/ 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

Loading ... Loading ...
Comments
Sophie Gilbert says:
19 March 2012

We had the same with decimalisation, suddenly milk was sold by the half litre and the price was that of a pint.

I agree with KC, I’m fed up with having to do the maths every time I shop, and I’m fed up with automatically thinking that I’m about to be ripped off even before I set foot in the shop.

Little wonder I carry my A-level maths AND a calculator
with me whenever I go food shopping… so far as I’m concerned,
there is a presumption to rip off UNLESS the contrary
is shown.

Anthony says:
23 March 2012

I think you will find that half a litre is slightly more than a pint, ie. 1pint = 0.5683 litre.

Ciaran says:
23 March 2012

Seriously Anthony?

Anthony, if one pint = 0.5683 litre, then one litre is1/0.5683 = 1.759 litres – hence the adage ‘A litre of water’s a pint and three quarters’ and a half litre is about seven eighths of a pint. The worrying thing is five people seem to agree with you.

Yup…products of all kinds have shrunk in size with a corresponding
increase in price. In food cases that I know well certain products
have gone up very substantially with increases of up to
120% like in the case of frozen squid now sold in 700g bags(packages)
not 1 kilo bags like formerly with prices nearly doubled.

My personal indulgence of cashews: has its I kg bag size reduced to
700g with a 80-100 increase in price. Tried to
mitigate by loss by searching for alternate sources but to no
avail.

Short of going w/out, I try wherever possible to
use a cheaper substitute.

Oh those over-greedy retailers/food processors/manufacturers/importers
et al….can’t put them all on the weak pound and overrall production costs
that have increased of course but NOWHERE to the gross extent that
consumers/shoppers are having to pay at the checkout.

Spring heeled Jim says:
19 March 2012

I can understand the anger many shoppers feel on this – but in reality I think the image of lots of fat cat manufacturers chuckling with glee at having ripped off us shoppers is just ridiculous.

Manufacturers have faced into incredible cost pressure in recent years – raw ingredients, packaging, energy, fuel, minimum wage increases etc – plus lots of pressure from an increasingly powerful retail customer base. A product P&L which might have worked well ten years ago and generated a reasonable profit might now be making no money at all.

As a result, many manufacturers have a difficult choice to make: either increase prices, and face losing out to cheaper alternatives – or reduce pack volume and keep the price the same.

Every day we hear more stories of manufacturers shedding jobs, or going bust because they just can’t keep up with the market any more.

We might not like the way these manufacturers deal with this cost pressure – and I understand the anger at what are deemed ‘ underhand tricks ‘ – but to think that they are sitting around on huge piles of cash while we struggle is just naive.

Reducing pack size while keeping the price the same IS a price increase…

Spring heeled Jim says:
19 March 2012

@Frugal ways.

Yes, totally – but what I meant was they can either increase the RSP, or reduce the weight / volume. Reducing the weight / volume is less visible, and therefore less likely to lose sales.

Sorry – I should have been clearer with my original post.

Manufacturers are not ripping us all off, I agree, they are being squeezed by the big retailers.
Only have to look at the farming community and the sheer destructon of the industries there.

June says:
23 March 2012

If they are under pressure that is one thing but be upfront and let us see the price increase rather than a reduction of the contents.
Not all of us carry around the sizes of products from one year to another so this is a stealth price increase.
Also the adverts saying we have dropped the price of such and such, this could well be on products that have had the size reduced, which again is mis-leading

A simple mechanical kitchen gadget at a supermarket
was priced around £6.00 before Christmas, in the January
following was promptly put up to £9.00.

I also do not buy in cases where I deem price rise
is UNCONSCIONABLE or EXCESSIVE even in cases
where I can well afford to purchase. If more consumers
take this approach, more shops will think twice abt putting up
prices or to the EXTENT they think they can get away
with.

Bar the well-heeled or better-off, surely shops wd know
customers are having a very/hard time financially and even if not
actually insolvent or at the doors of bankruptcy.

Spring heeled Jim says:
19 March 2012

To illustrate perhaps a bit more clearly…

Last year, Bloggs Biscuit Co. sold their 200g pack of digestive biscuits for £1. Of that £1, 17.5p went on VAT, 40p was given to the retailer in margin, and the product itself cost 22.5p, leaving 20p profit per pack.

This year, the cost has gone up to 35p ( driven by butter, chocolate, and flour increases ) and the retailer has asked for 45p in margin. Assuming the price stays the same, Bloggs is now only making 2.5p profit per pack.

Bloggs therefore reduces the size of the pack to 175g, which brings the product cost down to 31p. They also negotiate hard with the retailers, and finally agree on a margin of 43p. Bloggs are now making 8.5p profit per pack.

Hardly ripping us off, are they ?

Lemon Curd says:
23 March 2012

Well they are to an extent. As the report states above, “Other companies said the product formulation had changed at the same time as the size”. So rather than the example above, they don’t just reduce the pack size, they reformulate as well. So the cost may have gone up to 35p, but they’ll buy some cheaper GM crop wheat, use a butter substitute and chinese chocolate. Dropping the manufacturing costs and the pack size to keep their profit margins the same.

So it shouldn’t just be pack size, we should also look at the results of consumer tests (a good example was the Which? report in to washing up liquid, with Fairy no longer top).

The simple fact of the matter is that during a recession, certain companies will reduce profit margins to stay competitive, others (no names, but it starts with a T and ends in esco) use bully boy tactics on suppliers and misleading adverts on consumers, and many will change the way something is made (lower standard raw materials) and reduce sizes to keep profits up. Unfortunately the latter two examples are employed by the big companies that can afford it, and they win.

The point is, be open and honest regarding reasons for the changes. If you’re up front what have you to lose?

As to Ribena being alluded to elsewhere, I too
have noticed quality of food/stuff in enclosed
containers/packages being reduced in QUALITY such as
being more watery or dilute for example, if not already put up in
price and/or coming in a reduced quantity for same amount
of money.

Even a measly decrease from 285g to 272g, they wd do it,
when original was 300g.

Stuff in a can, you’ve no idea what permutations and
combinations they can come up with: to yr detriment
of course.

same with fairy and “concentrated” fabric softeners

Frankly – to reduce the size to keep the selling price the same is not a rip off. It is called market forces – if costs increase but you know that customers will not pay more for the product (which is often the case for bottles of drink) then the only option is to decrease the size of the bottle. Then the customers drinks slightly less in a bottle for the same price. I for one prefer that to paying more for a single bottle. I am satisfied with slightly less liquid

Danscot says:
19 March 2012

Adapting to market forces is one thing but blatant attempts to hide changes to price per unit is, at best, underhand. I well remember discovering as a 10 year old the lengths a manufacturer is prepared to go to; I enjoyed a weekly treat of a packet of Opal Fruits, the stick type pack. One day, on opening the pack I found a gap between the wrapper end & the first sweet. As it was the first time I had encountered this I showed my father who took the pack and pressed lightly on each end to produce a concertina effect! His explanation of the reality of packaging & tricks of the retail trade have stuck with me ever since – buyer beware indeed! Opal Fruits, or Starburst as they became, are rarely in our house for that reason so they’ve probably lost more sales to me long term than they saved in cheating a 10 year old out of 1 or 2 sweets!

Spring heeled Jim says:
23 March 2012

” Adapting to market forces is one thing but blatant attempts to hide changes to price per unit is, at best, underhand. ”

But that’s the point – we don’t hide them; we just don’t communicate them. Each product has the weight clearly displayed on the pack, plus the weight, the price, the price per g also on the SEL ( shelf edge label ) .

And I’ve never seen any manufacturer – of any kind – shouting about price increases. It just isn’t done.

Underhand or not, the fact remains that a) fewer consumers notice pack size reductions than they do price increases, particularly if a price increase would result in a product being out of line with the competition, and b) research has shown that most consumers prefer to pay the same and get slightly less ( particularly in the current climate ) than to pay more for the same amount.

So – while we can all winge about how underhand and sneaky it is – the stark economic truth is that it makes sense for manufacturers to do this. And that’s why our pack sizes will continue to get smaller.

Well done Danscot, we enjoyed your tale of Opal Fruits so much that you’ve been awarded our Comment of the Week! Your comment will be featured on the Which? Conversation homepage for a full week! https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/this-week-in-comments-harry-potter-and-the-budget/

I’m waiting for which? to run a thread on the increasing of prices just prior to a 2 for 1, or a so called sale, with the full intention of misleading customers *nudge nudge*

It’s a good idea and one I’ll take to our investigations team. Thanks Frugal.

One of the big four supermarket’s sold readybrek at £1,50 a box, then increased the price to £2.18 a box, within days put it on offer at “2 for £3” – clear misrepresentation.
I did question them via twitter several times about it over a few days, they just ignored me.

Spring heeled Jim says:
20 March 2012

As to the point about whether reducing the pack size and keeping the RSP the same is less obvious ( and therefore more underhand ) than just putting the price up…

… I worked for a manufacturer about five years ago facing into exactly the kind of pressures I alluded to earlier. So we ran a piece of research testing a) Same pack size, higher RSP vs b) Lower pack size, same RSP.

The research showed – fairly conclusively as it happens – that consumers preferred the lower pack size, same RSP option. So that’s what we did. And yes, we did try and ‘ soften the blow ‘ by putting it on promo just after the price change.

I do see why some people feel it’s underhand – but it would be a brave brand manager who ignored the research and insisted on increasing the RSP instead.

This is nothing new I’m afraid, and it’s nothing that surprises me at all. It’s been happening all my working life (mid 1980’s to now) and I’m sure for longer.

I have noticed, though, that a few things have changed very subtly in the last year or so, and I’ve spotted that some changes are to do with metrication, even 40 years after we supposedly “went metric”.

For example, in Waitrose, it’s only within the last few months that pints of milk (own label) have stopped being pints. Until at least last summer you bought a carton of Waitrose’ own milk and it was labelled with the metric first (as the law requires) – 568ml – and then underneath “1 pint”. I particularly noticed this as on the convo “would you prefer a pound of strawberries or a kilo” some quite aggressive commenters accused me of being ignorant and not having realised milk was sold in litres and half litres everywhere, so I made a point of checking. HOwever, the last carton of waitrose milk that I bought now says “500ml” and has not mention of pints on iot. The carton is, however, the identical size, it just has 68ml less in it.

I won’t go into as much detail with other examples that I have noticed but Lyle’s Golden Syrup is now 1Kg not 2Lbs – in that instance it’s actually got a fraction more in the tin than it used to have so we can’t grumble, and a number of other items that have been sold in “odd” numbers of grams or ml, because they were effectively still sold in whole pounds or pints, seem to be gradually creeping over to the nearest kilo or half kilo and the nearest litre or half litre, very often in the identical packaging but just a tiny change in how full.

Cat food has also changed – possibly also to do with metrication as several brands that I used to buy have gone from 12 pouches or foil dishes in a box to 10 per box, i.e. from dozens to 10’s.

Eggs are an odd one – we now seem to have boxes of 6 (half dozen) 12 (dozen) 10 (metrication?) and 9 ?????? heaven knows where the 9 comes in but I notice that 9 eggs are the same price as 6 in some shops, it that price is a lot higher than 6 used to be.

I’m sure there are thousands more but these are the ones I’ve noticed.

Dave

I thought of you when I saw mull-packs of CFLs (low energy lamps) on sale recently. I’m not sure whether that was because of low reliability or because simply because CFLs are being used more. Probably a bit of both.

To say something relevant, I am surprised that manufacturers change their packaging sizes frequently. This must incur costs.

Dave,
You’re not ignorant at all, as regards milk I only buy from my milkman, who deals in pints. Always has, always will.

Thanks Wavechange and Frugal Ways.

@Wavechange – I don’t think manufacturers do change pack sizes all that often – I think that’s at least partly why, 40 years after metrication, lyles syrup cans are still 2Lb size (even now with 1Kg in them), why milk cartons are still 1 pint (albeit often with 500ml in them), why eggs have still been in doz and half doz boxes until the advent of 9 and 4 egg boxes and so on. I think for 40 odd years manufacturers have retained packs and pack making machinery in the interests of saving cash.

However, I recall during my maths degree learning some economy modelling techniques, most of which were to do with calculating the point at which making an investment of any kind resulted in a significant profit rather than a loss or a continuation of the status quo. I guess that in these economic times some manufacturers have calculated that an investment in new (smaller) packs – which sell at the same or higher price than the old sizes – will now assist in increasing their profits.

vstable says:
23 March 2012

My bugbear is cat food!! All the pouches used to be 100g and now loads of them are 80g, yet the same price or more because of a different recipe! I will decide whether to slim my cat or not, not Whiskas…..

Peter says:
23 March 2012

Supermarkets always shout about prices reduced or pack sizes increased. They should be forced to put labels (of equal size and garishness) on goods highlighting the fact that a price has been increased or size reduced. This needs to be enforced by law – the idea of ‘self-regulation’ so beloved by this government is not a concept business understands.

Ive seen packs of cooked meat in Lidl and Morrisons shring from 125g to 100g – the effect is to reduce no of slices (eg Beef, ham) from 4 to 3. or 3 and a sliver

Alun Davies says:
23 March 2012

It’s probably going back over 40 years but I can clearly remember the flashed slogan on Mars Bars – “New Size Same Price” when they had reduced the size of the product.

Paul B says:
23 March 2012

Pengwins have now shrunk so much that our family now refer to them as ‘ little gwins’ because they are now only about 2 bites in size and therefore no longer deserve the full title.

Ralph T says:
23 March 2012

Apart from branded, processed products, I have also seen the volume reduction in fresh produce. One I have noticed is fresh large prawns. Most supermarket chains sell small packs of fresh large prawns, usually from south east Asia, either cooked or raw. The cooked ones started out in packs of around 200g, some even as much as 220g, and were retailed at prices such that you only bought them when the “BOGOF” offers came around – e.g. two for £5.99. The prices have stayed the same, but the volumes have gone down to 150g, or less in some cases. So that’s about a 25% volume decrease / price increase in roughly 4 years, or approximately double the rate of inflation.

The excuse that the “formulation has changed” doesn’t fly here: there’s sea water and there’s prawns wot live in it! And the agent for the downsizing is the supermarket itself, as these packs are more often than not un-branded save for the store’s own label.

I know there are a number of ethical questions about whether we should be consuming such food, with the impact on the environment caused by shipping the produce half way around the world. But a) the reality is we are, and supermarkets are meeting a demand which exists, and b) that’s another discussion!

Spring heeled Jim says:
23 March 2012

” The excuse that the “formulation has changed” doesn’t fly here: there’s sea water and there’s prawns wot live in it! ”

I’m sorry Ralph but this kind of muddled thinking is what annoys me most ! Of course the ‘ formulation ‘ hasn’t changed – but virtually every other part of the cost breakdown has ! Most fish are harder to find these days due to overfishing, so the cost of finding them goes up, as do the wages of the fishermen, plus fuel for the boat and the lorry taking it from the docks to the packing house. The bags are made of plastic, and the cost of plastic ( as a fuel derivative ) have gone through the roof. Also increased wages for the packing staff…. need I go on ?

It’s actually very simple. Sometimes costs go down. When they do, so do prices. ( And don’t tell me that a manufacturer will keep them high to make obscene profits – if that happens, another rival manufacturer will come in and undercut them ) Sometimes, however, costs go up. And so do prices.

As consumers, we’ve been spoiled by years of deflationary price pressure. In some categories food is actually cheaper than it was 30 years ago. But in other categories, the pressure is now going the other way.

chrisbaz says:
23 March 2012

Sorry but I am not happy about recent updates which promise a lot but fail to deliver…

The latest is the claim that products are shrinking in size is probably well-founded but your links do not lead me to the full story. It’s all very well to claim ” a raft of products that had shrunk. ” but that link did not lead to anywhere that told me anything more. Just the same three products mentioned in the original. The link to mysupermarket was unhelpful – no indication on the linked page of where the information is.

Come on: you do not have to compete or ‘sell’ Which? – you don’t have to behave like commercial companies.

Marzibeth says:
23 March 2012

I posted my grievance a couple of weeks ago about Horlicks Light Refill pack, where not only have they reduced the content (500g to 400g) but had the nerve to call it a VALUE refill pack at £1.99 making it a higher price per 100g than the old at £2.29. Horlicks replied saying it was ‘the supermarkets which determined the Retail price’ and the RRP was £1.99 – er, yes! That is what they are charging, so made my point clearer. To date I have not had a reply!
Persil have done a similar exercise with their 3kg pack of Non-Bio powder, which is now approx 2.285kg!

long been a problem with washing powder – the confusion for the customer between “washes” per box and actual weight of powder in the box.

Amazing how a box can remain the same size, with the same brand of powder, yet only drop by 5 washes on the front, but has more than a kilogram less of powder.
I buy catering packs from cash & carry. Where the weight of powder to “washes” remained the same for months, while supermarket boxes of powder (same brand/formula), half the number of washes dropped to less than half the weight of the box.

Philip says:
23 March 2012

Your prawns may be the same in the same sea, assuming stocks are sufficient. But that bit of what you buy is ‘free’ – it’s the cost to catch ’em, pack ’em and take ’em to the shop that counts. And bearing in mind your petrol is dearer, do you the entire chain of supply doesn’t suffer the same increases in their costs? What’s at issue isn’t profiteering – I’d say margins are probably as low as they can reasonably be – but misleading customers. How you feel about that will vary,

Spring heeled Jim says:
23 March 2012

Hear hear Philip – it’s nice not to be the lone voice sticking up for manufacturers on this thread. Some of the comments are so simple-minded as to beggar belief ( or at least show no understanding of economics )

I’d agree with you completely that margins are probably as low as they can reasonably be. As for misleading customers – I don’t know what can realistically be done. With the best will in the world, I can’t imagine many manufacturers putting a ” New Higher Price / Lower Value ” flash on their products…