Products are getting smaller while shopping bills get bigger

by , Senior Home Researcher Consumer Rights 21 March 2013
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We have discovered yet more household products that have shrunk, while the price has stayed the same or even increased. Are any of your favourite products shrinking?

Mini cupcake

In our investigation into shrinking products, we found a pack of Birds Eye beef burgers with four fewer burgers in it than before – 12 down from 16. We also discovered Pledge furniture polish had shrunk by almost a fifth. And we found you get fewer Dettol anti bacterial wipes and even fewer crisps than you used to.

For most of the products we investigated, the price stayed the same after the shrink. The biggest decrease in product size we found was 25%, while the smallest was Walkers cheese and onion crisps that decreased by 6%. Check out our gallery at the bottom of this post for some of the shrinking products we found.

How do you feel about shrinking products?

It’s certainly a topic that gets people hot under the collar. Last time I wrote about shrinking products on Which? Conversation, over 100 people joined the debate and some very strong views were expressed. Alan Pearcey felt that he was being tricked:

‘Manufacturers and retailers are equally complicit in this blatant, underhanded, conspiracy to confuse and cheat those who represent their very survival – their customers – with this latest ‘smoke and mirrors’ practice.’

M. would rather see prices go up:

‘I would prefer them to raise prices so we could see the knife coming, rather than put up with this devious practise.’

Frugal Ways wondered if shrinking products avoided being picked up by price index measures:

‘It’s clear to me that smaller pack sizes for the same price is an actual price rise, yet this sharp practice does not impact on inflation, RPI, CPI figures, etc. These figures are used nationally by governments, councils, et al, to calculate benefits, wages, etc.’

So why are products shrinking?

We looked at branded products (eg not supermarket own-brand), using independent shopping website mysupermarket.co.uk. We asked the makers of these products why they had shrunk them, and were generally told that, in the face of rising costs they choose to shrink products rather than increase prices.

Many of the manufacturers we spoke to said supermarkets ultimately set prices. We asked whether they reduced the wholesale price or set a lower recommended retail price when the product shrank. Most manufacturers either said they didn’t do this or wouldn’t comment. So it’s perhaps not surprising the prices in supermarkets didn’t drop.

Would you prefer a price increase or a smaller product? How important is it that manufacturers and retailers make it clear to shoppers when a product has reduced in size?

166 comments

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Malc.Moore

Surprise;Surprise In Aldi to-day I bought a pack of Frozen Battered Cod Steaks 500grms they had only 2% less Cod 50p cheaper and the actual carton was much smaller correct.The only shop I have found doing this cos many packs of Fish the carton is twice the size it should be no doubt over time the weight has been reduced but not the package.Although I wish the actual content of Fish was bigger many customers do not read the content when you can find the content Information cos Its usually very;very small and in general takes a couple of minutes to find but Full Marks to Aldi Stores Ltd; for sizing the package and still better content of actual Fish than big brands like Youngs & Birdseye.Often I have noticed Premium Fish Steaks more expensive with very little extra Fish content
.The actual food content should be in easy read figures on front of packages.

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Chrissy

I am really disappointed in Aldi i have been a customer for years and raved about the prices but lots of things are now shrinking e.g. toilet rolls,battered fish, custard, to name a few. I would much rather they put up the prices.

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Jelunga

My preference is too keep the pack size the same and show a price increase. Then you can fairly compare. Also I think standard pack sizes should be mandatory. Then even easier to compare.

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Malc.Moore

I agree with your comment Jelunga at my local sainburys they only stock 100grms small size of sainbury De Caff coffee which is robbery at only 40p cheaper than 200gms.Shrinking sizes fool some
customers then they put original size back on the shelves on special offer ha.

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GlobalNemesis

Has anyone noticed “New York” Bagels, I’m pretty sure that 2 years ago there were 6 in a bag, then it was 5, now down to 4! They were on offer in ASDA at £1, but I suspect that was a cover for the drop from 5 -> 4, and once the offer is over, they hope we won’t notice.

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clunk

I’ve just opened up a box of 4 southern fried chicken in breadcrumbs from birdseye so my wife & I can have a couple of chicken burgers and unless I’m mistaken the actual size of each of the 4 portions have shrunk beyond belief but as we all know the prices did not…I cannot be catergoric as I have nothing to compare them to but I’d put my life on it that they’ve dropped at least 20%, box weight is 360g.
If anyone can shed any light on this for me please :-)

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Malc.Moore

Has anyone noticed the shrinking size of apples in your supermarket?. All the apples in Aldi are very small as are many these days in the likes of Sainsburys; Asda; Tesco; Co-op;lidl .We customers are paying the price for decent sized apples but get only small ones if you buy; they the supermarkets must get these smaller apples at a bargain price that is not passed on to the consumer.I always bought fruit at an indoor market where a particular stall holder always had decent sized produce but i moved from that area and where i live now there s no decent market . Supermarket buyers buy by weight and there s no quality control.Its food fraud in my opinion one manager at ASDA told me she loves a small apple shes petite&about a size 8 so perhaps she does eat child size portions but she is not an average person after peeling your bite sized apple you are left with very little.Years ago my Grandma would buy fruit at a local market she would always check she got reasonable sized ones if a stall holder put very small ones in the bag she would say if i want crab apples i would go down a country lane.When i buy apples i want the same as you have on youre display please and they would change to reasonable sized ones. Small apples were always sold at a reduced price unless us customers point out not everyone is a catwalk model they will continue to charge top price for inferior produce.

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benthespread

A lot of the so called savings you make at Aldi are through smaller portion sizes using sandwich spread as example Aldi charge 80p for 200 grams of tuna mayo & Asda charge £1:30 for 270 grams

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Gretal

On a slightly different tack to shrinking food products…Am I the only one who is increasingly annoyed by the stingy length of flex on electrical products these days? In the past year I’ve bought a Breville toaster and a Whirlpool combi microwave, neither of which have sufficient flex on them to plug in where I want them to be. Neither of these are supermarket “cheapie” products where you might expect a few corners to be cut. The socket for the toaster is under my work surface and the lead supplied is at least 12″ too short. The microwave has to be positioned awkwardly on the work surface & being a combi takes up quite a bit of space, & even still the cable has to be stretched to its full extent & over the back of the oven which gets hot to come anywhere near the power socket.

Yesterday, I bought a heated clothes airer from Lakeland despite the lack of flex being an issue with quite a few of the online reviewers. I haven’t used it yet, but we’ll see…

Is this another loony EU regulation being foisted upon us, or is it the manufacturers who are finding increasingly craftier ways to save a few pence?

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John Ward

I think it’s the latter Gretal and I think it increases the likelhood that people will either use home-made or poor-quality extension leads [not a good idea in a kitchen], or stretch the cable and trail it round hazardous places, or use a socket in an unsatisfactory location introducing other hazards. Appliances that while not strictly portable do need to be moveable on the worktop to facilitate use and cleaning should always have some slack in the power lead to reduce the risk of accidents. Too long a cable can be a problem but the kettle manufacturers have found a way of keeping the excess under control and there is a case for having a standard minimum length.

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Gretal

No surprise there – just as I suspected, which as you say simply means people will use extension leads. My kettle sits right beside a handy socket but even so there’s still insufficient spare cable to wind right around the base to keep it under control, as it makes the base unstable, so I have to leave it unwound which means the excess is on the work top!

I still suspect an element of cost cutting as manufacturers now have to supply a plug with appliances!

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John

Just discovered that Activia yoghurts have reduced the internal contents within same pack size. I do not know how long this has been going on but in line with the comments of many others this is a highly annoying and reprehensible practice. I would rather incur a visible price increase and be able to trust the integrity of suppliers and retailers who should stick to standard pack sizes for most commodities.

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Michael

The Waitrose jars of anchovies and herbs used to be chock full of anchovies. You had to go to town with a fork to try and drag out the anchovies from the middle, they were that full. Now?

Why, almost hollow with the anchovies skilfully wrapped round the perimeter of the glass jar. Blatant example of a rip-off IMO

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Mivana

This happened a while back already, so have no exact date, but Batchelor’s “Cup-a-Soup reduced their package portions from 5 sachets/servings to 4, without reducing the price (maybe even increased it…..!?), that is a reduction of 20% !!!!‼️
Outrageous.
Would love to see research into this and further comments/observations…..

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Bevlead

I regularly buy packs of Cadbury’s TimeOut – 8 bars to the pack. I bought three packs from my local Asda last week, and when I opened one of them there were only 7 bars in the pack. On closer inspection the pack is clearly marked on the front with “7 bars” instead of “8 bars”. I make that a 12.5% reduction, despite the price being the same and the barcode on my till receipt being identical. All three packs were taken from the same box in store, so maybe it’s a packaging mistake that this 7 pack was in there. But it’ll be interesting to see if the price goes down by 12.5% when these new smaller packs become the norm.

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John Ward

Asda are currently advertising 7-bar packs of Cadbury’s Time Out [112g] at £1.59 [£1.42 per 100g]. I expect the 8-bar packs have been discontinued by Asda and the last of the old stock was mixed with the new packs. I notice that Sainsbury’s are selling 8-bar packs at £1.60 [£1.25 per 100g].

It is not widely known that the manufacturers will package products differently for different retailers so you have to check the quantities and unit prices. This might not be deceptive but it is confusing. This is the way in which prices in pound shops can look so attractive – the packs look the same but the contents are fewer or smaller.

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wavechange

A barcode is used by the retailer but associated with the barcode is a number. I use that number to confirm that the shelf label corresponds to the item on display. It might not be breaking any current law to use the same barcode for packs with different numbers/sizes of chocolate bars or other items, but I regard this as very poor practice.

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william

“It is not widely known that the manufacturers will package products differently for different retailers” I’m sure this tactic you describe is to avoid having to price match.

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wavechange

I have seen many products labelled with messages such as ‘New larger pack’ or ’20% extra free’. I would like to be alerted when I’m getting less for my money. Perhaps NEW SMALLER PACK in suitably large letters. Any reputable company would already be doing this. :-)

Of course we have unit pricing to alert us to price rises and weight reductions. I wonder how many people pay attention to unit prices.

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John Ward

Well, if I could read the unit prices on the bottom shelf without getting down on my knees it would be a help. I don’t mind doing that, it’s getting up again that tricky!

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Colin Mail

Sensodyne toothpaste use to come in 75ml and 100ml sizes, and prices for the 100ml have been between £4 and £4-50 per tube. Now it seems there is only the 75ml available and that is priced betwee £3-89 and £4-50.

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Ken

Last week I bought 2 9-pack Andrex Natural Pebble. Rolls seemed smaller – they were! 221 sheets compared with 241 last time, at same price. Unit prices were per roll so doubly misleading. We all buy toilet rolls – after more years than I can remember I will not choose Andrex on principle, though I guess the practice may be widespread.
Incidentally. if they had increased the size of the inner cardboard roll at the same time I probably would have been no wiser!!

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wavechange

I find that kitchen rolls that are shorter than the standard length irritating because they cannot be used with my wall-mounted holder. For years I never had a problem.

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Catherine

Sensodyne toothpaste has shrunk from 100g per tube to 75g for the same price.

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