/ Food & Drink, Shopping

When pack sizes shrink why don’t their prices?

Have you had suspicions that supermarket packs are shrinking? Well, we’ve trawled through a years worth of supermarket data to uncover the products that are shrinking – and their prices have stayed the same.

When we last asked you about this on Which? Conversation, you inundated us with examples of shrinking products.

So, we took these examples, along with the most commonly bought branded items, and checked whether their sizes had changed using data from independent grocery shopping site mysupermarket.co.uk.

We found a raft of products that had shrunk. Jars of Loyd Grossman Balti Curry Sauce have gone from 425g to 350g. Tubs of Dairylea Cheese Spread are 40g lighter. And there are two fewer nappies in a pack of Pampers Baby Dry Maxi.

In fact, we found shrinking products from most aisles of the supermarket – including laundry tablets, chicken, jam, dishwasher tablets, yoghurts and cereals.

But when we checked the prices of these smaller products, we found them for sale at the same price as before, or more per 100g, at the time the sizes changed.

What you think about shrinking products

We’ve had over 100 comments on our shrinking product Conversations, so what was said? Chris Fowler thinks manufacturers have something to answer for:

‘It is clear many manufacturers have changed the shape of bottles, jars and other containers to conceal the fact that the volume is smaller, and the weight of the product has gone down. So this process of reducing the amount of a product while keeping the price the same is underhand, and manufacturers are deliberately trying to hide it from consumers.’

Lovodale wants us to be more vocal about these pack size changes:

‘Manipulation of weights and measures instantly improves profits, confuses the public and there seems to be insufficient strong public opinion to bring about changes to a more open and honest industry.’

And KC sums up the anger felt by supermarket shoppers:

‘I don’t want to have to do a maths test to make sure I am not being ripped off every time I enter a supermarket.’

What did manufacturers and supermarkets say?

So we wanted to find out why manufacturers were shrinking their goods. When we asked, most said it was to keep prices down in the face of rising costs. Other companies said the product formulation had changed at the same time as the size.

And even though manufacturers told us that supermarkets dictated the final price, when we asked whether they had dropped the recommended retail price, those that answered said they hadn’t. As for the supermarkets themselves, they said manufacturers had reduced the sizes, and that they based their own prices on wholesale costs.

So, is shrinking a product an underhand way of raising prices? Would it be ok to shrink pack sizes if we were told about it? And what examples have you spotted?

What types of products have you seen shrinking?

Food (45%, 588 Votes)

Drinks (21%, 274 Votes)

Cleaning (19%, 252 Votes)

Beauty (9%, 124 Votes)

Other (share in comments) (6%, 82 Votes)

Total Voters: 691

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Comments

One must not be too negative about this.If manufacturers to not make a fat profit how else can they provide donations for their favourite political party? Not to forget a Knighthood for the CEO etc.

Well, it was you who voted for the same three or four old boring parties who like the manufacturers all do the same thing?

Edward Coyle says:
25 March 2012

Douwe Egberts instant coffee jars now contain 190g of coffee compared with 200g previously.
Farcical, because the glass jar in which this product comes has not reduced in size.

Bob says:
25 March 2012

I have spent an hour or so wading through the various comments whilst at the same time reflecting on my fifty-plus year old daughter’s youthful sagacity. In her teens she introduced us to her own shopping indicator which she called “the Mars bar index”. Even at that time Mars came in a paper covering with an decent space around the chocolate and every few months we would notice that there was more room in the packet. Soon enough, as stocks of wrappers were used up, the new packets once again fitted the current, reduced size, Mars bars. Although I have not kept any 35 year old Mars packets for comparison purposes I suspect they are about a third bigger than todays (and we I guess we are currently awaiting a delivery of new packets to judge by the room around the current size bars!)

mrsjfm says:
25 March 2012

My vacuum cleaner bags have not only gone up a lot in price, but there are now only 4 to a box instead of five. My pet gripe is that margarine tubs have suddenly only got 400 grams in – there are 6 of us in the family and a large tub is essential. And I even noticed the other day that pasta is shorter! To my knowledge, one of these things have ever been brought to the attention of customers. Deceitful!

Badgesett says:
26 March 2012

I bought some tracker bars the other day and was amazed at how they had shrunk. I don’t buy these very often but they appeared to be 30-40% smaller than a few years ago – barely enough to keep a sparrow alive!
I have noticed that car engine oil has shrunk from 5 litres to 4 litres on certain brands, so be warned!

All the major supermarkets are greed merchants. Ultimately it’s the bottom line of the balance sheet that the Board of Directors and shareholders are bothered about. If the law were to allow supermarkets to stay open 24 hours a day 365/6 days a year they would do so because its more money in the coffers. I happen to use supermarkets regularly because of accessibility and convenience, however I’m very selective and will use a local butcher for meat and eggs.
Having owned a small bookshop, it was patently obvious that I was trading on an uneven playing field. A small business will never compete with the “big boys” or the internet as “buying power” will win the day. You can offer a first class service to your customers, but if the price isn’t cheap enough, the majority of customers will go elsewhere. I used to buy some of my stock such as The Guinness Book of Records from my local WH Smiths as the price was £2 cheaper than my wholesaler’s price! It might explain why small businesses are disappearing fast from our High Streets.

Spade says:
26 March 2012

I have been noticing this down-sizing for some time now.

For example, Waitrose has started to shrink the size and number of its pre-packed apples. Where once they sold packets of eight Braeburns of a moderate size, they are now selling six smaller apples for the same price. I have also noticed that almost anything in a packet has reduced in quantity. Crisps barely fill two thirds of the space in a small packet. Chocolate bars are rapidly losing weight.

Even Amateur Photographer was down from 90 to 82 pages in last week’s edition! And the price was the same. Almost ten percent savings on paper and printing costs.

What is going on? Manufacturers and supermarkets can claim with hand on heart that they haven’t raised prices. But this selling us short is a sneaky way of increasing income. Isn’t it time the OFT made some serious inquiries into this?

We have North London to thank for this! We all knew the price of groceries and provisions when they were sold loose. Self-service shopping came along and changed everything. David Greig’s converted their store in Turnpike Lane N8 to self-service in 1923. It was not a success and the store reverted to the traditional style. In 1948 Marks & Spencer opened the first serious self-service grocery department at their High Road Wood Green, N22 store [coincidentally very close to Turnpike Lane]. The idea caught on, especially with Cooperative societies [London Coop at East Ham and Portsea Island Coop at Portsmouth, both 1948]. Initially, packaging was standardised across products by weight or volume so it was easy to keep a check on prices. For some foodstuffs there were regulated sizes to ensure comparability. For all pre-packed products, the only variables were quality or formulation and price. Once the regulations were abandoned, and packaging techniques became more sophisticated, it became possible to vary the contents more easily. ‘Deceptive’ packaging has ensured that the consumer remains confused. Combined with offers, BOGOFs and multi-buys it is now a minefield. I sometimes wonder how the people who produce the cost of living indices cope with the continuously changing variables – do they reduce everything in their ‘standard shopping basket’ to unit prices?

Spring heeled Jim says:
27 March 2012

This thread seems to have rumbled on and on…. so before I go and find something more interesting to do, I thought I’d try and summarise where we are:

1) Products are getting smaller. Yes, they are. There are numerous examples on this thread, as well as several hundred more that no-one has mentioned yet.

2) Supermarkets are doing this in order to make even more profit. It’s a rip-off. No. In the vast majority of cases, the pack size changes are made by the manufacturers, who in turn are responding to massive cost price increases. Actually, the retailers ( who like to be known for lowering prices, not raising prices ) would prefer it if the packs got bigger / prices got lower.

3) It’s dishonest. Well, if you mean ‘ they did this without telling me ‘ then yes it is. Supermarkets are very quick to shout about price cuts ( even by a few pence ) but far less quick to shout about price increases. Which is only logical if you think about it. I can’t think of any retailers of any kind that would shout about prices going up. And all the prices ( and the price per g / litre etc ) are displayed on the shelf-edge label.

4) It’s a con. I’d rather they put the price up. Really ? In research a lot of people said exactly the opposite. In any case, reducing the pack size is less obvious than putting the price up, so the manufacturer loses less volume. It may be sneaky, but it’s good business sense. And it’s certainly not a con.

5) I’m far too busy to check every single price. Who isn’t ? But is that the supermarkets’ fault ? Are you ‘ far too busy ‘ to check the small print on loan agreements ?

6) The supermarkets are far too big and greedy. There’s certainly some truth in that. But ‘ big ‘ is only a result of ‘ popular and successful ‘ and ‘ greedy ‘ is only another way of saying ‘ hungry for growth ‘ – which every business is.

7) The supermarkets get preferential treatment in planning permission cases. This is possibly also true. You can hardly blame them for trying though – and are the town councils blameless in this ?

8) The supermarkets are killing the high st. I can see the truth in this too. But again, it’s all market forces. IF YOU DON’T LIKE SUPERMARKETS, DON’T SHOP THERE. And – IF NO-ONE SHOPPED THERE THEY WOULD CLOSE AND YOU COULD GET YOUR INDEPENDENT STORES BACK. Really, we as consumers are to blame – if we didn’t like supermarkets so much they wouldn’t exist.

9) It’s confusing enough already – but then they put it on offer to make it even more confusing ! Yes, yes they do. But think about it. Are they legally obliged to offer you these deals ? Are we becoming so spoiled as consumers that we feel entitled to Buy One Get One Free offers etc ? Often manufacturers and retailers take a massive hit on margin to offer you these deals. And you complain that they make it confusing for you ???

10) To get the best deals you have to shop around. Yes, yes you do. And I would encourage everyone to do that. All the major supermarkets have different deals at different times. If you have the time to shop around, there are some good bargains to be had.

11) Supermarkets raise their prices at Xmas to con us. Actually, I’m pretty sure they don’t.

12) Supermarkets change their prices in different areas. Only on petrol. Elsewhere their systems don’t support different regional pricing.

13) These are difficult times. Supermarkets should be doing more to help. Why ? Supermarkets are businesses. Businesses exist to make profit. All the major supermarkets tell you that they’re lowering prices ( and giving money to charity ) to make things easier. You might treat these claims with suspicion – but it’s still more than a lot of other businesses are doing.

Hope that’s cleared it up for everyone…

Supermarkets have taken over from independents because they can buy goods at lower prices and afford to sell them at prices the independents cannot compete with. Supermarkets do what they can get away with and if they start to upset their customers too much there is ample opportunity to make changes and regain lost customers.

You say that supermarkets do not have different prices in different areas. Whether or not this is true, there are other ways of varying costs – such as different offers and different goods on sale.

Thank you Jim for your contributions and for summarising the issues. However, I think we’ll be keeping this Conversation going for some time longer because there are several points of view to explore. If nothing else, Which? Conversation proves that there is no such thing as a definitive conclusion.

Andi says:
27 March 2012

I have found supermarkets themselves are reducing the size of their prepacked veg, Tesco for example have reduced the size of a pack of beansprouts from 500g to 410g, obviously the packaging has stayed the same to hide the fact its changed. I know this is a petty one to complain about, but as a first year student the price of things going up is killing me! And takes up a bigger chunk of my money each week.
Something needs to be done about this, companies shouldn’t be able to get away with it! And especially not Tesco because they are the worst supermarket in the history of supermarkets!

I used to have a job ‘shoe-horning’ my HOVIS SOFT WHITE loaf into my ‘Lock Lock’ 4L food container. I used to use a wooden spatula, now it just slides in easily.

Dodee says:
27 March 2012

I have noticed toilet roll sheets are getting smaller. Like the kitchen roll, the toilet rolls only fit three quarters of the way across my toilet roll holder, and many break up so easily we might as well
not use any!!
Many chocolate bars have shrunk considerably, perhaps to help with the lower fat content!!

SallyLou says:
27 March 2012

Well Jim you ought to be a politician, keep us all dumbed down and treated like mushrooms.
You have decided for the rest of us so you MUST be correct, and you have decided this discussion has come to an end, even though WHICH themselves actually started it, but what do they know?
Let us kowtow to you instead.
We must all be wrong. We clearly know nothing compared to your superior wisdom.
It is not the supermarkets, or manufacturers deceiving us after all, we are just deluding and deceiving ourselves.
And next time I go to the same supermarket elsewhere and see my eyes telling me the same thing that they have told me before and that others have mentioned here, that the prices are different on the same brand, I will remember you and let your words be final once again, you are right I am wrong.
And of course the supermarkets dont put the prices up at Christmas, that too is another delusion.
Also It is perfectly natural and innocent of the supermarkets to suddenly shrink their sizes, I must not complain if this happens and I do not notice, even when this natural and totally just occurence means there will be no product left in the end.
This is their right too. It is not a con, they are not deceiving us by hiding this from us. Their intentions are purely honourable and in accordance with good business practise.
We are only upset because they are doing so well.
Just like the politicians of COURSE they are right too and never lie or cheat, they would never con us or rip us off either, and they all have the best lawyers and pr men to prove it, even those in their own parties.
The rest of us must just shut up and listen and be told.
We know nothing, we are just idiots out to have a good moan

Spring heeled Jim says:
28 March 2012

Aw shucks, Sally lou, you don’t have to thank me. I’m just Happy to Help….

I didnt intend to try and end the discussion – you can all witter on about 100g of beans becoming 90g of beans for as long as you like; it’s no skin off my nose. ( though, on that subject – Walkers Crisps – are they taking the p*ss ? ? )

What I was trying to do was bring a little balance to the discussion ( and Which – if you think this is a debate, you are kidding yourselves. I have never seen such a one-sided thread )

And if you’ve read what I wrote, you’ll have seen that I did concede that the supermarkets do indulge in some sharp practices ( I think there are certainly issues around planning permission and the way supermarkets are allowed to deal with suppliers ) Whiter than white they are not.

But a lot of what has been said on this thread is just garbage. And I wanted to set the record straight.

After all, I have over twenty years experience in Retail and Manufacturing. From the Retailer side, I’ve sat in pricing committees, planned promotions and promotional space, sat in on negotiations with suppliers, and produced advertising. From the Manufacturer side, I’ve looked at product P&Ls, run what they call ‘ value engineering ‘ projects ( that’s ‘ making it smaller and / or cheaper ‘ to you and me ) and fought to stave off price increases.

But hey, I’m sure you’re not interested in my credentials. After all, who wants to let the truth get in the way of a good moan ?

SallyLou says:
28 March 2012

Firstly I did not THANK you Jim, nor do I need to hear about or see your credentials to form my own opinion, nor do the others on here. I wouldve and already had established you worked on the inside It was not difficult to ascertain that fact, you have ALL the knowledge and know all the talk and strut the strut and play the ego trip from your overblown patronising attitude.
I could say I think YOU are the one who is ‘wittering’ and moaning and all the other derogatory comments you have written here, because you believe yourself to be so superior. You think YOU are the only one here with experience and who is telling the truth?! So the rest of us are now liars aswell as moaners and fools.
You say the rest of the comments here are ‘one sided’ how so? Did it ever occur to you to actually listen to the customers and indeed any other voice other than your own? (I would say YOURS is one sided actually)
Do you not thnk that so many comments here saying the same thing could perhaps be the TRUTH instead of your own.
As I said Jim you would make a great politician too, you have all the right credentials for THAT position and lets add the most important one of all, you too do not live in the real world.
You do not LISTEN or take on board what the rest of us are saying, but speak like we are all beneath you and unimportant idiots. Another great credential

Spring heeled Jim says:
28 March 2012

Aww you weren’t thanking me ? Shame. It’s not too late if you want to though ?

I don’t believe myself to be superior at all; far from it. But like you say – I do have the knowledge on this. Just as I wouldn’t go on a thread about flying and argue with a pilot, is it so hard for people on here to recognise that I do have experience here, and I do know what I’m talking about ?

And I am trying ( hard ! ) to recognise the validity of others’ points. I fully accept that pack sizes are shrinking, I fully accept that supermarkets and manufacturers do engage in sharp practices, and that as shoppers we all need to have our wits about us when we fill our baskets. I’m not seeing much of this courtesy in return however.

And I’m sorry to have to say this, but I do know what the truth is on this. Many other comments disagreeing with me won’t make it any less so. This is why my experience is relevant – I seem to be the only one on here who has actually worked at any of these places and knows what goes on ! ( though I’ll happily be contradicted if any of the rest of you have worked in a retail head office ? )

Anyway, I am going to bow out now. Not because I feel in any way cowed or beaten, but because I can see that I’m not going to change your minds on this. You’re determined to feel that you’re being conned and lied to. That’s fine; you are all perfectly free to believe what you want.

I don’t mind a good debate – but this isn’t it.

Hello Spring Heeled Jim and SallyLou, this exchange is getting far too personal. Please respect each others opinions, and when presenting your views to others please don’t call them ‘idiots’ for not agreeing with you. This doesn’t help the debate, nor does it warm others to your point of view. Stick to our commenting guidelines and the debate will be more civil. Any further comments that are about other commenters, rather than the points they make, will be removed. Thanks, Patrick.

Ken Grahame says:
28 March 2012

There’s a very good reason why this debate is so one sided. As I walk around the supermarket I don’t see the shelves bursting with all the extra materials they have put in them without telling us, and my fridge and cupboards at home don’t seem to struggle either, but like pretty much everyone on here, I do see that my bags are lighter than they once were.
Maybe I’m missing something, so I issue a challenge to all you good people, let’s indeed try and restore some balance – how about posting all the examples you can find where quantities have increased – not including examples where the supermarket/manufacturer have covered it in a fanfare of publicity pointing out their generosity! No, just those examples where they have kindly, generously, and modestly given us more for our money, as opposed to meanly, sneakily, and greedily given us less.

Phil B says:
28 March 2012

Several commenters have pointed out that these hidden price increases may be fooling not just consumers, but also the statisticians who compile the inflation indices. I suspect that the government would not be too upset by this, as they want to keep the published inflation figures as low as possible in order to reduce the level of increases in pay, pensions and benefits. (This is why they switched from RPI to CPI.)
I would like to see Which? looking into this aspect.

Gretal says:
30 March 2012

Sainsurys & M&S (& no doubt others, but these are the only places I’ve bought from) – both have reduced the size of their bunches of daffodils from 10 to 8 stems. Previously of course flowers used to sold by the dozen…I suspect this mainly goes unnoticed as they tend to sell 2 bunches bundled together, occasionally as ‘BOGOF’.

Badgesett says:
30 March 2012

I agree entirely with M.’s comments.
Supermarkets are out to make as much profit for the Board of Directors and shareholders as possible. They are never content with making a fair or reasonable profit. Their aim is to exceed the previous year’s profit by some margin, otherwise questions are asked. In short Mammon comes first and the consumer second.
Supermarkets are also guilty of sharp practices, such as buying up wasteland and brownfield sites with a view to future development and the hope that a local council will kowtow to their wishes.
Woe betide councils that turn down planning applications as no one should have the temerity to stand in the way of their relentless expansion. Should a planning application be refused that’s not the end of it, as they will fight tooth and nail to get their goal. Sweeteners such a improving the local community usually end up swaying a council into submission.
I am guilty as the next person in that I use a couple of supermarkets regularly. The reason is competition has all but vanished, and the convenience of free parking and open till late are a great attraction.
It’s all very well people saying that if we stopped using supermarkets they would disappear. It’s the small independents in most towns and cities that have vanished because they have been squeezed out by the supermarket giants.

In our small town we have a fair sized Co-op, a smallis Morrisons and a Lidl, the latter two being out of the main town centre, Tosco have one of thier Express things in the town centre.
Aided and abetted by Trinity College, Cambridge, Tosco has bludgeoned it’s way into a greenfield site with promises of this that and the other, and our local council lacking a spine of any sort caved into the pressure. Nobody wants it, but we are going to get it, we have two or three parks, so room enough for Asda, Sainsbury and Waitrose to move in also, though I may be doing an injustice to the latter company as you don’t often hear of them using bully-boy tactics.
Cynical? Moi?
You bet I’m cynical, bloody old and bloody cynical! In many ways I loathe this country, greed, Thatcherist greed still lives and it will destroy us. It seems that if you have enough of the folding stuff you can just about get anything you want built just about anywhere you want it, there’s always a cabul of dodgy councillors to help you achieve your desired aims, certainly in this locale which will remain nameless through fear of litigation that I can not afford.

SallyLou says:
30 March 2012

Badgesett, you make some very valid points here. Most of which I do not believe have been mentioned here.

Bluebox says:
30 March 2012

I was wandering around Tesco a few days ago ( after reading this article) and though that the Oil of Olay was on a good promotion – 1/3rd off. I must have been thinking that it was too good to be true as when I looked at the packaging it was a third smaller, 37g opposed to the standard 50g. The box looked the same size though. I still bought it, but it was nice to know for myself that it was not really a bargin. I still have to go back though as they charged me full price!

Now the English strawberry season is starting again I will be watching out for the pack sizes . Often the price remains the same but the number of grams per pack reduces yet the price per Kilo remains the same on the label. So making a comparison per kilo for a range of soft fruits impossible to work out.
Surely this must be an offence to give incorrect Kilo pricing.
Also watch out for Tesco Raw frozen shell off prawns. Often on a special price yet the sizes vary from 300 grams down to 250 grams , quite a difference in size so not always the bargain you think .