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Shrinkflation & How You Can Safeguard Your Rights as a Consumer

By now, we’re no strangers to the term  . From public transport, housing, cars to groceries, everything is soaring in price.

Forget inflation – it’s time to meet its devious sibling, shrinkflation. Ever heard of this term? Fret not if you haven’t, read on to find out more about shrinkflation, how it affects you, and how you can safeguard your rights as a consumer.

What is shrinkflation?

While inflation has reduced the amount of money in your wallet, shrinkflation has shrunk the size of products you are buying.

A combination of the words ‘shrink’ and ‘inflation’, shrinkflation sure is a catchy phrase. However, shrinkflation isn’t exactly a new term and has been occurring far longer than you think.

Shrinkflation refers to manufacturers shrinking product contents to keep costs down. If you’ve recently purchased a bag of chips at the usual price from the supermarket but felt that there was more air instead of chips, it may not be your imagination.

Why shrinkflation?

From fewer sheets in your toilet paper roll, fewer cookies in the packaging, revamping apple juice containers to hold less, less shampoo in squeeze tubes, to shaving an ounce from a cereal box, these are subtle ways manufacturers are sneaking by consumers.

Spot the differences between the old and new packaging below:

Example 1, Cottonelle

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Example 2, Sun-Maid Raisins

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Example 3, Dove

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Example 4, Safeguard

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Example 5, Pantene

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The practice is usually triggered when inflation rises and companies’ costs go up. When costs increase, manufacturers find alternatives to compensate for the surges they are paying for transportation, labour, commodities, and other expenses. Instead of raising the prices of the products, some manufacturers opt to downsize the products and sell them at the same price. This is a sneaky way to cut down costs and most of the time, consumers do not even notice.

What you can do about it

Shrinkflation is very, very tricky.

If your favourite milk brand used to cost $3.50 per carton for 1000ml, you’re not likely to continue purchasing it if the price was changed to $4 per carton. Brands don’t want that to happen, so they may sell you 800ml of milk for the same price point of $3.50 instead. In this way, you’re less likely to find out you’re getting less for the same price.

In a nutshell, a price hike is glaringly obvious, while a change in the product weight is a lot more subtle. Fortunately, you can be a smart consumer and avoid sneaky price hikes with these tips:

1.   Be aware of this phenomenon

Thankfully, consumers today are getting increasingly smarter and more aware of this phenomenon.

For a start, pay more attention to the everyday items you purchase. Consumers make the mistake of being price conscious, but not net weight conscious. As an exercise, try asking someone how many ounces they are paying for in their typical brand of pasta sauce – chances are that they will shrug. This is where manufacturers take advantage, since they know that consumers are not likely to have memorised the sizes. For the regular items you purchase on your weekly supermarket runs, try to memorise the net weight they hold, so you’d be aware the next time they implement shrinkflation.

2.   Prepare a shopping list and check prices

Preparing a shopping list ahead of your grocery run can keep you on track and prevent you from impulse buying. You can also stay more focused on getting only what you need, and comparing the prices of those products against its competitor brands.

3.   Calculate unit price of the product you intend to purchase

If memorising the net weight of your everyday products is a chore, use this trick instead. While a bigger packaging gives the illusion of more product, that might not necessarily be the case.  For the product you intend to purchase, find out the unit price of the product. You can do this by calculating how much is charged per ounce. When the price stays the same and the size goes down, the unit price will be higher.

4.    Purchase house brands/ family packs

If your favorite potato chips are the same price as the house brand and the store brand gives you a few extra grams of product to enjoy, then the house brand will be the better buy. Furthermore, house brands are usually the last to be downsized.

If you find yourself reaching for the same product and having to replenish it often, consider purchasing family packs. This way, you pay a lot less per unit compared to buying in smaller batches. However, make sure you manage to use the products before its expiry date, otherwise you will end up wasting more money instead.

5.   Compare prices in the neighbourhood

Competition is stiff these days and you can typically find a value dollar shop around your major supermarkets. Why not take the opportunity to do some research? More often than not, value dollar shops offer a lower price compared to the major supermarkets such as NTUC FairPrice or Cold Storage. They may even hold sales from time to time, and you can get more bang for your buck. While the difference for some products could seemingly be a measly 50 cents, don’t discount the power of cost savings. Over time, this 50 cents will amount to a significant sum.

Will there be an end to shrinkflation?

While inflation may fizzle out now that supply chains are back on track as the world gradually recovers in a post-pandemic world, shrinkflation probably isn’t going away anytime soon. Don’t despair though – put the above tips to practice so you don’t get taken for a ride.

What are some of your favourite products that have experienced shrinkflation? Talk to us at ask@plannerbee.co!

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