It’s no secret prices are on the rise at the grocery store again. Between rising production costs, inflation and supply chain issues, we’ve seen prices climbing in uncomfortable ways.
However, there’s another kind of price increase that’s not always as easy to identify: groceries that “shrink.” Shrinkage refers to the phenomenon when manufacturers intentionally downsize a product with the goal of keeping the price near the previous, larger item’s selling price. When the costs to manufacture an item rise to the point the product cannot be sold for the same profit range, manufacturers can choose to increase the selling price of the item, or they can decrease the size of the item and continue selling it for its previous price.
At times, brands also will rework formulas or recipes for products to decrease the total production costs. These efforts don’t always go unnoticed by shoppers though. Here are some examples my readers have recently spotted:
Dear Jill: I wanted to alert you of something I saw recently in my store’s circular. It was a new product that appeared to be orange juice, but upon closer look, it was being advertised as a ‘healthier’ juice product. The carton was 59 ounces, but it contained just 25 percent orange juice and 75 percent of it was water.
This “juice” sold for $2.99 per carton. I was quite astonished. If you were not paying attention, you easily could grab it and assume you were picking up 100 percent orange juice.
I am no fan of these lesser products being created to hide inflation and rising product costs. — Mitch S.
Dear Jill: I buy the same brand and scent of body wash all the time. When my bottle was running low, I bought more, and when I put the bottle in the shower, I noticed they were different sizes. The old bottle was 21 ounces, but the new one was just 16 ounces. The new bottle is shorter and narrower than the old one. Five ounces is quite a bit of a loss if you think about it. — Ora H.
Dear Jill: I buy a popular kind of oat cereal. I brought a box home the other day and compared it to another box I already had at the house. The old box held 11.1 ounces of cereal. The new box has 10.9 ounces. While this is only a small difference in quantity, what surprised me most was the shape of both boxes. The old box of cereal contained more product, but it was about an inch shorter than the new box. The new box is taller, and at first glance, it looks “larger.”
It is really something how far these brands will go to disguise when they have downsized an item. — Linda D.
Dear Jill: I remember you writing once about how small toilet paper sheets are getting. I want you to know paper towels are suffering from this, too, and it is one of the sneakiest ways they shrink things.
When you buy paper towels, the package will have both the number of sheets and the total square feet per package. This is something you might not notice if you don’t have an old roll to compare with a new one of the same brand, but they are making the sheets almost an inch narrower. The width of the whole roll looks the same, but the sheets themselves are smaller rectangles as they come off the roll.
This makes it much harder to compare what’s really on the roll. — Annie D.
One question I often am asked is why manufacturers don’t simply raise the prices on the products they sell versus downsizing them. Research shows while consumers say they would rather pay a little more for the same size item, they do the opposite in-store. When shoppers see the price has gone up on something they regularly buy, they tend to “punish” the brand by buying a competitor’s product.