I Knew This Was Happening But I Never Knew Its Name

I drink a lot of Gatorade so it’s always on the grocery list.

Recently my husband returned from the supermarket with another supply, and he mentioned that these bottles were different from the bottle in the fridge.

They were:

In the fridge: bottle on the left, 32 ounces; new: bottle on the right, 28 ounces.

Different packaging but similar in size.

Less content.

Higher price.

It wasn’t the first time I’d noticed I was getting less of a food item in the same or similar-size container.

Years ago, coffee came in a one-pound can (below, left), but today that almost-the-same-size can hold 11.5 ounces of coffee, plus air:

And canned tuna – that used to be six ounces, then it shrank to five, and now it’s 4.5 ounces “NET WT” or “Net Weight,” and four ounces “DR. WT” or “Drained Weight”:

The can size has not changed appreciably.

So I’d know about this for years – the practice of food companies keeping the container size the same or similar, reducing the contents, and charging us the same, and often more.

The food companies believing that we consumers were/are too stupid to notice.

I’ve known, and so have you, but I hadn’t known the name for this.

Until I read this article:

It’s called “Shrinkflation.”

“Shrinkflation” was coined back in 2015 by British economist Pippa Malmgren in this tweet:

This article…

…defined shrinkflation as:

“…the practice by which companies reduce the size or quantity of a product while the price of the product remains the same or slightly increased.

“In some cases, the term may indicate lowering the quality of a product or its ingredients while the price remains the same.”

While the Associated Press article called it…

“…the inflation you’re not supposed to see.”

Shrinkflation isn’t out there in plain sight, like gasoline prices – nobody can miss those, especially here in California. Here’s what I’m paying in San Diego County:

And how about Mono County, CA:

No, shrinkflation doesn’t look like that.

Instead, shrinkflation looks like this.  The quotes and images are from Reddit:

The Associated Press article listed a number of other examples including “…Cottonelle Ultra Clean Care toilet paper, which has shrunk from 340 sheets per roll to 312…”

…and goes on to say:

“…shrinkflation appeals to manufacturers because they know customers will notice price increases but won’t keep track of net weights or small details, like the number of sheets on a roll of toilet paper.”

“Companies can also employ tricks to draw attention away from downsizing, like marking smaller packages with bright new labels that draw shoppers’ eyes.”

Like I said – these companies think we’re stupid.

Here’s something else these companies have in common:

“No comment”:

When PepsiCo was asked why the 28-ounce Gatorade was more expensive than the 32-ounce, “it didn’t respond.”

“Kimberly-Clark – which makes both Cottonelle and Kleenex – didn’t respond to requests for comment on the reduced package sizes.”

“Proctor and Gamble didn’t respond…”

“Hain Celestial Group didn’t respond…”

And what’s our response to shrinkflation, besides anger?

The internet abounds with articles like this one:

That offer suggestions like these:

  • Compare the unit price of similar products to see which is the best price.  The price per unit is usually really tiny on the item or the shelf price tag.  
  • Substitute store brands for brand names.  Store brands are usually the last to shrink.
  • Stock up if you can find the older, larger sizes.
  • Use store apps and loyalty programs for discounts.

These are all valid ideas, but consider the practical application.

Many people grocery shop on their way home from work.  They’re tired, they’re hungry, and all they want is to get their stuff, get the hell out of the store and go home…

Standing in a crowded supermarket aisle, comparing unit prices that are 2.3¢ on one brand and 3.2¢ on another brand…moneysaving, but not real practical.

We consumers are not stupid, but we’re often rushed, distracted, and exhausted.

From personal experience, I can verify that clipping coupons (or downloading them), while time-consuming, is worthwhile.  My husband always has coupons in hand for trips to the supermarket, and he always saves us money.  It might be $3 or $10 or $28, and we gladly take it.

And if companies are making more profits off us from shrinkflation – well, we’re a capitalist country and that’s how we roll.

I’m not being cavalier about it – just realistic.

As a guy in the above KENS5 TV story put it:

“‘I’m asked very often, is this an illegal practice?’ said Edgar Dworsky of ConsumerWorld.org.  ‘It isn’t.  They comply with the law.  They put the net count or the net weight right on the package.’” 

So, shrinkflation isn’t illegal.

I guess all we can do is do what we can do to deal with shrinkflation.

Well, perhaps there is one more thing:

Go on social media and gripe about it.  Post pictures and comments like the Reddit examples above.  It may not change anything, but you might feel better for it.

I just did, with this post.

And I do feel better for it!

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