Size matters: why shrinkflation is reducing the sizes of products, not the prices

Written by
Felicity Hannah
Finances expert
25 October 2021
5 min read
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Have you noticed you’re getting more air and fewer crisps in a packet? 

Or that your breakfast cereal doesn’t stretch as far as it used to? 

No, it’s not your imagination. Your shopping really has been getting smaller. 

Shrinkflation is the name for when manufacturers reduce the size of a product without reducing the price. 

It’s much less obvious than raising the price so it’s popular with manufacturers who need to cut their costs or boost their profits without alienating shoppers. 

It’s most common with food, according to the latest research from the Office for National Statistics. 

But it’s not just at the supermarket; everything from clothing to furniture can have their materials cut back so the production cost shrinks. 

More than 200 products were hit by ‘shrinkflation’ in the two years to June 2017, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). 

The shrinkflation phenomenon leaves shoppers out of pocket because they end up paying the same amount of money for a product but have less to show for it. 

So what can you make sure you’re getting your money’s worth? 

Everything from clothing to food and furniture can have their materials cut back so the production cost shrinks 

Industry insider 

So why does it happen? 

Well, it’s very easy to assume that products getting smaller without getting cheaper is very simply a cunning way to wring more money out of customers but that’s not always the case. 

We asked a former supermarket buyer how common shrinkflation is. 

They didn’t want to give their name while they lifted the lid on industry secrets, but they said it’s not necessarily about increasing profits for the producer. 

Sometimes a product could shrink because of guidance on the amount of sugar a single portion can contain, for example. 

Or the availability of ingredients can play a role; good quality chocolate may be shrinking because cocoa yields are falling and demand is rising, which pushes up prices. 

And sometimes the drop in value can be even harder to spot because shrinkflation isn’t just about smaller packets for the same price. The quality of the ingredients can change too. 

“Product engineering was what we called it,” the insider explained. 

“It might be about reducing the overall weight of the product or it might be changing the ingredients so they are slightly cheaper - maybe margarine instead of butter or agreeing a higher water content. 

“There was this constant war to reduce prices or to keep them low no matter what was happening to the cost of the ingredients. 

“I’ve never seen shrinkflation actually outlined in a strategy but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. If it is a strategy, it would be a very hush-hush one, right at the top.” 

Shrinkflation isn’t just about smaller packets for the same price, the quality of the ingredients can change too 

How do I beat shrinkflation? 

Right, if you want to make sure you’re getting the full bang for your buck or the full monty for your money then you need to be really on your toes when you’re shopping. 

Here are some top tips: 

  • Look at the price and the weight 

Our industry insider’s top tip is to look carefully at the prices: “I would always advise to look at ‘price per,’ the retailers have to label things. 

“When I do online shopping, as an ex-buyer, I will always sort by ‘price per 100g’ to be sure I am comparing like-for-like. Or, if you can, sort by price per item. But some supermarkets don’t let you view it that way.” 

  • Stop feeling loyal 

Product sizes and prices can vary from retailer to retailer so if you’re feeling frustrated then shop around. 

Look at other supermarkets online and see if they offer better value on the products you most often purchase, then vote with your feet. 

  • Spend more time looking around 

Nothing happens accidentally on supermarket shelves, they are laid out so that the most profitable products are at eye-level. 

So if you have noticed that you’re getting less value then don’t shop on autopilot, stop and look up and down at the shelves to see if there’s another brand that provides better value. 

You might even prefer to shop online so you can really compare prices and look carefully at the value of what you’re buying. 

  • Do more with discounts 

There’s only so much you can do to beat shrinkflation directly but you can do far more to increase the value you get out of your supermarket shop, like using your supermarket’s reward schemes and discounts. 

Just make sure you’re earning points on products you genuinely want and not being lured into buying products you normally wouldn’t. 

3 things to do right now...

Making price comparisons on the shop floor can be tricky and time consuming. You might find it easier to shop online, when you can compare prices more easily. 

Monitor price fluctuations at all the main superstores – and find where is cheapest for your shopping - with 

‘Downshift’ your shopping. If you don’t think you’re getting value for money then think about moving down a premium level. Most supermarkets will typically stock four different price levels – premium, well-known manufacturer, supermarket own and supermarket budget. Moving down a level can help your supermarket spend go further and beat shrinkflation and price rises. 

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Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.