/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Would you rather pay more for a product than see it shrink?

Big and small tomatoes

According to a YouGov poll, almost half of consumers would rather pay more than see their favourite products shrink. Are you among them?

Since I started working for Which? almost two years ago, the word ‘shrinkflation’ has become part of my everyday vocabulary.

And it isn’t one that trips particularly easily off my tongue, particularly when I find myself applying it to some of my favourite products – most recently to Bird’s Eye fish fingers.

To me, it’s particularly distasteful when it’s not immediately obvious a product has shrunk from the packaging.

In fact, I’ve abandoned buying Toblerone in the UK because of how its manufacturers chose to shrinkflate the bar late last year.

Should I find it in its original guise abroad, I’ll probably stock up and proffer the ‘retro’ bars to friends and family.

While I appreciate that the cost of ingredients has gone up and manufacturers need to pass these on to the consumer, I can’t see why they can’t just keep the size the same but increase the price slightly.

If the price wasn’t put up by ridiculous amounts, I know I’d suck it up for my favourites.

Shrinking feelings

And a recent YouGov poll proves I’m not alone in thinking like this.

When consumers were asked if they’d rather pay more than see their favourite products shrink, 46% said they would.

Another 17% stopped buying a product because the size went down and the price remained the same.

Conversely, 36% favoured the practice.

And although 38% said they still bought a product when they knew it had been reduced in size, almost one in five (19%) stopped buying when the price went up and the size went down.

So where do you sit on this? Would you, like me, prefer to pay more for your favourite products rather than see them subjected to shrinkflation? Or do you think the practice is preferable to rising prices?

Thinking of when a product you buy was reduced in size, did you stop buying it?
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Comments
Profile photo of alfa
Member

I think it partly depends on the product.

Any product that looks the same as the last time you bought it, only to open the packed and find you have paid for more space than substance is downright deception and a rip-off by manufacturers.

For the majority of products I would rather pay extra for the same size, but I noticed Waitrose had shrunk its lamb moussaka from 400g to…..

And then this gets funny as I just went to Waitrose to check and it is 400g, went to Ocado and it is 350g for the same looking product and the same price but as they both have 682 kcal per pack, one of them is wrong. So I have just gone to the freezer and I have a 400g with 682 kcal. So why have Ocado changed their description? Is the product about to shrink?

I was going to say, on this particular product, I wouldn’t mind it shrinking as it is very filling and sometimes the fox gets a treat as I can’t eat it all. But I would also like a reduction in price.

Profile photo of Ian
Member

Presumably there has to be a limit as to how small the item could shrink? I suppose when it comes to the point where Cadbury’s starts bundling tweezers and magnifying glasses with the Milk Tray then things have to change.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I look at unit prices so it does not matter whether the price or package size changes. What I object to is reducing the amount in a pack without making the pack smaller. That is deception.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Option four in the poll has bowled us a bit of a bumper, bearing in mind the preamble across the top of the chart. It’s too early in the day for me to get my head around that one.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I read that and decided that I needed to sleep for another half hour:
“Yes, I stopped because the price went up even though the price went down”

Profile photo of alfa
Member

Gets my vote. 💤

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

Morning! All this up and down malarky was giving me a headache, so I’ve simplified the poll a little bit 😀 Sorry about that!

Profile photo of alfa
Member

So what have I voted for Patrick?

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

In each case the size had reduced, with only the price increasing, staying the same or decreasing. So in this case, the price increased even though the size had reduced.

Profile photo of alfa
Member

Reminds me of the song
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

What I do depends on the circumstances and is not consistent. There’s not even an option to spoil my ballot paper by selecting more than one option.

Profile photo of Ian
Member

A superb song, based closely on a Bach invention.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Dilution is my biggest bugbear. A number of products have the same volume at the same price but the composition has changed and what was once viscous is now runny. It used to be called adulteration.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

It’s easy to add inexpensive materials that allow the viscosity to remain unchanged but conceal dilution of the active ingredients. Washing-up liquids offer plenty of examples that show up in Which? testing.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

John wrote: “It used to be called adulteration.” Maybe we should put children in charge. Youthful honesty.

Profile photo of Beryl
Member

Honey can be both. I prefer to buy it runny, it’s much more versatile.

The above question is something of a double edged sword. Shrinkflation is OK if it means you eat less and therefore lose weight, but deceipt is unpardonable, especially when carried out in such a covert manner.

If a product shrinks and it is sold in the original packaging and I am tricked into believing I am buying the same amount at the same price as before, that is tantamount to fraud in my view. If, on the other hand, the product stays the same size and I am aware that it has increased in price, I then know exactly what I am paying for and it enables me to decide whether or not to buy it or look for an alternative at a more competitive price. Shrinking a product without shrinking the price to correspond with the smaller amount in the same packaging stifles competition and ensures continuity of consumer custom, but only short term until some loyal customers decide they can’t live without it and will continue to pay the same for less, come what may. It’s a very unethical and underhanded way to operate and it should be made illegal under the Sale of Goods Act.

So, on the basis that I still believe honesty is always the best policy, I would not knowingly buy any goods that have the capacity to fool me into believing I am purchasing the same amount for the same price as before, and subjecting me to the very unpleasant realisation I had been well and truly hoodwinked.

Profile photo of Ian
Member

Winnie would definitely be miffed at the thought of shrinking runny hunny.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Quite so.

Isn’t it funny how a bear likes honey?
Buzz, buzz. I wonder why it does.

A.A. Milne

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

A lot of under-the-sink products have been diluted I think and although they might still be as viscous they don’t perform so well for the amount used. This has also been happening with toothpaste, shower gel, shaving foam and gel, moisturising cream and almost anything where water [or aqua as they like to call it] is a significant ingredient. Commercial aquabatics.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

Birds Eye fish fingers – the staple diet of those with children and those with little money – packet reduced from 12 to 10 – price stayed the same , forlornly I watched the “Great Company ” adverts on TV looking intensely at every smiling face on a child , waiting for that smiling child to say – how happy I am that the fish fingers have been reduced—in numbers to 10 now its harder for my sister to pinch one from my plate . As in life I was left sadly disappointed . its a good job I never watch adverts and turn the sound off when they come on otherwise I would be “jumping off a bridge ” in despair.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

I suppose they have had to reduce the number in the packet because they have reduced the size of the fish fingers almost to the irreducible minimum. Fishes’ little fingers. The consequence has been a higher breadcrumb to fish content ratio which is not why people buy fish fingers.

Member
Michael P says:
11 March 2017

I voted that I still buy the product. But I buy it less frequently, e.g. chilled ready meals such as the one which has gone down in weight and had its composition downgraded (wrapped in bacon has become a small bacon blanket on top of the chicken which contained cheese and now has only a slab of mousetrap under that bacon).
And what about the stuff that spreads straight from the fridge that is £3.25 a packet but £5 for 2 once in a while? So it’s really £2.50 if you time your purchases correctly and keep an eye on the best-before date. It’s still outrageously expensive but I suppose the manufacturers think we are pleased with our being so astute. Well, if I can’t get a £2.50 “bargain” I buy Tesco’s own for 99p though that doesn’t taste as good.

Profile photo of VynorHill
Member

Often the size doesn’t matter, though sometimes it is annoying when a recipe needs a pack of something and there is less there than there should be. It is the basic deception that rankles and the ways in which these shrinkages are packaged to create an illusion. We get used to buying certain products in certain sizes and expect these to remain constant as part of the purchase decision. A flour bag advertised twenty percent free in big letters. Last year that bag contained the same contents as a regular size. That made me cross. When something alters in quality that also creates bad feeling. Manufactures rely on brand loyalty and it’s quite a big decision to change from something that’s been bought for years without question. When one does this, it is like a voyage of discovery seeking new replacements, upsetting the comfortable shopping routine. Thus the previous company ‘gets it in the neck’ for their product change and the need to look elsewhere for something else. They count on the fact that everyone is different and their products will still sell.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Given that supermarkets have been de-listing other brands the number of acceptable alternatives is also reduced.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

My view is to increase the price. I usually remember original prices more than product size, so can make a better decision on whether to buy or not. Production costs and ingredients do increase due to inflation, exchange rate and so on. I can then make a judgement as to whether a price increase is acceptable (to me).

Manufacturers, however, also need to consider whether what they do will affect their sales, including market share.

Member
Reader says:
11 March 2017

With obesity levels causing so many serious health problems, reduced food portions will do most people good! I would rather pay for high quality produce than cheap unhealthy and unnecessary bulk.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Many will have seen the redesigned Toblerone, but this is what shrinkflation could bring in the future:


Source: The Daily Mail.

Maybe just put the price up instead.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

Toblerone is not an essential purchase so just don’t buy it.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Another method could be to keep the number of chunks the same but reduce their height. More Peak District than alpine scenery.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Selling packs of five Creme Eggs (instead of six) or Toblerone bars with some of the teeth missing is at least obvious. It raises awareness of the products and might even boost sales. Unless anyone has a better term, I will call it “Shrinkflation marketing”.

Profile photo of Beryl
Member

I good idea Wavechange. Off the top of my head I can only think of a couple: “Marketing Sharpening” or perhaps maybe a little too crude “Stinkimg Shrinking”. More suggestions please! Keep them clean!

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Perhaps we need to find out if publicity generated by shrinking products can influence product popularity.

Profile photo of Beryl
Member

It may help if when advertising a product, some indication in a format such as that applied to health products, for example “This product now contains less” or “This product has recently been modified to counter increasing inflation”. Any message that alerts consumers to the fact that a product has changed would be welcome.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

“This product is now more profitable” might be more accurate in many cases.

As long as the change is made quite clear we have the choice of “to buy or not to buy”. Ad long as they don’t shrink a kiloWatt or a cubic metre.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Perhaps manufacturers should be required to alert customers to package size changes with a prominent label indicating NEW SIZE.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

I have suggested earlier that retailers should prominently note on their shelves the reduction in size, for a reasonable period of time – 4 to 6 weeks?

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I would like to see the information on the packet so that I am reminded about the reduction in size when I am at home. The manufacturers are good at putting conspicuous notices such as ‘New larger size’ on packaging, so I don’t imagine would be difficult to notify all size changes in this way. I have no objection to having the information on shelf labels too.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

Let’s propose we do both them, shall we? Whose going to turn that into action? I doubt anyone will, but hope to be proved wrong.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

They did make a change in the Birds Eye fish finger packet when they changed it from 12 to 10/packet –they put the cheery face of Capt, Birds Eye himself to make you feel better , the old packet wasn’t so prominent.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

I think the new presentation suits you, Duncan. It gives you even greater consumer appeal.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

Ha ! Ha ! John .

Member
bishbut says:
12 March 2017

CustomersMUST be properly informed of any change to sizes or how must the contents have been reduced . Anything that has reduced content MUST be in a completely different colour,size of package ,not the original one .Most manufacturers are using SNEAKY tricks to confuse

Member
Stevie says:
12 March 2017

Not good when you purchase a bag of snacks that are only a third full and you have to use a torch to find the contents. What a waste of materials used in making the bag. The contents of two or three bags would fit into one.
A very large waste of resources !!
I guess the next trick of the manufacturers will be to print “NEW SIZE”. Which would mislead customers into believing the contents have been increased.

Member
Rob says:
14 March 2017

For a long time, I have been annoyed by Pepsico and their excessive profiteering on the back of the Tropicana brand name and image. Then a year or two back, some of their juices went over from 1 litre to 850ml size with no reduction in the high prices. Now, the standard pack size for their mainstream orange juice has been cut to 950ml. The difficulty for me is that my wife has tried some supermarket juices including Which best buys and still prefers Tropicana. Several times a year I see Tropicana on offer at 60% of the standard prices or even less. I am sure they continue to make a profit at such prices which only serves to increase my sense of frustration

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

Rob the pound is falling at the moment its getting near the value of the Euro , only the US $ is rising due to the “Donald ” so this is how commercial companies keep their profit steady . This has already been forecast to happen on the world markets , our government will need to come up with some trade deals that favour us rather than other countries for any changes to take place , the long term forecast is still more reduction in the value of the British pound. HMG is striving behind the scenes to keep this country as the number one centre of International finance with Germany +France trying to change that, the rest of the year is crucial , it depends just how intelligent our government is -history is in the making a crucial turning point for this country in the years to come. What must impress British citizens is after foreigners saying this country has little influence now it seems events have shown that Britain still has a major influence on World events.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Has anyone found any products that don’t show the weight of the pack?

I have in front of me a pack of McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes that does not indicate the weight. It does state that ‘Each cake (12.2g) contains…..’

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

The answer should be found in the labelling regulations which gives quantity or weight/volume as a measure. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/food-information-to-consumers

My packet of M&S Jaffa Cakes is labelled with the weight.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Thanks Malcolm. I called the number shown on the pack and was told that because they were cakes, not biscuits, they were sold by number, unlike the biscuits sold by the company. When I asked why the weight was not shown, I was told that it was because the weight could vary – yet the weight of one cake is given as 12.2g.

While I was on the phone I asked why the fat/saturates/sugars/salt quantities did not show the red/amber/green ‘traffic light’ colours. I was told that this might change when the packaging is updated. I hope so.

I wonder if anyone has any similar examples of products that don’t show the weight of the pack contents.