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?

138 comments

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Graham Cox

Collecting data on packaging changes without compensating change in price.

My freedom of Information Request ahs been replied to. Very fast. Thank you Office of National Statistics. Full Fifo response below..

The result is that even though we pay for this data to be collected off the shelves by ONS people, it cannot be released in the way we want (who changed packaging size on what products ). . But researchers can see the incidence of such packaging changes.

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/about-ons/what-we-do/FOI/foi-requests/economy/package-size-reduction-without-proportionate-price-cuts/index.html
———————————-
Request

Please advise where the public can see the list of package size reduction without proportionate price cuts that have been used in the calculation of the CPI over the last year.

Response

Thank you for your enquiry. ONS does not publish a list of package size reductions without proportionate price cuts that have been used in the calculation of the CPI.

When a product included in the CPI sample changes package size, the price collectors note this information and an adjustment is then made to the recorded price to reflect that consumers are now getting more (or less) for their money. An example may help. If a chocolate bar cost £1 and weighed 60g in February and cost the same but weighed 55g in March these details are noted at the point of collection. ONS’s systems then adjust the price by (60/55) and would record the price as £1.09 (rounded to the nearest penny). This change would therefore rightly show up as a price increase in CPI as the consumer was getting less for their money.

This process is called ‘quality adjustment’ and reflects that we aim to measure actual price changes in the CPI – not changes in the size or quality of goods and services. ONS uses a variety of internationally recognised quality adjustment techniques, picking the most suitable one for each product in question.

ONS does not and cannot provide a list of products to your specifications due to our requirements to maintain data confidentiality. ONS obtains written agreement from retailers before we collect prices from their premises and we must seek their permission each time we want to enter thereafter. Part of the agreement is that the shops will not be identified in any way through our data.

ONS publishes anonymised price quote data (available at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/user-guidance/prices/cpi-and-rpi/cpi-and-rpi-item-indices-and-price-quotes/index.html). You can identify those price quotes where there has been a change to the size of the product (regardless of whether the retailer has proportionally changed the price) by looking for those quotes with a ‘W’ in the ‘indicator_box’ column of the price quote files. Please contact the CPI team at cpi@ons.gsi.gov.uk if you have any questions regarding the use of these data.

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Malcolm R

We all accept that prices must change. These changes should be made apparent – particularly if the contents reduce. It is deceitful otherwise. Just don’t try to fool us with “clever” marketing.

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wavechange

Of course.

For years we have read ‘New bigger packet – better value’. Fair enough, but they should also use ‘New smaller packet – poorer value’ when they decide to make their packets smaller. :-)

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william

I challenge anyone to find a product that still says better value on these days. The supermarkets are forcing manufacturers to drop that phrase so they’re not legally obliged to enforce it.

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wavechange

You have mentioned this before, William. I am suggesting a new slogan to launch an honest approach to marketing.

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william

In addition to the actual product getting smaller, have you noticed individual ingredients getting smaller?

e.g. Has Quaker Oatso simple Apple and blueberry always had 0.5% apple and 0.5% blueberry? Seems rather low %age to get away with calling it apple and blueberry ( I have an outstanding claim with Trading Standards on that)

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william

Just had a reply and if if wasn’t so sad I’d laugh. Turns out the legislation is about the taste characteristic and nothing to do with the quantity of ingredients. The woman from Trading Standards even had to agree with “so if one molecule of apple and one of blueberry were enough to have a distinctive taste in the porridge then they could get away with just adding that”.

Makes me think the food industry has played a big part in shaping that law.

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fonetic

With the average can of chicken soup containing about 3 minuscule pieces of chicken, I’d guess that the meat from one chicken can make about two thousand cans of chicken soup.

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Malcolm R

Good news for chickens, then, if not for us! Try M&S cartons of chicken soup – that’s where they’ve gone.

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LizzyF

Just noticed another one! Patak’s Tikka Masala sauce. This used to be 500g, is now 450g. So that’s a 10% price rise?

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Malcolm R

Not wishing to appear pedantic, but that is in fact an 11.1% price increase – 500/450 (!)

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LizzyF

Maths fiend!

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LizzyF

I was just putting my shopping away and I’ve noticed another one! “Fry Light” oil spray seems to have been on a diet. The almost-empty one in my cupboard is 250ml, the brand new full one is a far slimmer 190ml. Now I don’t have a note of the previous price but I’m pretty sure it hasn’t gone down! Where will it stop, will the manufacturers wait six months and shave another 10% off the pack size, still thinking that the consumer hasn’t noticed? When will they realise that we HAVE noticed but we have little choice if we want to buy the products?

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william

I had a go at Tesco last week and amongst the numerous issues I raised was “9) Shrinking product sizes, again by not bringing this a a shoppers notice it gives the impression you’re trying to pull the wool over their eyes.”

Their reply to that point was “I can appreciate your comments with regards to the shrinking product sizes. Rather than increase the price of product, suppliers will reduce the overall size of the product, thus allowing customers the opportunity to continue buying the product rather than going without.”

You can imagine I was impressed.

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John Ward

THose are god questions Lizzy. Where will the salami-slicing stop?I think the manufacturers and retailers are all petrified, like rabbits caught in the headlights, wondering where and when the tipping point will come – when they have to put more in the packet and whack the price up by a hefty lump. Who will jump first? Can Tesco beat Asda at brinkmanship? Will some of the smaller manufacturers [who supply the copy-cat and own-label products] go under, leaving the field to the major brands? Some supermarkets might withdraw from some own-label product categories altogether to the relief of the surviving brands. In a different market but apposite, when Comet folded, I suspect they were jumping for joy in Currys’ boardroom, so close had they come to the brink.

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John Ward

Well, of course, I meant “good” questions. I’m sorry for the faux pas.

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Malc.Moore

Not only are products getting smaller check out what you are actually getting i have noticed recently
e.g.Beefburgers actual meat content has gone down in percentage of beef.OK you can buy 100%Beefburgers at double the price of the average ones but beware some baddies are reducing the meat content of the average ones.

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Ruthie

i always buy tesco value corned beef because I prefer the taste. When I started buying it there was 8 slices in the pack and cost £0.75 per packet, now it costs double the money for 7 slices.

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Malc.Moore

Nothing surprises me about Tesco anymore always Top Prices 1 loose Parsnip costs almost as much as a Pack at Aldi shocking.

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Roger Trigg

A large carton of Finish dishwasher tablets used to contain 84 tablets. The same size carton now contains 78, a 7% decrease. Moreover, the carton is 25% empty, a waste of both warehouse and kitchen cupboard space

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Graham Cox

Please specify which type. There are three products name and several box sizes. Need to find the one you refer to on the web. Thanks.

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Roger Trigg

It’s the Mega Pack All in One, current weight 1.54 kg

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LizzyF

It looks as though they’ve removed 7% across the range, the picture at the top of the page shows the small pack which has also lost tablets. SO sneaky!

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Malc.Moore

Iceland 100%Beefburgers at double the price of the average ones are they for Real????they shrink to a smaller size than there ordinary Beefburgers but double the Price it makes me wonder if there is
another scam going on ripping off Customers with Barbecue season almost upon us it might be time to check those Burgers out.Most of Iceland sausages have poor meat quantity when it was known as BEJAM their Sausages had a higher actual meat content.So before opting for the 100% Beefburgers my advice is think about it you may be getting conned.I axcept meat does have its own fat but more than an ordinary Beefburger????.

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Roger Trigg

One way for the government to get a hand on this problem is to bring in regulations that specify obligatory pack sizes for processed foods and household products, such as 50, 100, 150, 250, 500, 750 (excepting 700 for wines & liquors) and 1000 ml for fluids, and similar values in g for weights. Many supermarkets do show the unit price of things but it’s the visual deception on the part of manufacturers that is so unacceptable.

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Roger Trigg

Braeburn Apples at Waitrose. I’ve been buying the 4-prepack all winter for £2. While the quality in terms of sweetness varied from week to week they were always of a good size, almost too large for comfort. I’ve noticed that in the last week or two the apples have shrunk in size markedly while the price remained at £2. There’s no weight on the pack or shelf label so today I weighed them: 0.57 kg. At £1-95 per kg for loose apples (of a good size) the pre-pack should have cost £1-11 on a weight for weight basis. I complained to the manager who agreed with my comment about sharp practice and let me have the pe-pack free of charge.

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Graham Cox

Well observed Roger.

This loophole of allowing pack to be sold with no weight indication (eg minimum weight) is part of the problem and an issue Which should have tackled long ago, before focusing on luxury gadgets.

The effort of using the one pair of scales, often hidden away, to compare loose and packed fruit , variety by variety, to see which is best value per lb/lg is a miniscule but real part of lower productivity in the country: ie time wasted.

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Graham Cox

Dear Richard,

Having reviewed the Foi response from the Office of National Statistics and understood the real issues you face re publishing data collected at premises where ONS staff are guests, I return with a modified request in two parts. Please note that the ‘target’ is not the supermarkets /retailers but the product managers of the manufacturers/importers and the objective is perfect information as defined in Econ 101 as necessary for the best functioning of markets .

1) Consider an example as identified by a Which member. ‘A large carton of XXXX dishwasher tablets used to contain 84 tablets. The same size carton now contains 78, a 7% decrease’.

If your researchers find this happens in all sampling at retailers, I can see no reason not to make available the information, if requested, that Product X in pack description Y had its contents cut without a compensating cut in price. It will be in your data bank and does not affect the retailers who gave you permission not sample.

2) Your previous response cannot relate to supermarkets’ web sites. One hopes the ONS is improving its own productivity by collecting as many price stats as possible from the supermarkets’ web sites. For such data , no permission is needed from the retailer and hence you should be free to share retail findings which do not identify retailers but are market wide.

Clearly in the case of the example and thousand like it , 1 and 2 can be combined to make the case even stronger for release of market wide information of price rises surreptitiously achieved by cuts in packaging size.

Sincerely
Graham Cox

CC ‘Which’ members .

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Graham Cox

Tried my best. Can’t see why they should keep product names confidential. But maybe an FIO appeal some time in the future could tackle that one head on; for we the tax payers pay for these price surveys so the info should be available to us unless doing so would stop their work and I can’t see how info on products sold everywhere and on the Internet could possibly do that. Look forward to their article on the subject.

CPI Correspondence Reference – Enquiry Number 2813

The following is a response from CPI to your Enquiry:

CPI Correspondence Response:

Dear Graham

There is evidently interest in the subject of
package size changes and I will look to see
what analysis ONS could produce to talk about
how we take account for this (and other
product) changes in calculating our price
indices.

I would like to make it very clear that we will
not produce any analysis that would identify
individual products or retailers. This goes
against the fundamental principles of anonymity
to which we work and would risk the quality of
the inflation measures.

Kind Regards

Richard Campbell
Head of Consumer Price Statistics Production
Prices Division
Office for National Statistics
tel: 01633 651536

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Jane

I bought a 4-pack of John West Tuna in spring water for £5 to make a salad. I used a previously bought tin and one of the newly purchased tins. The old tin held 185gm (drained weight 130 gm), the new tin contained 160gm (drained weight 112gm). Spot the difference!

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Malc.Moore

I am not surprised Jane which ever Party is in Government none of them are interested in proper food regulation.Why because the food industry lobby is powerful&i expect many minsters have interests in food manufacturers shares.If you like a good steak pie/Chicken pie frozen or chilled its amazing how much meat they actually contain Sainsbury;Asda;Tesco;all have low meat content Icelands even lower to Lidi&Aldi sadly many look at the Packaging not the contents.Its a great pity
because they would not get away with a family chicken pie containing only 18% chicken in many other countries food legislation is much stricter.

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Graham Cox

Sanex bath foam.
Sanex joins the list of the infamous.

. They have been clever. Over about a year, the number of shops at which you can buy the 650 ml has dwindled. Today , only one pharmacy has it left as far as i can see and the remainingn two supermarkets with the 650 on their web site just show ‘out of stock’.

The substituent is 500ml and is about 15% more expensive based on caparison using My Supermarket over time. guess what those who say out of stock on the 650 have the 500. The Sanex web site is silent on sizes

I found it on Ocado as recently as 2 months ago . I bought 6 months worth and other stuff, as an existing customer ( hey even had my credit card number) and guess what…….. Two hours later an email said my order had been cancelled and on enquiry they said I am suspected of frau!! Send ID they said. So I did and mysteriously it did not arrive. They stink also .

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Malc.Moore

I have noticed a significant decline in the size of fresh apples.Smaller apples use to be cheaper and
regarded as 2nd class apples; it now seems since supermarkets buy by weight no one checks to see what the supplier is shipping out.I walked out of Sainsbury yesterday in disgust their apples were so tiny.I remember going to te market as a child my grandma would always look before buying then she would go back to the stall selling good sized apples she use to say if i am buying an apple i want one i can eat not one of those i have to throw half away because of the size of the apple core. I suspect supermarkets are buying smaller at discount yet charging top prices.

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Malc.Moore

In Iceland late this afternoon i spotted this Iceland diced chicken typical of Rising Prices smaller packets these Iceland diced chicken have been shrinking in size for years today a Pack containing only 875g priced at £5 on packet also clear price display very faintly after the £5 sign £5.71 per kg. These guys in marketing most think every high street customer is a complete idiot and fool for not noticing tactics.This very faint fine print ought to be stopped its certainly one Trading Standards should be looking at as well as virtually unreadable ingredients on Butchers counters where one needs magnifying glasses to read before you ask to buy anything from cold meats from mince;sausages;to beefburgers.Wealth does not come into this rich or less well off we all want to know what we are buying.

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Trev

Here’s a classic – Morrisons have been selling bags of Thorntons toffee and Thorntons fudge for a while. Recently all the fudge disappeared and was replaced by a redesigned pack – still Thorntons but the pack has shrunk from 180g to 140g so 22% smaller. Then this week the same thing happened with the toffee – all the existing stock removed and new smaller bags put in their place. Again the new bags are smaller, shrinking from 180g to 160g. Until I pointed it out, the shelves still had the old stickers showing the old price and weight and (now incorrect) price per 100g. The shelf stickers have now been updated and as well as shrinking the bags they’ve also increased the price slightly too! Clearly every penny really does count to Morrisons!

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Mrs_M_G

We have been noticing this for about a year now. It is especially apparent because we tend to buy large quantities when things are significantly reduced, buy less often, making it more noticeable.

For example, last time we bought Walls Sausages, they were 16 per pack – 725g (45.31g per sausage) — think this was in the Spring. Last week, we ran out, so looked for the same pack. I found Walls Sausages, but it no longer said ’16 sausages’ on the package image (shopping online) — rather, it said ’12 sausages’ (41.67g per sausage) and it was 500g. OK, less than 4g per sausage, but when you look at it by the package, it adds up — 25% fewer sausages by number and ~31% less package weight — and they were the same price!!

Aside from the weight v price debate, this also changes the caloric values on a per unit basis (although the kcal per 100g is identical). Six months ago, the ’16-pack’ sausage was 98 kcal, whereas the new ’12-pack’ sausage is 91 kcal each. Good for my diet, I guess — nice of them to think of that, eh? ;-)

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william

I bought a box of Crawfords Family Circle biscuits at the weekend the box is marked as 700g. I found a box I’d brought last year the weight; 855g :(

And doing a search online I can see that at one point they used to be 900g

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Mr_MEC

Today my local Sainsbury’s is selling Sure Deodorant for Men at £2.00 for a 150ml can. Last month the cans were a lot bigger (250ml) and cost £3.00. This amounts to a price rise from 1.2p per ml to 1.33p per ml or 11%.

Something stinks . . . and it isn’t me!

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ryan noble

I have just noticed that the EAT NATURAL bars feel defiantly allot smaller, will stop buying them now,

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Kevin Dixon

In 2012 I bought 60 tins of tuna from ASDA over a period of 1 month.
The offer was 4 tins wrapped together in plastic for £3.
Each tin weighed 185g net.

I finished eating the 60 tins in 2013 and then decided to replenish my stock.

Great … ASDA still had the offer …. 4 tins for £3.
Then I checked the net weight of each the 4 tins … They were now 160g net.
So, as is often the case … instead of putting up the price … they (food companies/supermarkets) use a stealth method, giving you less product, hoping you won’t notice.
To be fair to ASDA, they are still one of the cheapest … if not THE cheapest UK supermarket.

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Kevin Dixon

I checked the ASDA website … January 2014: ASDA still has the offer …. but now 4 tins for £4 (was £3 in 2013).
So the previous weight reduction (185g per tin to 160g) is now followed by a price hike, up 25p a tin from 75p to 100p.
That is on their website, in-store prices might vary.

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Gretal

I’ve just discovered another shrinking product done by stealth. I bought a couple of bunches of daffodils from Sainsbury’s last week, was annoyed to discover each bunch only contained 9 stems instead of the usual 10 & the price was £2 a bunch – 50p more than the same product at Asda for 10 stems. I won’t be buying any more of them!

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co-ordinator

Shrinking products seems to be gathering pace in 2014; gone are 2 litre Coca Cola now replaced with ‘New Size’ 1.75 litre, but the price is still the same. Walkers Crinkles and Deep Ridged were in packs of 6, now in packs of 5 but the price remains the same.

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Malc.Moore

As I do not shop at ASDA on a Regular Basis I was most surprised to see the size of Denmark made Streamline strawberry Jam which contains 65% fruit against most 45% or 50% they did have a UK operation but closed it down the Jar was extremely small.65% Fruit is Quite good beating Stute Dibetic Jam but as fruit naturally contains sugar can we really believe the sugar content?.Like fat content Traffic light labelling although I am not a diabetic I do try to regulate how much my sugar content is.

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Malc.Moore

My post on 29 April 2013 at 12:07 am About Iceland 100% Beefburgers I am pleased to report it appears that those Quarter pounders have improved perhaps that is down to sales.Its always pleasing if a product has improved and since Barbie Season is almost here i thought worth a mention.

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Jeanette

Just noticed that Walkers crinkle crisps multipack bag have reduced from 6 packs to 5 ….. no price differece though!

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LizzyF

Hovis Best of Both and Warburton’s Half and Half loaves have both decreased in size from 800g to 750g with no decrease in price – although both have been on multibuy offers to disguise the price rise. I always thought that large loaves had to be 800g, obviously not! I have voted with my feet and have swapped to 800g wholemeal loves, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they shrank soon too.

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Gretal

This devious underhand practise of reducing the content is not solely restricted to food. I discovered several weeks ago that while everyone else still sells bunches of 2×10 daffodils for £1 (95p in Lidl – if you can stand their abysmal attitude to customer service!), Sainsburys are now selling 2 bunches of 8 for a £1.

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co-ordinator

Cigarettes no longer 20 in a packet; now 19 in a packet but the price remains the same!

Non Smoker; however partner asked for 20 cigarettes only to be informed by the vendor that packs of 20 are no longer available!

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Yannis

I discovered the Oreo biscuits shrunk but only have evidence on the 185g going down to 157.
http://www.sainsburys.co.uk/groceries/index.jsp?bmUID=1395653139813
http://www.tesco.com/groceries/Product/Details/?id=268347830
with prices remain untouched.

From 75.1p/100g (non-discounted) gone to £0.89/100g an increase of 18.5%.

Unbelievable.

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co-ordinator

Aunt Bessie’s crinkle cut chips down from 1kg to 970gm same price as 1kg was £2.20
Aunt Bessie’s cut chips down from 1kg to 750gm £1.65 = £2.20 / kg

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william

Aunt Bessie’s family size Bramley apple pie was 605g now 550g

I’ve emailed them asking for an explanation, although I’m not expecting a reasonable answer.

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Malc.Moore

I looked at Aunt Bessie’s family size Bramley apple pie but quickly put it down why percentage of Apple also the Amount of Sugar.If the food industry wants to make savings they could make a good start by reducing Sugar levels in our food.If it is not sweet enough we can add our own.It should be the consumer that makes the choice about sugar levels not the food manufacturer.

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william

I got a reply

“Our Family Apple Pie 605g was only ever produced as a promotional product with “10% extra free” up until late 2012, due to the shelf – life of this product there could still be some of the 605g variation available from retailers.

I hope this answers your query.”

Although why a company would wish to offer 10 % extra free and not mention it on the packaging is beyond me.

I think I can smell something normally produced from cows.

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malcolm r

With inflation, the choice manufacturers have is to increase prices or reduce sizes. We seem to be more sensitive to price increases whereas a reduced pack size goes largely unnoticed. This is deceit.
However, just an idle thought – maybe someone thinks it is in our best interests as obesity becomes an ever-increasing problem. Perhaps these foods should be labelled “New smaller pack for a healthier life”?

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william

I certainly think they should be forced to clearly label products as “new smaller pack”. Then at least we could make informed choices.

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wavechange

Malcolm wrote: ‘With inflation, the choice manufacturers have is to increase prices or reduce sizes.’

There is an alternative, and that is to keep the prices and pack sizes the same and for the retailer and/or manufacturer to make smaller profits. Some are a little bit too greedy.

I have suggested that manufacturers should mark their products ‘New smaller pack’ but perhaps it would be a good idea to make the link with health, particularly with foods laden with fat, sugars and salt.

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malcolm r

One product has followed this sort of path – and more. That is our labour – many do the same (product size – hours) for the same or less (price – wages and salaries). We don’t much like that though!

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wavechange

As a result of rising labour costs, we now buy many products from overseas.

One of the problems is that we often think in terms of hours worked rather than productivity. I have employed staff that were highly productive and others that worked roughly the same hours and achieved very little.

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wavechange

I bought some BeRo plain and self-raising flour to do some baking for a charity event. The self-raising flour is prominently marked ‘NEW 1.25KG’, so I knew the pack size has been decreased from 1.5kg at the time of purchase, though the price was the same as the 1.5kg pack of plain flour.

It would be better to indicate that the pack size has been decreased, but at least the change in size is conspicuous.

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Gretal

Just discovered more shrinking products. Last year certainly in Asda they were selling packs of Cadburys Caramel Bunnies containing 2 Bunnies at – I think around 65p each or on almost permanent offer of 2 for £1, i.e. 4 bunnies for £1. This year I’ve noticed the same offer – expect the Bunny has lost its partner & there’s only one in the pack now :( . The same thing applies to Malteser Bunnies, not sure how much they were last year – around the same 65p mark I’d guess. I’ve just seen one Malteser Bunny for 69p or 2 for £1 in the Co-Op.

Are bunnies becoming extinct??!!

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