/ 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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Dave says:
25 April 2013

What surprises me is that nobody has mentioned the impact of the packaging when the weight or volume of am item is reduced.
In some cases the packaging remains the same but the volume or weight of product is reduced.
In all cases when the weight or volume of the product is reduced we, as consumers are:

Paying, in proportion, more for the packaging than the product.
Paying for the retooling/redesign/reprinting when the packaging changes in any way.
Paying for more packaging to be transported around the country (If the size is reduced more items can be carried by the lorries, which means more packaging than product is transported per lorry load.)

All this results in a higher cost for the company per kilogram or litre of product produced. This in turn is passed onto the consumer which increases inflation and so the spiral upwards continues.

In addition different pack sizes then have an impact on the supermarket, in their distribution centres, logistics, storerooms and on their shelves as the new sizes have to be accommodated, increasing the supermarket costs. These costs are also then picked up by the consumers,

Well said Dave we have to many heavy foreign HGV lorries on our motorways.Very well written about increase in travel costs our political parties should reopen some provincial shipping ports its nonsense to have Polish lorries docking at Dover driving all the way up as far as Scotland.If or when HS2 ever gets built will it carry freight i think not.If any party had any sense reopening Lowest oft;Hull;Liverpool;Newcastle;to more shipping freight would redistribute a little wealth from busy Dover&folk-stone;Portsmouth;Southampton;Plymouth other southern ports.Bringing much needed jobs to areas of high unemployment.A lot of food these days is imported and as you put well said the sizes get small leads to higher transport costs which at the end of the day is all passed on to struggling families.Will the Tories back reopening provincial ports no because most of their voters are South of the midlands the North&Scotland..

Tom Morris says:
6 May 2013

Here’s an unusual example of a hidden price rise.

Up to about a month ago Sainsbury’s were selling a multi-pack of McCain’s Microwave chips with 4 x 100g at £1.75. Now, in their Woolwich branch, they are only selling a pack of 2 x 100g for £1. An increase of 25p for 400g. It is still showing 4 x100g on their website.

I presume that, as they are different sizes, it wouldn’t show up on any Price Check.

Much as I despise Tesco’s, I held my nose and bought the 4 x 100g for £1.75 there yesterday.

Ann Beech says:
1 August 2013

I have been into Boots this morning to replace a pot of Blusher makeup. Lat year in contained 5 grms and cost £6.95, the one I bought today contained 3gms and cost £8.00
Now that really IS a ripoff!!

To-days shop in Sainsbury Urmston;Manchester was a short one.I always buy some eating Apples. I was shocked at the size of them many were the size of golf balls.Great for those who want them for their child’s lunchbox or women who hardly eats to remain skinny.The only ones of any size were the large cooking apples.Supermarkets get smaller apples at a cheaper price but that is not passed on to the customer.I know this is a FACT because i found an official note saying Class B apples.So sainsbury lost money to-day on my shop because if i am unhappy and have to go to another supermarket i buy less and leave the store.Supermarkets buy by weight and really do not check the size all profit driven but customers can do what i did.If they cannot be bothered to stock what an average adult wants go to another store.If one asks a manager he/she replies we have to accept what they send to us.This did not happen when we had many small fruit and veg shops because the store owner was axious to retain your custom.Sainburys have dropped their price on Frozen Family pies but they are still 89p more expensive than majority of their competitors at an average of £1.99 or £2.00 ASDA £2.50 i never go Tesco because theirs have less meat around only 24% but there price is usually higher £2.99+ more money for less.
customers have the answer is simple take your custom elsewhere like me.

Paul W says:
18 March 2015

Most comments deal with food and shrinking pack sizes however have Which looked at toilet rolls ?
It is noticeable that they have reduced in width, not by very much, but a millimeter reduction means a “free” full roll every 100 for the manufacturer.
When I built shelves in the airing cupboard to take toilet rolls a 2 roll height just fitted now there is room to spare.

Thanks Paul, I’ll forward your observation to our researchers 🙂

Jeffrey Ledger says:
13 April 2015

In a true, fair, competitive marketplace this would not be happening unless there was widespread collusion. Surely a case for Government intervention before this becomes a national scandal. In some cases, the shrinkage is unbelievable. Take the Chunky Kit Kat for example, must have reduced by 33% from the original. Nothing more than theft!

Nigel says:
16 April 2015

Now I could be mistaken (and it could have been mentioned already), but check out Ribena…before Christmas I got a bottle 1 litre for £2 offer price (usually £2.50) – now its an 850ml bottle for £2.50. Change the bottle to pinch it in towards the base, keeps the same height and diameter but 15% less!

Yes Nigel last week it was £2 for 1 litre it said on the label 66%free 1L for price of 6ooml of course it depends where from I could not believe it Ive just been out a smaller bottle of 850ml at £1.75p on the label it says 40%free if it was tins of Beer our Media would be on it like a flash.The last time I looked it was £1.00 more expensive in sainsburys than other shops.Customers accept prices going up as prices like raw ingredients & electricity but do not like to be treated as complete fools.

The 2 litre has dropped to 1.5 litre. The price appears to have dropped from £4.99 to £3.75 meaning the price change is minimal. Who buys Ribena when it’s full price though?!

My target price for the 2 litre was £3 so the new one will have to be on offer at £2.25 for it to be the same price per litre. I can’t see this happening (it’s currently on offer at £3 in Tesco) so I might not be purchasing Ribena any more. Hopefully it will be on offer at £2.50 at some point – I’ll accept that small increase.

Big Stores like Sainburys do not care about customers they buy by weight or volume;they do not check their sizes of example eating Apples for years I have bought Jonagold eating Apples Basics loose last Autumn they suddenly stopped they replaced with tiny pre-packed apples which I refuse to buy.They do have proper size Breaburn loose Apples at double the price though.Customer services assured me they would look into this but so far Im sad to report nothing has changed so I vote with my feet and axed my other shopping at Sainsburys so over a year they lose quite a lot of money.My Grandma use to tell shops&Market stalls if you sell Apples the size of a crab-apple I will only pay crab-apple prices.

Julie says:
21 April 2015

Wow!! hand soaps are really annoying me these days – they are definitely smaller and when they get to a certain size I throw them out because they start to break up as you use them and I feel like I am reaching ‘the throwing out stage’ much quicker, on average a bar of soap is lasting 2/3 of us around 10 days absolutely max. They also seam creamier and melt down far quicker which compounds on a bar of soap that seems to be smaller to start with!! Grrrrr

Rita McClelland says:
11 June 2015

Shrinkage! Just a few to mention. Sainsburys Pure Canadian Maple syrup: Old size 330g, new size 275g. Sainsburys basic medium food & freezer bags: Old quantity 50, new quantity 40. Sainsburys Basic washing up sponges: Old, 5 in a packet, new 3 in a packet. Cussons Mild Cream soap: Old 4 x 100g, new 4 x 90g. Philadelphia Full fat soft cheese: Old 300g, new 280g.Or the smaller size , Old 200g new 180g. 200g was just the correct amount for the cream cheese frosting that I make for my cup cakes!

Great observations Rita! Thanks for your sharing your findings with us 😀

➡ a bit off topic – sorry – but sort of about shrunk pack sizes, perhaps more about profiteering. I use Glyphosate weedkiller (e.g. Roundup, Resolva) on my gravel drive once or twice a year. It isn’t cheap, but is very effective. I’ve run out so looked at retailers offers for concentrated version (why pay for the water in “ready to use”?). Tesco was £9 for 250 ml. I bought 5 l of agricultural glyphosate off Amazon for £25 delivered – equivalent to £1.25 for 250 ml. OK, I’m investing in the next year or two, but seems someone is being a little greedy with unsuspecting gardeners.

Agricultural products are not generally licensed for home use. They typically contain more of the active component(s) and are intended to use with appropriate protection. A friend runs BASIS training for farmers, so they understand the human and environmental impact. Almost all chemicals that are harmful to one form of life are also harmful to humans, antibiotics being an exception. As pointed out in our discussions of electrical goods, the Amazon website lists products that should not be on sale in the UK.

Paraquat was sold for domestic use as Weedol, for example, whereas the agricultural product Gramoxone was much more potent and definitely not licensed for domestic use because of its toxicity. Weedol no longer contains paraquat and glyphosate is one of the ingredients. The dangers of paraquat were fairly well understood but glyphosate toxicity seems more complex.

There’s a compost accelerator that works quite well for stubborn weeds.

➡ ➡ let’s steer back on topic now guys.. ➡ ➡

Rodger Scott says:
26 April 2016

I was very interested in them article in the May 2016 Which magazine on Shrinking Packs.

I had always been a loyal customer of Tropicana, enjoying the Creations range. I only “clocked” that the pack size had shrunk when I became curious about the Slim Jim carton it came in. It was only then that I became aware that the size had shrunk to 850ml.

I phoned Tropicana Customer Services to complain, and was given a fair hearing, and felt I was not the only complainant they had.

I was always led to believe that it Marketing terms it was key that a consumer built and had trust in a brand. I now feel that I have no trust in Tropicana, have been ripped off, and have therefore moved on to supermarket own label “creations”, which are much cheaper and still in litre size.

Not purchasing these brands is the only way we can tackle these underhand pricing tactics, as it is unlikely the government could ever be persuaded to mandate pack sizes, like they do for alcohol

Interestingly, we spend two months in France each year, and, having just returned from our latest visit last month, it was very interesting to note that the Tropicana Creations in France are still in Litre cartons.

Perhaps the French government or supermarkets are not so tolerant of brand

Sent from my iPad

I recently noticed that slices of bread have shrunk so much that they will now go into my toaster sideways on! Looking at the loaves on the supermarket shelves it would appear that all the major bakeries have done the same thing.

I recently noticed that PG Tips pyramid bags boxes seem to have the same number of bags as previously but I’m sure there’s less tea in the bags. My box of 240 bags weighs 696 grams, there are boxes of 240 on ebay weighing 750 grams.

Darrin Hauxwell-Smith says:
26 January 2017

In Poundland Pineapple ring jelly sweets have gone from 400g to 350g, Cod Liver Oil tablets in Lidl have gone from 90 pills to 50 but still at 99p.

Pound stores are in a difficult position. If they want to keep their headline price cap the only way to do so is to shrink the product to fit the price. This is why many of the apparent ‘bargains’ in pound stores can actually be more expensive on a cost comparison based on weight, size or volume and not on unit numbers [such as biscuits]. It is difficult to make like-for-like comparisons with pound stores because much of their stock is either special brands found nowhere else or specially manufactured for them in different pack sizes not found in other shops. Even the major supermarkets play this game with popular products as the packaging industry has made it easy for manufacturers to supply large volume buyers with alternative pack sizes, weights or volumes that are not comparable with those in other stores. Only the price per unit of weight or volume should be used for price comparisons. I can’t remember a household brand sold only in a pound store ever being rated good value for money in a consumer test so although a product might look like the regular brand it will not perform so well or last as long [for example, the dilution rate will be significantly different in liquid products].

I had rarely ventured into pound shops (and those that sell most goods for a pound) but there are a couple near my nearest supermarket, and I often pop in because I have forgotten to buy milk or another single item. Most of the goods are unfamiliar but there are some familiar brands. It’s worth checking the unit prices because the packs can be smaller, but I tend to focus on unit prices anyway.

I have still to become an Aldi and Lidl convert but they now provide a much nicer shopping environment than in years gone by. I don’t believe that they mess around with loyalty cards, vouchers, etc.

There are several very good products available at Aldi and Lidl, according to Which? tests, even including Champagne. A large number of people do most of their grocery and provisions shopping at one or the other because of their reputation for value. Certainly the ambience of their stores has improved remarkably and their range of products has grown. Some customers don’t like the somewhat brusque checkout process and haven’t quite worked out how to make the best of it, and they don’t understand that it’s in the price. At the moment, however, it does not seem worth making an additional journey to an Aldi or Lidl store just to get the few items that are rated highly in tests – we would rather take a pleasant walk to the BP station where a good range of M&S products is available to pep up our regular supermarket shop.

I’m dragged round a pound shop once a week in my beloved’s relentless quest for bird seed. Apparently, they do better ‘fat balls’, whatever they are. Meanwhile, I swear we’re supporting the entire cohort of migratory birds in this neck of the woods…

Ah yes. Champagne and mince pies, if I recall.

I suppose it depends what you become accustomed to. I often go back to the Tesco I have shopped in for many years before moving home and my former neighbour does the weekly shop in the Morrisons near where I live now.

My first experience of Aldi and Lidl was some particularly dire products (I remember the instant coffee in particular) when staying with friends, years ago. A friend who shops in Waitrose provides supermarket variety for me, often at discount price.

I bought a large bucket of the fat balls and some mealworm – both from one of the cheap shops – and the birds love them.

Our bird food is ordered on-line from the RSPB, sometimes in industrial quantities. Having warned that what goes in comes out, I am pleased to see that the rations have recently been moderated, especially since wood pigeons, rooks and seagulls are common visitors. I sneak out with some of the lumpier food to the nearby open spaces to entice the heavy gobblers away from our plot. This leaves more time for the smaller garden birds to feast on seeds before the bombers return.

As a slight deviation, I would like Which? to publish “supermarket trolley” prices based on a standard selection of the stuff we buy in a weekly shop but based on own brands, where possible, and not on manufacturers’ brands. I imagine far more people shop this way. The current assessment of best-but supermarkets based only on main brands seems a little irrelevant. But do correct for different pack sizes to put them on an equivalent basis.

Thank heavens for a “slight deviation”! I think your idea would be quite useful and informative, Malcolm.

I am interested in seeing how the different grades of supermarket own-label products compare. For many products the supermarkets have up to three grades for their own-brand goods – Basic/Economy, Regular, and Premium [sometimes with a fancy description like “Finest” or “Taste the Difference” and more upmarket packaging].

After reading the Which? taste test report [Jan 17] on pure squeezed orange juice, which more or less confirmed my own assessments, we will never buy the branded products again but only the own-label versions . Sometimes it works the other way; no one can compete on taste with Kellogg’s crunchy nut cornflakes, for example, and the lower price of the own-label cereal does not make up for the poor taste.

Our bulk shop is a mix of brands and own-label but I would like to raise the proportion of own-label goods if the quality is acceptable. Since we have a choice of Sainsbury’s or Tesco it would be useful to see how they compare on a standard trolley of their own-label products. We prefer Sainsbury’s but it is further away, so we use their delivery service. Tesco’s no longer carries the same range of products in most categories but some of their own-label foods are comparable in quality to Sainsbury’s. I don’t like Sainsbury’s Nectar Card-related voucher system, and find Tesco’s ‘brand match’ system confusing and disappointing – it makes it clear that even on a £100 shop there is little to be gained from doing it in Tesco’s!

At one time, own-label products were usually inferior in some way to the familiar brands. That has changed and the supermarket brand can usefully be viewed as a brand but one that is only available from one source.

The value of comparing the price of brands that are widely available is that this makes for a valid comparison. Obviously it is possible to compare prices of a basket of own-label products but that’s not comparing like with like.

I wonder how many people decide to use supermarkets based on price comparisons made by Which? or other organisations.

I think the like-for-like problem is the tricky bit, but that is why I thought the Which? taste test on orange juice was very useful because it compared not just the price but the satisfaction level of the products under test and demonstrated that the leading brand had a lower approval rating than nine supermarket own-label products and one other brand. It was even judged two percentage points worse than Waitrose’s orange juice. Admittedly all the scores were in a narrow band between 69% and 77% but the taste-testing method appeared to be rigorous. Although the supermarket own-label products differed in their appeal according to the balance of flavour, texture and sweetness I think a price comparison exercise across that range would still be valid albeit not exactly like-for-like.

Incidentally, I sometimes wonder what would produce a higher score in a taste test – no product ever seems to achieve a score in the 80’s or 90’s per cent. I understand how that arises, and it doesn’t affect the overall rankings, but would it not be better to top-slice the unachievable 20% and regrade the results? I would prefer to see that the best pure squeezed smooth orange juice that I buy is 99% good and not 77%!

“own-label products were usually inferior”. Not sure I’d agree with that as a generalisation, and certainly not for a good many years in my experience. Do you have a link to support that?
“makes for a valid comparison.” A fairly pointless comparison was the opinion I suggested if no one buys the standard basket of 100 items, with a number of duplicates from different manufacturers. If you want help in choosing the best value supermarket then it should be related to what people actually buy. If (and do we have such information) they generally buy supermarket bread, cereal, tea, coffee, biscuits, jams, fruit juice, milk toilet rolls…………then that is the way to give another realistic view on supermarket costs to help consumers. We buy largely own brands from where we shop because we are happy with their taste and quality.

I presume the best orange juice is what we can make from oranges, but I take your point regarding other products.

Which tests many products on a range of criteria and the percentage weighting is stated. I have not looked to see if this is how foods are assessed. It is difficult to give very high scores using this procedure.

Depends upon the oranges if you freshly squeeze them, plus any treatment for storage if the juice is pre-packed.

I have one or two oranges every day and sometimes they taste dreadful! The blending of juices from thousands of fruits does eliminate such experiences in the commercial products.

By coincidence, I have just had an orange that did not taste very good, so I discarded it and had a nice one from the same batch. Orange juice will be made from good and not-so-good fruit.

It is easy to consume lots of sugar in fruit juice, so about the only time I have it is with breakfast in hotels.

I can’t start the day without a glass of pure squeezed pineapple juice. 20 ml is enough to get me going. For the rest of the day I mainly drink water and love it when it is really cold, like today.

Phil Cooper says:
16 March 2017

Nescafe Cappuccino has reduced its contents per box from 10 to 8 for the same price – that seems tom equal a 25% price rise

Sue Orchard says:
8 March 2019

I regularly buy Activea yogurts in 4 packs. The packaging has recently changed and, surprise surprise, although they are the same price each pot now contains 120gr as opposed to 125gr. No mention of reduced contents anywhere.