/ 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
Guest
Spring heeled Jim says:
9 May 2012

” The large supermarkets have put their opposition out of business. I’m sure that you don’t need me to explain that a small number of large supermarket chains can manipulate prices and profits without doing anything illegal. ”

A lot of smaller supermarket chains / independent retailers have gone out of business, yes. Arguably there will have been some sharp practice there – the larger chains can use their muscle more, and that’s what counts. You could also argue that the larger chains are more popular, and that’s what killed the independents.

As for manipulating prices – that is illegal. Some of the big four were found guilty of fixing milk prices a couple of years back – and fined heavily. I’d be surprised if any of them were taking the risk much these days.

” Supermarkets, as wavechange says, have destroyed almost all competition, and like it or not, it is a fact that they price using demographics based on information they get from the customer via card payments, area, club cards, online receipt comparisons, etc.”

I’m not quite sure I understand this point. Supermarkets don’t change their prices regionally – their systems don’t allow them to. And particularly with the advent of internet shopping, you are only able to have one price per product. With regards to benchmarking vs the competition – yes, they do. But each of them are on a constant drive to be cheaper than the others – so if anything that drives prices down, not up.

” As I have said before, label the products ‘New smaller size – same price’ so that the customer is well aware of what they are buying. If manufacturers and retailers advertise larger packages for the same price, then why not? ”

I’d love to. Seriously. But it would be commercial suicide. Much as you say you would respect a manufacturer for putting that on their labels, the sad truth is that most people would simply pick up a competitor product instead. So – until everyone labels their products that way ( or is forced to ) then it just won’t happen.

” No-one is accusing you, as an individual, of anything. ”

And that’s nice to hear, particularly as I’ve spent all morning in product panels designed to improve, not cheapen one of my recipes. And don’t worry, I’m not taking any of this personally. My conscience ( at least in a work sense ! ) is pretty clear.

The reason I felt aggrieved is that there are literally thousands of hard working people in the retail, advertising and marketing industry that come to work each morning determined to do their best for the consumer.

It’s so galling when you see threads like this filled with mistrust, suspicion, and baseless accusations. Yes, I repeat again, there are some sharp practices in business, and no, I’m not proud of everything I’ve ever seen happen – but the majority of business – small and large – are ethically run, and are trying to do their best.

Before you continue on this ‘ anti-supermarket and manufacturer ‘ tirade, stop for a second. Have you never been in a shop, and looked at a new product and thought ‘ Wow that looks good, I’ll give it a try ! ‘ Or found a promotion that gave you great value on the things that you buy for your family ? Do you never offer up a silent prayer in thanks that you can drive to a big supermarket at the edge of town, park easily and for free, and get literally everything you need for the week in less than an hour and in one place ?

Yes, supermarkets and manufacturers ( and by extension, the people who work for them ) do some things wrong. But we also do an awful lot right.

Otherwise we wouldn’t be as big as we are. Simple.

Guest

“they [supermarkets] price using demographics based on information they get from the customer via card payments, area, club cards, online receipt comparisons, etc”
All information they gather about us, from products to shopping habits to how we pay for goods, is all used against us to extract maximum profit from the customer.
They are stories around online about supermarket’s tracking where we are in their stores via our mobile phone and one has proposed putting tiny trackers inside the packaging, is this “In the interests of customers?”

“The reason I felt aggrieved is that there are literally thousands of hard working people in the retail, advertising and marketing industry that come to work each morning determined to do their best for the consumer”
Retail – many I have worked with and shopped with, do not put customers first.
Advertising – Not doing what’s best for their customer, aim is to sell any customer one of their product to make profit.
Marketing – Their loyalties are not with the customer at all, they are in place to create scenarios, to effect the spending of customers, to increase profits for the manufacturer or service provider.

“Do you never offer up a silent prayer in thanks that you can drive to a big supermarket at the edge of town, park easily and for free, and get literally everything you need for the week in less than an hour and in one place ?”
In a word, No!
If the supermarket hadn’t closed down all the town centre shops I would have more choice, more competition, lower prices, better service, etc.
If we had town centre shopping then more trade would visit the town and result in more money in the local economy.
If we had a town centre, then we wouldn’t need to drive the car and “park free”, we could hop on a bus, shop, all within range of a quick walk back to the bus to get home. No need for parking or driving, better for the local environment.
How many people do you know actually plan a day out to visit a town because it has got “a big supermarket”?

I do get “literally everything I need for the week in less than an hour and in one place” – fortunately I live close by two small towns with markets, so in some respects I still have choice.
Many do not.
Less than an hour for a family shop in a supermarket? Think you need to revise that marketing statement, more so if you try late thursday, friday or saturday shopping.
I shop at a local qualified butcher – not a supermarket sales person dressed in an apron, (whilst the supermarket advertises about their “master butcher has chosen ….”) whilst their range of goods that come from cellophane wrapping and the same place as the plastic covered joints on the shelf.
I use a local qualified fishmonger, 30 years time served, better value, fresher produce, better service.
I use local market for fruit and veg each week, fresher, better value, less packaging, less waste as the produce lasts longer than the 3 day supermarket offerings.
Even when I need to stop off on the way to town for shopping, I am still home in less than 45 minutes, at the supermarket it would take longer than an hour.

I could go on, the point is that supermarket animosity is not “just a rant” they do drain finance from local economies, they do close down town centres and undercut local competition, they do mislead customers, etc.
There is a blog post on asda’s “green blog” about how they “love food hate waste” – it reels off a stack of facts and figures about food waste and why it is such a problem – ironically, supermarkets are responsible for (to estimate) around 70% of all food waste!
Pricing products artificially higher than normal in order to advertise “buy 2 for £xx” leads the customer to buy more than they need in an effort to save money.
A bit rich of them to then talk about how they “are working to reduce food waste” don’t you think?

Guest

Jim

To use a popular expression: When you are in a hole you should stop digging. 🙂
Sorry if that’s a little rude but you have not been very kind to me and others who have challenged your opinions.

I will agree with you about the convenience of shopping in a single place and not being charged for parking. It is also very handy that Tesco collects my repeat prescription from the local surgery, their store has a toilet, sells stamps, has a post box and a disposal box for used batteries. It might not have exactly what I want, but I can usually find acceptable alternatives. I cannot get as excited as you over the pricing and marketing. I only use the shop because I live close to a Tesco and have no other local alternatives.

Guest
smokinjoe says:
22 March 2013

Spring heeled Jim is right……Stop bashing business …….
Costs rise so business put up their prices to recover some or all of their costs. Or they go out of business and people lose their jobs and then the State have to fund support for people out of work. And how?…. through taxes on people and…. businesses!
If the country was run more like business then we wouldn’t owe £1.6 trillion and have a over £100 Billion overdraft we can’t pay off!
Most businesses deal with inflation by cutting their own costs first and reducing pack sizes is a way of reducing costs and trying to keep prices down (depending on whether supermarkets keep them down. And if business gets it wrong people stop buying their products…
I agree with Which…. There should be clearer pricing…in STORES…. simple price per volume clearly labelled… and a flag at fixture when prices change up OR down is achievable …by the supermarkets …. but its ridiculous to expect this on packs.

Guest

My view is that supermarkets should be clear about all their pricing. So if they are going to shrink a pack it should be labelled as such, so we can make an informed decision about whether we think it’s still good value or not. More broadly Which? is campaigning for clearer pricing – whether that’s clear unit pricing (the price per weight/volume/unit) so we can compare the price of products easily or more transparent special offers. What do you think would improve things?

Guest

Hitting the shops where it hurts would improve things.

If I point out to my local unhelpful tesco staff that they’ve got a mixture of price per units on different sizes of the same product, or that a SPECIAL Offer is infact more expensive(e.g 58p each SPECIAL OFFER buy 2 for £1.50), rather then them say all prices are set by head office, so they do nothing, if they had to give me a crisp £50 note each time I reported it they’d soon improve their act.

Guest
AndiWS says:
9 May 2012

I agree with Jim, in that there are a lot of people commenting here that are just spouting out conspiracy theories, and getting angry about it because they don’t know the half of it. And I understand that supermarkets are only going to try and make themselves look good, so putting negative marketing on the packaging would seemingly reduce its sales, but is it fair that consumers are not being made aware of the fact that the products they buy are shrinking, if I went to my local butcher, he wouldn’t just give me less for my money because he couldn’t get away with it, people would complain. but the supermarkets can just hide behind their big names and just pass the blame onto the suppliers. I would much rather the price increased a bit as I’m used to that, but I don’t like buying something in my weekly shop an have it run out before the week is up, just because the supermarkets couldn’t be a little more honest and just tell me what they’re doing. I personally would still buy their products, as I understand that these are hard times for everyone, and it’s companies that are feeling the pinch too!

I live in northwich in Cheshire, and am currently in Sheffield at Uni, and I have seen a big difference in the prices between the two areas, I know Sheffield is very working class and Cheshire is seen as a wealthy area so I guess this is why. Also if supermarkets can’t charge different prices in different stores then why do most of the prices in convenience stores ie tesco metro have a 5% increase in prices compared to the big stores! For example a bottle of coke in my local big tesco are £1.10, and they’re £1.25 in the metro store!

I also disagree with the fact that supermarkets strive to offer cheap products, when in fact of you went to the market and bought your fruit and veg there it would cost much less! And I often do this. I understand that supermarkets have a lot of overheads to incorporate into their prices, but half te time I think they assume people are too thick, or don’t have the time to shop around for all the different items they need, and know they can get away with charging the prices they do.

Yes manipulating prices is illegal, it’s collusion and is therefore very heavily fined, but if the competition commission are that bothered about it, then why don’t they look closer into the petrol prices which seem to be the same from every petrol retailer in the local area. And as for milk, no matter what shop you go in, 4 pints of semi skimmed milk is £1.18, an of that’s not collusion I’ll eat my degree.

Sorry if this is a bit incohherent, but I hope I got my point across 🙂