Shrinkflation inflates.. More air in the can

Shrinkflation inflates.. More air in the can
Shrinkflation inflates.. More air in the can

Did you find less cereal in the package? This is what is happening through what is termed “reducing the size of the package”, and what food manufacturers have traditionally resorted to to hide the increase in prices, and what they have returned to now with the inflation boom that followed the pandemic.

Edgar Dursky, the biggest tracker of a phenomenon in a quarter of a century, says he has counted dozens of products that have shrunk in size in recent months, from toilet paper rolls to cereal packets to cat food. The prices are still the same.

In September, the agri-food giant, General Mills, invoked the higher costs of materials and labor to justify traditional price increases, as well as the price package structure, a technical term for adjusting the quantity of a commodity, also called “shrinkflation”.

But if 20 years ago a number of consumers complained softly about it, today, with the Internet, it is a public issue, says Edgar Dursky. On the social network Reddit, a group called Shrinkflation has formed with 14,500 members who share their shrunken finds for fun rather than protest.

“It’s cunning, because downsizing is less obvious than increasing prices,” Jonathan Coe, a software designer in Oregon, told AFP. There is a time between when a consumer buys a product and realizes he’s been cheated. This makes maneuvering worse than raising prices.

This feeling of being a victim of fraud “stems from the fact that most consumers have a confused idea that quantities are uniform and regulated … and since we assume weight is constant, we don’t check it,” says Pierre Chandon, professor of marketing at INSEAD’s European Institute of Business.

“Bad Buyers”

Jonathan Coe says, “For me, this is clearly a problem…but, I also get the impression that we as consumers are not in agreement…that there is nothing we can do.”

“Companies do it because consumers have a price in mind for a particular product, based on years of experience,” says Brian Johnson, a 52-year-old data analyst.

Johnson, who lives in Oregon, was surprised to see that Tillamook’s homemade ice cream containers went from 1.65 liters to 1.42 liters.

“They don’t do it lightly,” says Edgar Dursky. They factored in the costs of (recalibrating the price) and if they found 0.5% of consumers complained about it, they would send them free coupons to keep them buying” the same item.

Hence, there is no example of a product that a large number of consumers refrained from purchasing after downsizing. The members of the group that formed on Reddit are almost never calling for a brand boycott.

“Perhaps we have learned that it is normal and that if we are deceived, it is because we have been bad buyers,” says Pierre Chandon.

Besides the price, Brian Johnson also laments what he calls the “packaging mess,” saying, “If[the companies]keep making profits, they will continue to do so.”

Once the inflation period has passed, brands have “no incentive” to return products to their original size, notes Anand Krishnamurthy, professor of marketing at the University of Central Florida. Then the change becomes in fact final.

However, he cautions against attacking the food industry alone and stresses that examples abound in many other sectors. It refers to the decline in the areas of apartments, the design of small compact cars, or the design of aircraft to accommodate more passengers than before per square meter.

But Pierre Chandon thinks this movement may have a health benefit. “We know that the bigger the size, the more food we eat,” he says, and with the packages shrinking after decades of inflating their sizes, “here we go back to what was a normal size not so long ago.”


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