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How to deal with the double whammy of shrinking packaging and continuing inflation

Toblerone 1 with Smaller Gaps Between Peaks Pascal_binczak

Photo: Pascalouu

Toblerone 2 with Larger Gaps Between Peaks_3362

Newer Toblerone bar with larger gaps between peaks. Photo: Ashley Pomeroy

While consumers are being hit with raising prices, sellers are shrinking package contents. It’s “shrinkflation.”

While some consumers are used to the fact that it’s hard to find a true quart or pint of ice cream, now those shrinking packages are appearing with toilet paper, cereal, and cookies.

Product downsizing is becoming more prevalent, said Edgar Dworsky, editor of the website ConsumerWorld.org, who has been tracking grocery packaging changes for decades. 

Kimberly-Clark’s Cottonelle Ultra Clean mega rolls of toilet paper have just been reduced from 340 sheets to 312; Keebler’s Chips Deluxe with M&Ms packages that used to be 11.3 ounces are now only 9.75 ounces, and Gatorade’s 32-ounce bottles just shrank to only 28 ounces.  A list of recently downsized products can be found here.

“Since manufacturers are increasingly choosing to make their products smaller as a sneaky way to pass on a back door price increase, shoppers have to become net weight conscious and not just price conscious,” Dworsky said.

“The best way to cope with ‘shrinkflation’ is to focus on unit pricing (the price per ounce or per 100-count) – that’s the only way to really compare prices and know what you’re paying,” said Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America.

Gillis said it’s particularly insidious that while package contents are shrinking, package sizes often look the same.

Here are some tips for coping with shrinkflation from Consumer World and the CFA:

  • Take advantage of unit pricing to truly compare and know what you’re actually paying.
  • Compare prices in supermarkets’ weekly flyers.
  • Substitute store brands for the higher-priced brand names.
  • Check the “day-old rack” for discounted produce and bread.
  • Use the store’s loyalty card to save on sale items.
  • Stock-up on sale items when the price is exceptionally good.
  • Compare the price per serving instead of just the per pound price.
  • Use grocery apps to get rebates on items you buy anyway.

On inflation, Gillis said the concern is that some companies are taking advantage of inflation and are raising prices more than they really need to. 

“They’re taking advantage of the pent-up consumer demand and the increase in savings balances that have been building since the pandemic began,” he said.

Comments

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azure

"Compare the price per serving instead of just the per pound price." How is that better? At least a pound is a fixed unit, while what's considered to be a "serving" can change or be different from say, one brand of cheddar to another. As for unit prices, I do use them, but I've seen supermarkets use a different unit for a larger or small package of, for example, any kind of nut (pistachios, walnuts), so either I've used a calculator or be having a good day w/doing mental arithmetic as well as know there's 16 oz in a pound. For some products, the store will have some brands of the product listed as $x/item but other types of the item will be price by 100 sheets or X number of bags (paper tissues, plastic trash bag), so you have to see how many tissues there are in the price by item box and compare price/sheet to the others--if you have time/think it's worth it. Supermarkets are not particularly interested in helping people calculate the lowest priced item. I can sometimes estimate price/unit (oz, etc) but often I have to use a calculator. That would be more difficult if I were shopping w/small children.

Anyone who lives near a food cooperative, and is able to join, can save money by buying in bulk--if they can afford the upfront cost. That can mean buying 5-6 cases of canned tomatoes, 25 lbs of steel cut oats, 25 lbs or more of rice, etc, anything you and/or your family eat frequently--doing so can significantly decrease the unit or /lb price . I've been a member of two food co-ops (still belong to one) and both of them enabled members to "special order" anything the co-op could buy (that their suppliers carried, or local growers would sell). At one co-op, there's no SO charge, you pay what the co-op pays if it order 25 or 50 lbs of that item. If there's no food co-op, it's possible to start a food buying club w/friends or people who are interested in buying food in bulk--although that takes organization and making sure people always pay for their share or items--there are a few sellers that will sell to groups (larger orders then one family) & deliver the order to one site. Some food co-ops started out as food buying "clubs."
People may feel they can buy in bulk through Amazon, probably they can, I feel surer of the quality of food that I'm buying when I buy through my co-op, plus the co-op buys from local growers when it can.

Rita

I've had that problem in the supermarket, too -- one brand uses a unit price but another brand uses a different unit.

I just realized I'm not comparing prices much anymore at the supermarket because it now offers some organic products. I just buy the organic and there's only one brand. I don't buy much at the supermarket. I buy most of my food at my local food co-op. I love it. So many organic choices and good savings when you buy in bulk.

Laurie Stone

I see that all the time with products. What was one size in the past is much smaller now. I also notice things like Hershey bars taste more like chemicals than they did in the old days. I guess everything changes.

Rita

Unfortunately, shrinkflation is becoming wide spread.

I hadn't noticed a change in Hershey bars. I've been buying the Theo organic chocolate bars, made in Seattle, which are tasty.

Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski

I really notice shrinkflation in toilet paper. Some rolls are so small you can use them up in a day or two.

Rita

I order my toilet paper in bulk from the co-op. I just switched brands and noticed the box was smaller. I'll have to compare prices.

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