/ 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
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.

“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?

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.

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.

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 🙂

Spring heeled Jim says:
10 May 2012

” 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. ”

Milk is actually one of the areas where there is a degree of ( actually legal and reasonable ) price fixing.

Milk used to be included in the various price cutting initiatives that supermarkets ran ( partly because it’s such a key line for customers ) and for a while the price fell pretty steadily – going from £1.18 to £1.16, then down to £1.14 and so on. But once the supermarkets had taken their margin on it to the bone, they started to exert pressure on the milk suppliers ( eg the farmers ) to reduce their margin too. The farmers ( who weren’t making much money as it was ) made a big fuss and complained.

As a result, minimum milk prices have been broadly agreed within the industry, and no-one is daft enough to meddle with them. It’s not price-fixing as such, more a gentleman’s agreement not to subject the farmers to any more pressure.

Spring heeled Jim says:
10 May 2012

” 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. ”

But that’s just it – I don’t think I’m in a hole at all. Not only am I enjoying this discussion, but I know that in some areas I am absolutely 100% right. In a way, it doesn’t matter if I change your opinions or not; I’m just happy to put the truth across.

Sorry if I’ve been rude to you personally, wavechange, that was not my intention. But I have been baffled by some of the naivety and paranoia on this thread. Really, if we’re going to have a sensible debate, it would be good to leave some of the hysteria to one side ?

” Hitting the shops where it hurts would improve things….If they had to give me a crisp £50 note each time I reported it they’d soon improve their act. ”

Such as this spectacularly unhelpful comment. Yes, mistakes happen. Do you really think it’s reasonable to charge a store manager £50 for each mistake ? Does this apply to other jobs ? Are you going to fine your waitress £50 every times she gets your order wrong ? Are you going to fine your postman £50 every time he brings the post late ? Are you going to fine your teacher £50 every time your child fails a test ? Of course not. So why supermarkets ?

” 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’m glad you picked this example, because actually meat is one of the areas where prices have skyrocketed in recent years ( particularly after foot&mouth ) So your butcher is charging you more than he did five years ago. And if questioned, he would probably have shrugged and blamed the price of supply etc. So he’s no different to the supermarket, except he’s being more honest about it.

” 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. ”

So we’re back to the nub of the argument – shrinking packs and what can be done about it. But my view would be that they ARE clear about their pricing – clearly displayed on every shelf label, with a handy price per gram to boot. What they AREN’T clear about is how the pricing has changed – so if something cost £1 last week, but £1.20 this week they don’t tell you. Or if it’s gone from 400g to 350g this week.

But it’s just not a workable solution. As I keep trying to tell people, each transaction you make is legally separate from the last time you went shopping; the supermarket is under no obligation to make a comparison with historical prices. Essentially your view is ” The price has changed; why didn’t you tell me ? ” And their view is: ” Today, we’re charging you £1 for 350g. How much it was last week, or last month, or last year is irrelevant. Buy it or not, it’s up to you. ”

Also, it’s worth pointing out that each new pack size requires a new barcode. And that means that, technically, it’s a new pack. With no connection ( as far as the system is concerned ) to the previous one. No connection ? No point of sale showing the change.

And again, I’m completely confused as to why this should only appply to supermarket groceries and not to other things. Can you imagine if I went househunting in July and saw a house that I really liked for £160,000. I quickly sell my own house and come back in August only to see that the house is now on sale for £170,000 ( house prices going up ? Clearly this is a fictional example ) Can you imagine the conversation: Me: ” Aw, this house was for sale at £160,000 last month. ” Houseowner: ” Well, now it’s £170,000. Buy it or not, it’s up to you. ” Me: ” But there’s nothing on the sign to say the house price has gone up. It’s not fair. ” Houseowner: ” Shrugs. “.. A silly example, perhaps, but it illustrates the point that you only seem bothered about fairer pricing on groceries; and yet there are many, many examples in life of other things where the rules are less fair.

” 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. ”

Bingo ! Well done that man. Like I say, surely there are bigger worries than the price of a tin of beans ? Like why petrol is at least 5p a litre more expensive in the south of england than the north ?

Spring heeled Jim says:
10 May 2012

” 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. ”

But I don’t actually think I am in a hole. I’m enjoying this debate. And they’re not my opinions, they’re facts, presented to you by someone who works in this industry. I don’t mind if you believe me or not, I’m just happy to get the truth across.

And I’m sorry if I was rude to you personally wavechange, that wasn’t my intention. But I get baffled and annoyed by the naivety and paranoia shown by some posters on this thread.

” Hitting the shops where it hurts would improve things. If they had to give me a crisp £50 note each time I reported it they’d soon improve their act. ”

Such as this spectacularly unhelpful comment. Of course mistakes get made. Do you really think it’s reasonable to fine a store manager £50 for each one ? Do you fine your waitress £50 every time she gets your order wrong ? Do you fine your postman £50 every time your post is late ? Do you fine your teacher £50 every time your child fails a test ? Of course not. So why supermarkets ?

” 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. ”

And so back to the nub of the argument – shrinking products. I understand your view, Alice, but it’s just not workable. As I said before, adding a flash on the pack would add packaging cost and complexity. Sure, you can do it with point of sale – but supermarkets have a nightmare job getting the POS out that they WANT to display ( getting it all to store, making sure that store managers put it all out etc etc ) You can bet that they will be a lot less keen to make sure that negative POS gets put out !

I also think that the supermarkets would argue ( correctly enough ) that grocery pricing is amongst the clearerst there is – you get the price, the price per gram ( not to mention the ingredients and GDA’s ) What about the other areas of life where pricing genuinely is misleading ? Such as buying airline tickets and then getting charged a fortune for hidden extras ? Or admin fees on credit card transactions etc ?

I go back to what I said at the beginning of this thread – despite nearly 200 comments I am yet to see any real drive for change in this area. I don’t think the government is interested, the supermarkets certainly aren’t interested ( and neither are the manufacturers ) and I don’t even think the majority of consumers are that interested either. Sure, you get the odd keyboard warrior who is happy to spend hours trawling round all the independent shops for their groceries – but I think the vast majority of people in the UK are happy enough with their grocery shopping not to want to force the issue.

Let’s face it – if this was a petition, it wouldn’t even have enough signatures to warrant a trip to Downing St to present it to the Prime Minister.

You say ‘ that grocery pricing is amongst the clearerst there is’. Have a look at the Conversations where we have criticised supermarkets for confusing pricing and daft mistakes. Of course it is not just supermarkets that demonstrate incompetence and lack of consideration for their customers, but that hardly absolves them of blame.

I’m going to leave this Conversation because you claim to be the ‘voice of the consumer’ but you don’t see any need for change. Oh boy.

“Sure, you can do it with point of sale – but supermarkets have a nightmare job getting the POS out that they WANT to display ( getting it all to store, making sure that store managers put it all out etc etc ) You can bet that they will be a lot less keen to make sure that negative POS gets put out “
EPOS (electronic point of sale – shelf edge labels) are printed out when stock prices or description of goods is changed on the supermarket’s main price list.
These labels come off the printer everyday as stockfile is updated on a daily basis.
Labels are handed to the person who works on that particular aisle in the supermarket to put out.
It’s cheap, efficient and creates less mistakes than traditional pricing methods used in years previous.

Not quite the “nightmare job” you (read: marketing) trot out to deflect customer’s questions or suggestions about the issue. I thought marketing people “put customers first?”

“” Hitting the shops where it hurts would improve things. If they had to give me a crisp £50 note each time I reported it they’d soon improve their act. ”

Such as this spectacularly unhelpful comment. Of course mistakes get made. Do you really think it’s reasonable to fine a store manager £50 for each one ? Do you fine your waitress £50 every time she gets your order wrong ? Do you fine your postman £50 every time your post is late ? Do you fine your teacher £50 every time your child fails a test ? Of course not. So why supermarkets ?”
Yet another marketing reply, dismissive of a supermarket customer, which is another fine example of the sheer contemptable manner supermarket’s in the UK operate towards all their customers, whilst marketing at them (paid for by higher prices) how much they are “saving you money”
You paint scenarios that are not relevant to the point put to you and (again) answer the point with more questions, which is evasive.
A teacher, waitress and postman are not responsible for consumer law, to all intents and purposes this also applies to a store manager, it is the company/supermarket that has to adhere to the law which is failing. You know this, we (customers) know this.

“Sure, you get the odd keyboard warrior who is happy to spend hours trawling round all the independent shops for their groceries – but I think the vast majority of people in the UK are happy enough with their grocery shopping not to want to force the issue.”
Another marketing scenario presented which misrepresents the FACTS.
People shopping for “local” produce, whether it’s using local shops or being sourced locally by the supermarket is one of the biggest areas of growth in the UK, supermarkets recognise this by increasing “locally sourced” prices by a large percentage as they monitor this.
Which? and other forums have posted regarding supermarket’s making up farm names and places on their products that do not actually exist, to give the marketing perception that they are “locally sourced” or “produced in Britain”

“The odd keyboard warrior who is happy to trawl around the independant shops for hours for their groceries” – Not “hours” less than an hour, in response to your claim that doing the weekly shop in a supermarket is quicker than using local shops/markets.
Marketing misrepresentation that is dismissive of customers.

Ask the British public if they would prefer local town centre alternatives to supermarkets for their weekly food shop, I’d wager that the majority would say a resounding yes.
Supermarkets do not ask such a question, as it is not in their interests to do so.
This is perhaps the reason why asda are spending more than £4 Million (made from customers in profits) this year, marketing the “local” aspect of their stores in each area of the UK?

Spring heeled Jim says:
10 May 2012

” You say ‘ that grocery pricing is amongst the clearerst there is’. Have a look at the Conversations where we have criticised supermarkets for confusing pricing and daft mistakes. Of course it is not just supermarkets that demonstrate incompetence and lack of consideration for their customers, but that hardly absolves them of blame. ”

I would look at it like this. A supermarket sells literally hundreds of thousands of products. Prices change ( upwards and downwards ) all the time. Mistakes do get made. Sometimes promotions are planned eg 2 for £1, and then the base price gets reduced from 55p to 45p – and suddenly the promo doesn’t make sense any more. But if the buyer forgets to cancel it on the system then it still runs. It happens. Or sometimes the price goes up, but the store manager doesn’t get round to changing the shelf edge label – and that is frustrating too. I’m not going to say it doesn’t happen, because it does. But I can assure you it’s not a deliberate ploy to cheat customers. It’s just human error, compounded by the sheer amount of work involved in running a store, and the sheer volume of pricing changes and promotions each week.

And actually, I think you’d find that the ‘ confusing pricing and daft mistakes ‘ probably account for less than 5% of the prices in store; the vast majority of which are going to be correct. Or are you telling me that you notice mistakes on your till receipt every time you go shopping ? Because I just don’t believe that’s the case.

” EPOS (electronic point of sale – shelf edge labels) are printed out when stock prices or description of goods is changed on the supermarket’s main price list.
These labels come off the printer everyday as stockfile is updated on a daily basis.
Labels are handed to the person who works on that particular aisle in the supermarket to put out.
It’s cheap, efficient and creates less mistakes than traditional pricing methods used in years previous.

Not quite the “nightmare job” you (read: marketing) trot out to deflect customer’s questions or suggestions about the issue. I thought marketing people “put customers first?” ”

This is correct ( see, I can give credit where it’s due ! ) But I wasn’t talking about SEL’s, I was talking about the bigger shelf barkers. Shelf edge labels don’t tend to have enough space to communicate ‘ was 400g now 350g ‘ messages; also, I think most people would say they don’t notice them. Also, the system isn’t infallible – as other people have pointed out, they do find mistakes on SEL’s. where they haven’t been changed etc. The bigger shelf barkers ( ie the ones used for promo messages ) are the ones that tend to get lost in store.

” I’m going to leave this Conversation because you claim to be the ‘voice of the consumer’ but you don’t see any need for change. Oh boy. ”

You’re right. I don’t. I think there are many evils in the world ( petrol prices, insurance costs, financial small print, credit card charges, public transport fares, parking tickets, road tolls etc etc ) but I genuinely think retail grocery pricing is not one of them.

“Mistakes do get made. Sometimes promotions are planned eg 2 for £1, and then the base price gets reduced from 55p to 45p – and suddenly the promo doesn’t make sense any more. But if the buyer forgets to cancel it on the system then it still runs. It happens. Or sometimes the price goes up, but the store manager doesn’t get round to changing the shelf edge label – and that is frustrating too. I’m not going to say it doesn’t happen, because it does. But I can assure you it’s not a deliberate ploy to cheat customers. It’s just human error”
In January 2012 asda ran a blog post and advertised it over twitter/facebook to all their followers that warburtons toasty loaves were on a “rollback” when in fact they were not, they had actually increased the price of them.
It was reported to trading standards and received a lacklustre response with no action (as their resources and legislation – Hampton principles of advisory regulation) left them with little option.
I pointed it out to asda, who first ignored me, then after I repeated it again in a public forum, their staff didn’t know which blog post they advertised this “rollback” on (ironic as it was the same people who posted the links to it!
Almost two days went by before it was removed from the blog post without any notification to state why it had been edited out (consumer law states that ammendments must be shown) and the price remained higher.
This was not a “mistake” or “error” this was misleading bait advertising (advertising to a large audience without making them aware of a retraction)

In March 2012, the same supermarket ran a TV advertisement which displayed dairylea triangles (16 pack) as part of their “for just £1” campaign.
For 6 days over the busy Easter holidays, the product remained at the inflated price of £1.88, instead of the advertised £1.
Again, this is not an error or mistake, this is a supermarket misleading customers.

The supermarkets know that enforcement bodies/regulators will not take away their “compliant” status, as under Hampton principles, since 2005, the “needs of the business” must be considered before action is taken against them. Supermarkets know this, because during consultations on the report, supermarkets were “the stakeholders” whose advice was taken.
This is not the fault of marketing depts, but it does lead to supermarkets (and other businesses) misleading customers.
In the run up to the crash, supermarkets across the board, increased the price of Heinz soups from 57p to 75p, again not a mistake but a calculated price increase to secure more profits as money got tight for every household. The perception of “saving us money” was pushed at every opportunity.

Shelf edge labels
There is ample space for displaying a reduction in pack size on these, as the actual price per 100g is already printed.
Supermarkets are selling a product for one price/weight one week, then selling the same product for the same price the next week, but the product has shrunk. The manufacturer knows it, the supermarket knows it, the customer does not know this until after they have made their purchase, opened the tin of beans, or found 5 bars instead of the usual 6, etc.
The supermarket are taking away/not displaying information from the customer, that is used to make an informed buying decision.
Are we really to expect the public to walk into a supermarket for a weekly food shop with the thought “buyer beware” uppermost in their thoughts?
This is what supermarkets are leaving customers to face, a them and us situation.

I seem to recall many commenters across the media, stating that “Banks were too big to fail” – as we now know, they were not. This same “advisory regulation/enforcement” applies to supermarkets, they would be well advised to take heed of it!

Pricing mistakes happen, yes I’ll agree to that. But what annoys me is that in the exmaple I quoted of 58p each SPECIAL OFFER but 2 for £1.50 how many tesco’s employess must have had to the pricing and yet not one did anything about. Just picking one store someone must have put the price on the shelf, someone stocked the shelf, someone restocked the shelf now multiply that by say 500 stores, Are you saying that not one employee could be bothered to raise it. If nothing it makes the whole chain look like they can’t do maths. Fining the store manager would certainly make him/her raise their game and hopefully try to correct the lack of engagement of their staff.

Calum says:
10 May 2012

Can you imagine if you went to buy a packet of cigarettes and there were only 19 in the packet -“Oh yes , rather than increasing the price weve reduced the quantity” I’m sure you won’t mind !!

Dave D says:
13 May 2012

Latest one I’ve noticed – Boot’s Cremolia hand cream – almost invariable out of stock in Sheffield – heaven know’s why – so I usually buy 12 jars at once when I’m in Manchester, where it is always in stock in The Arndale. yesterday needed some more and managed to find 3 jars in Sheffield. They are a “New handy size” – i.e. they are now 110ml for £1.29 not 150ml for £1.19. My rough calculations make that a 31% price hike and also means the generation of a whole lot more waste.

Unlike a lot of items where the quantity has changed but, cunningly, the physical size and shape of the container hasn’t, this hand cream, which still comes in glass jars, is now in a smaller glass jar, so Boots’ have incurred the cost of re-tooling and sourcing different jars to make this change ….. which must have cost a lot no doubt contributing significantly to the 31% price hike.

michael good says:
15 May 2012

Walls soft scoop vanilla ice cream has been reduced from 2ltr to 1.8ltr at the same price (Tesco)

Hello everyone, thought you might be interested in our investigation into supermarket special offers: https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/supermarket-special-offers-investigation-food-prices-dodgy-deal/ We’ve uncovered some ‘dodgy deals’….

are you all mental? says:
17 September 2012

All I hear is “supermarkets this” and supermarkets that.” Newsflash people, the supermarkets don’t control the packaging of products, the manufacturing companies do. All supermarkets do is market their wares in addition to their own store brands. Now those sure, they have direct control over. But they it’s not like they pick up the phone to Nescafe or whatever and say “hey, drop the content on your shit, coz we wanna fleece the public more”

==

Shrinking package sizes are down to the manufacturer alone – and doubltess they ship the smaller packets to supermarkets at the same cost price as they would for the larger ones. You whine and sulk coz the end result is still the same as before, but what do you expect? Should the supermarkets bite the bullet and sell stuff cheaper to the customer even though their payout is the same?

They’re businesses after all, sheesh. If you wanna b***h and gripe about smaller sizes fine – but don’t while about the guy puttin it on his shelves, moan at the place it originates from. The only time the marketeer is at fault, is when they up the prices over from what they were without reason.

Nick says:
6 October 2012

Actually that is not true, though I’m sure we all would like to think it is.

The supermarkets have such clout with their suppliers, including the big brands, that they are able to influence the packaging in many ways.

My brother in law supplies vegetables to a number of UK supermarkets in very large quantities. The supermarkets dictate exactly how they want to receive the products in every aspect, whether pre-packed or loose pack form. They also dictate the price along with a whole lot of other conditions.
The up side is he has an income he can rely on and plan against for the term of the contract (measured in years!), with repeatable and predictable production and delivery methods, staffing levels etc. In this way he removes a lot of uncertainty from his business, and maintains cashflow.
The down side is the lower margins he makes – they can’t even afford a pension.

But as every businessperson knows, ‘good cashflow and small margins’ is a better business proposition than ‘good margins and poor cashflow’ (for those that don’t…you can go bust waiting for the next lovely big profit to arrive). Just watch Dragons’ Den – the dragons take a big chunk of profits to almost guarantee the business more sales and thus better cashflow.

Now I accept that the farm is not a household name and is labelled as the supermarkets’ own brand.
But don’t you think that a big coffee brand or cereal brand or other similar household brand is going to listen to ‘suggestions’ or requests from supermarkets, where such a high proportion of their sales come from?

And if that includes “make your pack sizes smaller, and don’t pass on any cost hikes to us Mr Supplier, or we will buy elsewhere” I know I would do what they ask – as long as I couldn’t get a better deal elsewhere. But there is no ‘elsewhere’ because of the death of the high street shops.

Whether or not the supermarkets then reduce the price or not is no concern of the supplier.

The only exception to this is if the supplier has something unique that the supermarkets can’t get anywhere else – that supplier has more leverage of course, including, as you suggest, being able to dictate packaging, pricing etc.

Nick says:
6 October 2012

Supermarkets do have responsibility, unlike Spring Heeled Jim’s suggestion earlier in this thread.

Grocery shopping today is NOTHING like shopping for higher priced items (TV’s, houses etc) often categorised as luxury goods / non essential goods or, in marketing speak, Veblen goods.

Let’s compare the experience of shopping for groceries with shopping for a one off, higher priced item:-

1/ Shopping for a MP3 player, TV, or house…
> Infrequent purchase
> Plenty of time to poll opinion per item each time you purchase (might spend an hour or two asking friends, checking online reviews, and then again a few years later when the item needs replacing)
> Plenty of time to check pricing each time you purchase
Simple for almost everyone to compare pricing of a single item, even if their mental arithmetic is poor.
> If bought in store, face to face transaction often by skilled and technically aware shop assistant with decision making authority to negotiate (within boundaries) or easy ability to bring in a manager that can do so.
> Time in store per item is very high (months for a house!)

2/ Shopping for groceries…
> Frequent purchase
> No time to poll opinion (would take hours every week calling friends and comparing every item online for all the major supermarkets – in the mean time the housework and children would become neglected)
> Almost no time to check pricing per unit, per item, each time you purchase, maybe only seconds or a minute per item, with other shoppers tutting as you stand in their way, assuming you can do the mental arithmetic and have details of the last few prices, even if on the spot you remember that the pack size was larger last week than this week.
> If there is an issue with the price (e.g. a shrinking package resulting in a 35% price increase as per previous example in ealier Which thread) is there really time to find a member of staff who can negotiate a fairer price? … for every item in your basket? Apart from the manager, is there anyone with the authority to negotiate this with?
Time spent in store per item is tiny.

As an engineer with a hint of the OCD that engineers so often have :-), and while I was a bachelor and in a lower pressure job, I used to do the grocery shopping and all the mental arithmetic I suggest above…for every item. It took me usually 2 -3 hours or more to do my shopping every week…for one person!!! Yes I know that’s ‘sad’.
Now I HAVE a life, and work 12-14 hours a day, and my partner (who works 8 hours a day) does the shopping, this comparison doesn’t get done. Indeed, my partner wouldn’t be able to do it as she hates maths. I suggest that much of the population would be unable to manage the mental arithmetic at the speed required to do so – many people can’t upon leaving school, and then many loose practice once out of school.

So, is it fair to say that Supermarkets have no responsibility to make it easy for shoppers to compare prices by not changing package sizes but rather by simply increasing prices?

As there are no viable alternatives places to do the groceries, I believe they do have that responsibility.

Solutions could be that each type of food stuff is available in standard pack weights or volumes. After all, almost all smoothies, fruit juices etc have been available for decades almost exclusively in 1lt cartons, milk in multiples of whole pints or 1/2 or whole litres, eggs in dozen or half dozen. Cereals could easily be in 250gm multiples.

Of course, supermarkets claim that we want shrinking pack sizes to keep our baskets the same price – rubbish! The public really isn’t THAT stupid. It just means we have to go shopping again more often than before or buy more to make up the smaller packs. At the end of the day, the overall weekly shopping costs disproportionately more than if inflation were simply added to the previous larger pack sizes.

Having studied Tesco extensively at academic level for an MBA, with respect to their accounts, their operations, their marketing strategy etc, EVERY SINGLE THING SUPERMARKETS DO is geared to increasing profits and market share. Much of this of course can only result if customers are satisfied, so supermarkets will use this marketing aim in order to claim they are completely focussed on making customers happy. It’s a means to an end however, and like everyone they make mistakes – and I have yet to meet anyone that approves of the shrinking packaging concept.

However, unlike everyone, they have so much power in the market place that they also have a good chunk of arrogance, and know that shoppers will eventually tire of complaining about shrinking packaging, and the new smaller packages will become the norm.

Then package sizes will get increased back up in size again over a period of years, with a further price hike, and then shrunk again a few years later, with another stealth price hike.

It will be interesting to see what Tesco does now that it’s profits have suffered. But don’t hold your collective breaths.

Ray Leatham says:
12 November 2012

It may have been going on for years but there are noticable differences in the tems I buy from the supermarkets;
McVities Digestive biscuits and rich tea biscuits – you could never get one in your mouth or dunk it in your mug of tea without breaking it, now you can with space to spare.

Nestke Shredded Wheat full size biscuits – they have definetly shrunk in size but I have been reliably informed they i must have had a box which was smaller due to moisture !!!!! –

How stupid do these companies think we are !!! moisture for crikes sake.

Bags of prawns always use to by 400g, now they will be 325g or 350g or even 295g

Its bad enough having to struggle through life paying for the mistakes the banks have made. Now kick us while we are down why dont you. You rely on big brand names and when they openly rip you off with you lose the will to live. every one is out for what they can get, we are all doomed

In addition to changing sizes has anyone else noticed wording like “Bigger Pack, Better Value” is also being phased out. Either the wording has now gone completely ( see any large tub of Clover) or its been changed removing any reference to it being better value. (1kg box of Crunchy Nut used to say Best Value and now says The Biggest One). Luckily you can still find examples of the old packets / boxes on google.

Ignatz deFyre says:
5 March 2013

http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/4220.html
It’s a researched fact that people are less sensitive to shrinkage of quantity vs. increase in price. There’s a psychological phenomenon at work in the manner in which our brains process rate-based information.
If you don’t want to be bamboozled, learn how your brain works.

When suppliers offer 25% more on their packaging they should be forced to advertise the reduction in pack size. I hear them all saying it is to protect the consumer from price hikes. Well if the ASA made them advertise all pack content weight changes in any 12 month period we would be able to compare.

B C Thomas says:
20 March 2013

May I suggest you have a look at the change in the weight and cost changes for McVities Digestine biscuits over recent days.

Ray says:
20 March 2013

just wish people were honest, we do understand that over recent years prices have gone through the roof, everyone is affected by fuel and energy price increases private and business combined and these prices can only be absorbed so far.
But,
It is the way the suppliers and or supermarkets go about incorporating the price increase.
If all they did were increase the price of the product, all well and good, but they also decrease the size of the product as well
Win Win for everyone but the consumer.
Supermarkets use to give us value and choice, now it is “buy what we give you or bugger off”

It all depends on what the consumer is going to do about it, that by the way is you….

Are you just venting your spleen?
Are you looking for someone else to do the banner waving for you?
Is it just too much bother?
CBA! Can’t Be *rsed.

The Supermarkets like the Banks rely on the fact that the vast majority of us fall into the CBA category.

If you do feel passionate about what is happening contact your local MP and send emails to your favorite product brand web sites telling them you are disappointed.

When all said and done no one is making you shop at the supermarket you shop at and no one is making you buy the product you think no longer offers you good value.

Best of luck.

I no longer buy my seasonal fruit and veg at supermarkets but go to the local market, better produce lasts longer and cheaper.
I no longer buy any processed products from supermarkets or anywhere else, no trans fats, no added salt / fat / sugar.
I now make my own bread, using a bread maker, tastes better, lasts longer, no waste
I no longer buy my meat in polystyrene containers wrapped in cling fill, but from my local butcher, who also supplies me with my free range eggs and milk..

I am having to visit a few more shops than I did just going to one Supermarket, but when ever did you only go to one supermarket I use to go to Lidl, Sainsburys & Morrisons “to get what I needed” sorry i meant to say “to get what I am given”.

I queried with Kellogg’s the fact that they’d re-branded there larger size boxes of a Crunchy breakfast cereal, from best value to biggest box . The reply which apparently came back from their legal department ( odd that ) was that the new wording was more in keeping with the image of the breakfast cereal, and nothing to do with supermarkets being under a legal responsibility to ensure that a product marked best value was indeed that. What a load of b… (steaming brown stuff).

And you can see just how often products change size by noticing the lack of price history on products displayed on my supermarket dot com ( i.e. Friji was 500ml now 471ml with virtually no price history as its technically now a new product)

Here’s our latest investigation, including a gallery of shrinking products: https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/shrinking-supermarket-products-price-stays-same-food/