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‘Shrinkflation’ Is Here – What You Should Know

No, it’s not just you. As if rising prices on everything from toilet paper to yogurt to coffee and snacks weren’t enough, manufacturers have been shrinking package and quantity sizes with the hopes that you won’t notice. Being dubbed “shrinkflation,” it’s taking off across the globe.

According to Dee-Ann Durbin with the AP, in the U.S., a small box of Kleenex now contains only 60 tissues; by comparison a few months ago it had 65. Chobani Flip sizes have also now dropped from 5.3 oz to 4.5 oz. In the U.K., Nestle dropped its Nescafe Azera Americano coffee tins from 100 grams, down to 90 grams. A Vim dish soap in India has dropped from 155 grams to 135 grams.

Granted, shrinkflation isn’t necessarily new and generally occurs in times of high inflation, as corporations try to figure out how to best handle the rising costs of ingredients, packaging, labor, and transportation. S&P Global is estimating that global consumer price inflation was up an estimated 7% in May, and may continue during the summer into September.

“It comes in waves. We happen to be in a tidal wave at the moment because of inflation,” Edgar Dworsky, a consumer advocate and former assistant attorney general in Massachusetts said.

Dworsky had made the observation that cereal boxes were starting to decrease in size last fall. Additional observations he made were Cottonelle Ultra Clean Care toilet paper dropping from 340 sheets per roll to 312, to Folgers coffee, dropping from 51-ounce containers down to 43.5 ounces, but still says it will make up to 400 cups.

The thought behind this strategy for manufacturers is that consumer emotion will get the best of them in noticing price increases first, but won’t make a note of changes in net weights, or other small details like the number of sheets on a roll of toilet paper. Other tactics include marking smaller packages with shiny new labels to draw shopper eyes away from package changes.

Here are some of the AP’s other findings:

  • Fritos – Bags of Fritos scoops marked “Party Size” used to be 18 ounces, but now almost every other big chain is now advertising “Party Size” Frito Scoops at 15.5 ounces, along with a higher price tag.
  • Gatorade – While PepsiCo didn’t respond to the AP when asked about Fritos, they did acknowledge the phasing out of 32-ounce Gatorade bottles for 28-ounce ones. Supposedly the changeover has been in the works for years and isn’t related to the current economic environment, but didn’t respond when asked why the 28-ounce bottle was more expensive.
  • Kimberly-Clark (makers of Cottonelle and Kleenex) – No response when asked for comment on reduced package sizes.
  • Procter & Gamble Co. – No response when asked about Pantene Pro-V Curl Perfection conditioner, which dropped in size from 12 fl oz to 10.4 fl oz, but still costs $3.99.
  • Earth’s Best Organic Sunny Day Snack Bars – Dropped in quantity per box from eight to seven, but the price still stays the same at $3.69. Hain Celestial Group, the brand’s owner, didn’t respond to the AP’s request for comment.

Some companies have sought to be a little more transparent though. Japanese snack maker Calbee Inc. announced 10% weight reductions – and 10% price increases – for a wide array of its products in May, blaming the sharp rise in raw material costs.

Domino’s Pizza said in January it was dropping the size of its 10-piece chicken wings to eight pieces while maintaining the same $7.99 carryout price. The pizza maker placed the blame on the rising cost of chicken.

Durbin said that Alex Aspacher, from Haskins, Ohio, noticed while grocery shopping and meal planning for his family of four that the one-pound package of sliced Swiss cheese he used to buy trailed to 12 ounces, but still hung on to its $9.99 price. Instead, he now is more on the lookout for deals or buys blocks of cheese and slices it himself.

Package Expansion?

Believe it or not, as inflation eases, sometimes manufacturers are actually forced to lower their prices or reintroduce their products into larger packages. Unfortunately, though, Dworsky said that once a product becomes small, it usually stays that way, noting that “upsizing is kind of rare.”

If It Looks Like Profiteering…

Hitendra Chaturvedi, a professor of supply chain management with Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business noted that while many companies are legitimately struggling with labor shortages and higher raw material costs, profits are also curiously continuing to increase exponentially as well. Chaturvedi cites Mondelez International as an example for decreasing the size of its Cadbury Dairy Milk bar in the U.K., despite not dropping the price.

What happened after? The company’s operating income soared 21% in 2021 but fell 15% in the first quarter with cost pressures being a factor.

“I’m not saying they’re profiteering, but it smells like it,” said Chaturvedi. “Are we using supply constraints as a weapon to make more money?”

I just wanted to call attention to this article, because I think now more than ever it’s especially important for consumers to pay attention to what they’re buying before just throwing it in the shopping cart. I have always been a big proponent of looking at a tag’s price per quantity, volume, etc., but now it’s even more important to do so as companies make adjustments of their own.

Readers, have you noticed similar changes in packaging while out shopping? Feel free to leave a comment below and be sure to like, subscribe and share!

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