Compare per unit prices to see which product provides a better deal.
Shrinkflation also offers an opportunity to opt out of buying packaged foods. Companies might be able to make cereal boxes and granola bars smaller, but they can’t shrink a pound of apples or carrots. Reducing the amount of packaged food you purchase will protect you against hidden price increases from shrinkflation.
Longtime consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky has made shrinkflation (or downsizing, as he calls it) a major focus of his website MousePrint, which is dedicated to examining the fine print of advertising claims.
Every few months, Dworsky publishes compilations of all the products he’s found that have recently decreased in size. Dworsky usually posts on Mondays and crowdsources items from his readers to get a fuller picture of which products have changed.
The Reddit message board /r/shrinkflation also serves as a good source for tracking package-size changes for your favorite products. Users post instances of shrinkflation that they’ve found in their local stores or online, usually with screenshots or photos as evidence.
Which products have shrunk recently?
Consumers have reported many food and home products decreasing in size or number:
Most recently, Pringles seem to be getting smaller with a new packaging redesign. The cans now feature a depiction of Julius Pringles with no hair on his head, while shrinking the amount of chips from 200 grams to 165 grams.
Huggies diapers has made it a little tougher on parents with a reduction in the number of diapers in each package. A keen eye on Reddit found that Little Snugglers packages for babies up to 14 pounds dropped from 96 per package to 84.
Cleaning products from Procter & Gamble’s Cascade brand and Unilever’s Seventh Generation also reduced the size of their packages recently. Seventh Generation’s liquid dish soap dropped from 25 to 19 ounces with a bottle redesign, while Cascade didn’t even bother to update the look of the box while reducing the number of its dishwashing pods from 78 to 63.
MousePrint shows that Charmin toilet paper has shrunk the size of its Super Mega package from 396 double-ply sheets per roll to 366. It also reduced its Mega package from 266 sheets per roll to 244.
Cottonelle toilet paper reduced the number of sheets in both its main brands: Ultra Clean — from 340 sheets down to 312; and Ultra Comfort — from 284 sheets down to 268, also per MousePrint.
Other bath products have also gotten smaller: Pantene has rebranded its Curl Protection Conditioner and in the process reduced the size from 12 to 10.4 ounces, per Reddit. And MousePrint reports that Dove Body Wash recently shrunk from 24 to 22 ounces.
Gatorade has received much attention recently for shrinking its bottle size from 32 to 28 ounces, but the company actually introduced a new, smaller 28-ounce bottle about 10 years ago. While many reports indicate the end of the 32-ounce bottle in physical stores, it’s still for sale at some online retailers.
Earth’s Best Sesame Street Bars has reduced the number of bars in its packages from 8 to 7, lowering the package weight from 5.3 to 4.69 ounces. If you’re quick, you can still find some of the packages with 8 bars at online retailers.
Last year, Doritos decreased the weight of its regular-size bags from 9.75 to 9.25 ounces — a loss of about five chips per bag. Redditors also noticed that the party size bag has shrunk from 15.5 to 14.5 ounces.
Nabisco’s Wheat Thins made its “Family Size” product smaller, lowering the package weight from 16 to 14 ounces, per Reddit.
Packages of Keebler cookies are also shrinking. Its Vienna Fingers bag was reduced in size from 14.2 to 12 ounces, per Reddit. And MousePrint reports that the size of the regular Chips Deluxe package shrunk from 11.3 to 9.7 ounces., and the family size decreased from 17.2 to 14.6 ounces. Keeber’s E.L. Fudge cookies weren’t spared from shrinkflation either, dropping from 13.6 to 12 ounces.
An eagle-eyed shopper in the Instacart subReddit found that bags of Utz potato chips have shrunk from 9.5 to 9 ounces.
The package for Snyder’s Honey Mustard & Onion Pretzel Pieces has been rebranded, and in the process shrunk from 12 to 11.25 ounces, per MousePrint.
Sun-Maid Raisins have also gotten smaller, per Reddit. The raisins’ package recently decreased from 22.58 to 20 ounces, an 11% reduction.
Fast food products are shrinking too. In a recent earnings call, Carrols Restaurant Group announced it was lowering the number of Burger King chicken nuggets in an order from 10 to eight, per Food & Wine.
In a similar move, Domino’s recently reduced the number of chicken wings in its orders from 10 to eight as well, citing “unprecedented ingredient costs,” per CNN.