/ Food & Drink

Shrink wrapped – why are products getting smaller?

Chocolate bar with tape measure

Have you noticed any of your favourite products shrinking in size? From bars of chocolate to bars of soap, many manufacturers are responding to rising costs by giving us less. Is this a sneaky tactic or fair game?

Google ‘Curly Wurly’ and you’ll find lots of discussions on its size. Has the Curly Wurly really got smaller over the decades or have I just got bigger?

I’m not too sure! Whatever that answer, one thing is for sure – some products have got smaller.

Shrink to fit

When we tested washing-up liquids in September 2009, for example, we discovered Procter & Gamble had reduced the bottle size of the iconic Fairy Original from 500ml to 450ml – but the price had actually gone up.

And while I probably shouldn’t be surprised, I was slightly miffed when I got home to find my local shop had swapped my usual two-pint bottle of milk for a new one-litre sized bottle… but the price remained exactly the same.

A recent article on the BBC highlights how widespread this is becoming. Imperial Leather soap bars have just been reduced from 125g to 100g and Toblerone has ditched one triangle of chocolate so it can still be sold for a pound in Poundland.

And, as this email from one of our commenters shows, others are getting concerned, too:

‘I was reading a consumer mag in the USA which gave lots of examples of manufacturers reducing the size/volume/weight of their products- without explanation.

They challenged the manufacturers who owned up – but said their costs had increased and consumers would prefer smaller sizes than increased prices. Foodstuffs featured heavily.’

Why aren’t manufacturers honest?

I completely understand that manufacturing costs have gone up, but should manufacturers automatically make things smaller so we don’t have to pay more for the product? More importantly, shouldn’t they be honest and tell us about it?

I understand the argument that smaller-sized junk food is a good thing from a health perspective, but if they’re messing with the size of my chocolate bar then I think manufacturers could at least be transparent about it.

Would I pay the same for less? Well, yes. I have done before, and probably will continue to do so – but that doesn’t mean I won’t grumble about it, or think it’s sneaky.

If I knew beforehand, maybe I would think twice about buying that product, which is probably the whole reason we’re not told. While I’m not concerned about losing 50ml of washing-up liquid (no matter how many extra plates I can wash), I do want the maximum amount of chocolate for my money.

Are you bothered that some items appear to be getting smaller, and do you have other examples of shrinking products? Maybe someone has an old Curly Wurly wrapper and could settle that debate for me once and for all…

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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Weren’t Walkers caught out by this not so long ago?

People started to complain that the grammage (?) in their crisp packet had eroded by about 5 grams over 1 year. So basically the current normal size packets are the new ones they had to create, and the small packets we used to get are now in the multi packs only.

Looks like we have to keep a close eye on them all 🙂

Less product whilst staying the same price, is a price rise.
This method of increasing profit is hiding the true cost of inflation and deceiving the customer.
Forcing customers to remember prices per weight of product is nigh on impossible to do, but if your T-bags are £4 one week then £4.50 the next, customers can easily spot it.

Smaller pack sizes – vosene, washing powders (changing to washes per pack whilst dropping the weight of powder in the box), various chocolate bars, boxes of cans of lager, fabric conditioners (dropping pack size then advertising smaller bottles on gondola ends as a sale, at the original price must be wrong?), cotton wool (trying to hide the decrease in size with a 2 for £2 asda!), sliced loaves (reported to have less slices in them), the list is endless.

Supermarkets have a monopoly now that so many independants have been forced to close, those that remain can beat the supermarkets on prices of named brands, but are frozen out by town planning depts, with supermarket’s receiving preferential treatment.
Until this monopoly is addressed, they can do pretty much what they like.

One question I would ask though, is where are trading standards in all of this?
Which companies have they investigated and what were their findings/action?
I can’t recall any instances of them acting being reported in the media for a long long time.

‘my local shop had swapped my usual two-pint bottle of milk for a new two-litre sized bottle… but the price remained exactly the same.’

I think I’d be very pleased … don’t you mean swapped 4 pints for 2 litres? 🙂

I saw that but assumed that Lisa had been shopping in Tesco. 🙂

Well spotted both, fixed that now! And I’m not sure Tesco would be that generous…

We’ve now added a multiple choice poll to this Convo folks. What types of products have you seen shrinking?

Tesco water softener tablets have shrunk by 2g! Whatever the manufacturer/retailer’s reason for using this method of increasing prices, it’s counterproductive if it makes the customer feel cheated – any trust is gone.

Debs says:
17 June 2011

Has anyone else noticed how big the cardboard roll in the middle of a toilet roll is getting?

I have not… comparison pictures please! Send them to https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us if you can.

Mari says:
6 December 2011

YES I HAVE! I noticed in the summer that when I went to buy my usual pack of toilet rolls that it felt noticeably lighter. In fact, about 6 months ago my local supermarket ran a buy one get one free promotion on Andrex 9 pack shea butter toilet rolls. They had the old pack and what I assumed was a new pack, with a different picture on. So I took one of both. When I got home I compared the size of the packs, side by side. The new look pack was MUCH MUCH smaller!! I was right! I even took photos to prove the point. I WILL find those photos and put them on here! I HATE being ripped off so blatantly!

Keith says:
11 February 2015

On toilet rolls the inner tube has actually shrunk on Tesco’s own brand. To the point that it no longer fits onto my holder due to the end that holds it being larger than the tube. I remember when they did it they announced on the packaging that it meant they could supply more paper with less packaging.

Well done Tesco.

It is the same with some kitchen rolls.

I’m waiting for Tesco to make the tube smaller in diameter, which would give us more paper. 🙂

James W says:
18 June 2011

Hand Soaps seem to be getting smaller in size, which for the manufacturers means more unused pieces to be thrown away as they get used up.{What is the best way to use up the last pieces?}

I only buy the large better quality soaps, for they do last longer and do leave less wastage. Just don’t drop them on your foot in the shower.

Jimmy says:
25 June 2011

I can give a bit of insider knowledge on this – I worked in marketing on a well known chocolate biscuit bar brand a few years back. Our main pack was sold in 9 bars for £1. Most of our competitors did the same. We were doing fine until we got hit by loads of cost increases ( basically wheat and chocolate costs all went through the roof, as did labour costs and energy bills ) We had to do something to recover profits.

I ran a research project to look at three options: 9 bars for £1.20, 8 bars for £1, or 9 smaller bars for £1. Each was tested separately, with no reference to the current pack. The 9 smaller bars was the preferred option. As you say in the article above, most customers know how much a pack cost ( and how many biscuits they get in it ! ) – but they weren’t so sure about the size of the individual biscuit bar.

We made the change – quietly, and without fuss – and got on with it. We had very few complaints. And before people start shouting at me, I should point out that nearly all our competitors had done the same thing – either reducing the quality of their products, or the size. The ones who did reduce the number of bars, or put the price up lost sales dramatically.

You could argue it’s unfair, or unethical – but in the end it was sound business sense. Believe me, we didn’t want to do it any more than you wanted us to. But we had no choice.

If you want to cast the finger of blame in all this, look to the major supermarkets for insisting on increasing margins and promotional support. It doesn’t leave manufacturers with much margin these days..

That’s fair enough. Supermarkets usually show the price per weight, allowing the customer to make comparisons. It’s sad that so much money is spent on advertising.

Any1 noticed that the products you get in a multipack aren’t the same size as the individual products. The one that springs to mind are the smaller bottles of lucazade which get evern smaller in the multipack. Makes it much harder to work out which is cheaper as you cant simply multiply the individual item price by the number of items in the multipack to get a comparable price. Definately a sneaky move. And I for one dont always trust the supermakets price per unit. Look at tesco birds eye beef burger, one pack is per 100 gram and the pack next to it per kilo etc etc. and there’s no need for that either.

Greed and visions of larger profits and illegitimate, illiterate advertising fools.

Jimmy says:
26 July 2011

Chris – you’re talking rubbish.

Few companies are greedy / naive enough to make their products smaller unless they absolutely have to.

What tends to happen is a product gets launched with a decent product margin – say 30 – 40% ( common in the food industry ) Then the retailers push for better terms so the margin goes down. Then your costs go up – either ingredients, labour, packaging, energy or a combination of all the above. In the end your profit margin might be tiny – 5% say, or maybe even making a loss. You then have to make the product smaller ( in the trade we call it ‘ value engineering ‘ ) to recover your profit margin to where it used to be.

So you can see it’s not really about being greedy. The alternatives are either putting your price up ( even less popular and far more noticeable ) or losing money. And firms that lose money go bust.

Mari says:
6 December 2011

I’m just eating a Curly Wurly – I haven’t bought one of these for years. THEY ARE NOW TINY!!! I commented on Facebook how small they were and someone kindly sent me this link. Just goes to show, despite what many people say, my mouth ISN’T getting bigger….LOL!!

Topsy says:
19 March 2012

About ayear ago, I noticed Weetabix had gotten very light- same size of biscuits but filled with aor such that it crumbles on touch. Still same number of biscuits in pack but less servings. I would have stopped buying it but it is a big part of my 2 year old’s diet. I had to increase her serving to 1.5 biscutis from 1 biscuit to get a decent meal of it!

Same for Ribena- it has gotten more dilute- more quantity of concentrate needed to make a cup of Ribena.

Shame on these sneaky way of increasing cost!

Ah so it not just me that has noticed Ribenna being very watery compared to 20 years ago.

Hello everyone, we’ve taken many of your shrunken products examples and looked at whether their prices have stayed the same – most had. You can read more about it in our latest Conversation, and make sure you come and comment! https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/shrinking-products-supermarket-pack-sizes-prices-stay-same/ Thanks

teku says:
25 May 2012

All juices are now 420ml not 500ml like before.

Kalvin says:
11 October 2012

Cravendale Milk a fine example from 4 Pints to 2 litres . What a con ,they think people don’t realise .

Mars , Snickers , Bounty and a few other multipacks have dropped in size immensely but the outer packaging remains the same size to deceive people . They have packed the excess packaging with cardboard .

How stupid is all this getting , really winds me up that we the general public are being taken for a ride by every company , that’s not just the food companies .

Short of legislation for all supermarkets to display prominently rolling unit price records over a year, there is little that can be done, I used to buy sausage rolls at £1 for 10 at Sainsburys – they are now £1.35 for 8 and have less sausage-meat content.

Which? could ask its loyal readers to note the weight and price of various consumables and do this as a public service, but what would be the result? Weights would remain the same but prices would rise.

Steve Booth says:
10 December 2012

We wanted to measure chocolate bars to preserve their current dimensions for posterity – and to check whether they get smaller in the future! Here are the results and pictures from our Grand Chocolate Survey 2012: http://blog.go-walkabout.co.uk/2012/12/the-grand-chocolate-survey-2012/

Why are consumer products made “smaller ?’ I have questioned these companies and their operators just keep-on reading lots of dishonest excuses from their company computer screens with lots of bs excuses from a – z …like “raw materials are more expensive now, etc. It is all absolute bunk and nothing else……a / k a …dirty filthy greed wanting to charge us all more $$$$$$ while giving us less. Seems not one Consumer Advocate has addressed this issue for reasons I cannot understand. Unless they have been bought-off $$$$$$$$$ !

Toblerone have reduced the 400g size to 360g