/ Food & Drink, Money, Shopping

Products are shrinking – so why aren’t prices?

Have you noticed certain items shrinking in size? We have, and the price doesn’t always shrink accordingly. But we’ve also found some good value Best Buys from our tests, proving that shopping doesn’t have to go up.

The price of grocery shopping is rising so we’re all looking for better deals and hoping our favourite products don’t jump in price.

But we’ve found that price rises don’t always happen in the most straightforward way.

Incredible shrinking products

Cadbury’s has reduced the number of chocolates in a tin of Roses but the price remains the same. And they’re not the only ones who are giving us less and not passing on the savings.

We trawled through the Which? back data of everyday products we’ve tested and found a number of items that aren’t all they used to be.

There’s the Sainsburys Ketchup that shrank 30g – and stayed at 95p. To be fair, after we complained to Sainsburys, they apologised and have agreed to drop the price in line with the size decrease.

But not all manufacturers have responded so well to our findings. There’s also Persil Small and Mighty washing liquid – the smallest size used to be 730ml and 20 washes – it’s now 630ml and 18 washes. There hasn’t been an equal drop in the widely available retail price.

When we questioned Persil, this was their response:

‘The Small & Mighty range changed from two pack sizes (20 and 42 washes) to four (18, 28, 54 and 85 washes) – helping us offer better value. Retail prices are up to retailers; however, our larger packs sell at an average cost per wash which is lower than this time last year.’

Fairy liquid has also shrunk – from 450ml to 433ml. They say it’s just been concentrated but this assumes you know to squeeze out less.

As these changes are incremental it’s incredibly hard to spot them yourself – unless of course you have spreadsheets of data, as we do. Which is presumably why they do it – the price has effectively gone up but you never get to know about it.

Cut your bill in half…

However, if you’re worried about the rising price of your weekly shop there is some good news. We’ve also gone back through our 2011 tests and uncovered a bumper crop of good value Which? Best Buys that you can get at budget supermarkets for a fraction of the cost of leading brands.

For instance, when we checked Aldi’s dishwasher tablets they were £3.99 for 40. Brand leading Finish costs around £10.20. Likewise, we gave Aldi’s Evoo olive oil our ‘Worth Considering’ stamp – this is a bargain £2.25 – the brand leader (Filipo Berio) is more than double that.

Overall, we found buying the leading brands of ketchup, orange juice, olive oil, laundry liquid, washing powder, washing-up liquid and dishwasher tablets, would cost £38.67. For the equivalent supermarket brand Best Buys and the Worth Considering olive oil and laundry liquid you’d pay just £18.35 – a saving of 53% on your bill.

Which? Best Buys infographic

So, will you be looking out for our Best Buys and shopping around budget supermarkets to save on your shopping? Manufacturers making products smaller certainly isn’t saving us anything, so you may have to.

Personally I’d like to know when products have shrunk and be aware of what it means to the overall cost. Is it an underhand way of reducing prices? Have you got any examples of your own shrinking products or budget buys?

soosiemm says:
23 September 2011

Is it my imagination or has the thickness of Andrex got somewhat thinner. The paper is almost diaphanous compared to yester-year. I’m sure I used to manage with 4 sheets and now I realise I’m using 6!! Time to do my research and look for thicker 4-sheeter alternatives and do the maths. How sad is that? Maybe toilet paper should be compared by weight, minus the roll. Or could someone create a formula based on weight x absorbancy rating x number of sheets?? Would Which like to take up the challenge and tell us the real truth about toilet paper?

Maureen Liu says:
27 September 2011

So it’s not just me! I have to buy the quilted toilet rolls nowadays just so that I don’t need to tear a meter each time.

Mr Phun-Gi says:
23 September 2011

A Well known cereal manufacturer has been quite honest for years…”this pack is/has been sold by volume not by wieght”

nigel says:
13 July 2012

I believe most cereal makers so label loose fill, liable to settle type cereals. They only do so to “pre-respond” to the obvious response any customer might make if they happen to look into a 40% cereal free zone contained in the box. The low calorie space supplied free is in my mind a deception of the unwary customer and a waste of resources and their manufacture and transport costs. Not to mention their disposal and recycling costs. Its not quite honest, its pushing the PROFIT envelope (or packaging) …. honestly.

Foil has gone from 20 metres down to 18, then 15, now 10, for the same price.
Oxo cubes are no longer square but have X’s carved into them. Smaller portions for the same price. Its Stealth-flation. And our MP’s just let them get away with it…….Same as the Banks…..

Maureen says:
24 September 2011

Johnson DUCK.
The carton has changed. Supposed to be a ‘New Formula’
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the previous formula. The NECK has been changed to the customers detriment. The reason stated on the carton is that we now have better reach. No difference. The hole appears to be larger,although I cannot prove it as I do not have the old carton, but If you are not careful you can deposit double the quantity now.

Jaytee says:
24 September 2011

I was beginning to think that I was the only person who had noticed our ‘incredibly shrinking Britain’. I’ve been collecting sweet/chocolate tins (the sort that proliferate around Christmas time) for years (I use them for storing small items) and my collection makes an impressive display of the shrinking phenomenon: not all years show an actual reduction in the dimensions of the tins which at first sight always appear unchanged, but all invariably show that the weight of their contents (conveniently (not for the purchasers) printed on the bottom of the tin) has decreased steadily year on year.

But less of the junk food: why has no-one mentioned that good wholesome tinned food has also suffered a weight reduction recently? And do some supermarkets which claim to have cheaper prices always stock items which which are smaller than the competitors ‘equivalents’ (I’ve noticed my local ‘10% less’ Morrisons seems to be very skilful at this tactic)?

If there really is a drive to cut down on waste and excessive packaging, then why is there not a crackdown on this scandalous way of hiding inflationary price increases? After all, the packaging of an item is approximately proportional its dimensions squared, whilst its volume is approximately proportional to their cube, so a reduction in size doesn’t produce an equivalent reduction in packaging waste, ergo, if our consumption remains constant our waste output will increase.

I’m sure it wasn’t very long ago when I could purchase a tube of toothpaste containing 200ml of the stuff, but now I seem to be throwing out empty tubes at an astonishing rate now, and my teeth aren’t increasing in number!

For an example of literal inflation, there’s ice cream: it was once sold by weight, but manufacturers realized that they could whisk more air/gas into it, so their answer is to sell it by volume, and hide their price increases by selling us less dense ice cream in a similar sized container (has anyone noticed how it erupts out of its container if it begins to thaw on its way home?).

And so on… And so on…

Onken natural yoghurt went from 500g to 450g, not sure about price. anyone else notice?

I use Vitalite as I am allergic to milk They have changed the packaging from those handy reusable circular tubs to the more run of the mill rectangular flimsy tubs that most marges come in
Exactly the same amount of product but now its TWICE the price !!

I think Innocent Smoothies are now 900ml ! no they are not just bought the last two I will ever buy and they are 750 ml for £2.00 a piece with 79p reduction dont you know ! Tesco’s Paaa. They are taking the p****

Here are a couple of other examples of shrinking products (i.e. price increases):

1. J Arthur Bowers Compost sold by the chain West End DIY at 3 bags for £10. Each bag used to contain 70 L of compost, and they now contain 60L of compost. But the price remains the same!

2. Wafcol Adult Salmon and Potato Dog Food sold by the on line retailer UK Pet Supplies (based in Liveridge, Yorks). In October 2010 a 15 Kg bag retailed at £35.99, in April 2011 a 15 Kg bag retailed at £37.99, and in September 2011 the bag has reduced to 12 Kg and retails for £36.99. The £1 reduction in price does not compensate for the 3 Kg reduction in weight, so this is another hidden price rise.

Bernard Matthews Turkey Dinosaurs down from 8 in a bag to 6.

J Faulkner says:
26 September 2011

Packs of Innocent Fruit smootheys have shrunk in size from 1 litre to 750 ml, I think the prices are about the same……………………….

I first picked this up a few years ago in Morrisons. Meats were packed in 500g packages. This changed to 454g (the old pound weight) and then dropped to 450g. Cheese was the same beginning at 500g, dropping to 480 and then moving down to 450. There are now packs of 400g. Although these are often on offer with buy one get one free, the principle is misleading. After all the same offer prices applied to the higher weights as well. An earlier comment covered the issue of shelf markings so that you can compare. These are not always clear and use different variations of the metric theme. I have no problem with the maths, but there are many who would prefer a clear honest consistent system. It all boils down to conning the public……..and a con-man was never a popular figure in our society. Why do we put up with it?

We have to accept that one of the most profitable industries in Britain is the provision of food and suppliers at all levels of the chain intend to keep it that way. (Argue if you will, but the number of supermarkets is expanding at great speed and they are not created to run at a loss!) Government says it does not want to regulate but to rather leave the matter of choice to consumers. 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. The same dishonest practises apply to healthy eating and links between honest information and the obesity epidemic….but that is a separate conversation.

Christian says:
26 September 2011

Heinz Farmers Market Soups have shrunk from 500g to 400g but remain the same price a 20% increase diabolical profiteering

Johnny says:
26 September 2011

My favourite example is at Sainsbury’s. The only wine boxes they sell nowadays are 2.25 Litres, equal to 3 bottles. They used to sell 3 litre wine boxes (equal to 4 bottles) like all the other supermarkets, . When faced with a shelf containing only 2.25 litre boxes, the shopper thinks “I could have sworn wine boxes were 3 litres but these are all the same so I suppose I must be wrong”

Roderick Owens says:
26 September 2011

I’ve only just twigged this, following shelving a 3L wine-box purchase at ASDA next to a Sainsbury’s 2.25L wine-box.

Given that it is reasonable to expect a retailer would only make a change of this nature with the intention of increasing profit, this looks like a ploy to deceive customers. No more Sainsbury’s wine-boxes for me!

this is the also found in choc bars

Chris Fowler says:
26 September 2011

Bertolli reduced the weights of its pasta sauces about a year ago. They also changed the shape of the jars, which taper towards the bottom, to make the fact the jars contained a smaller amount less apparent. In fact, 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. And I am sure the supermarkets are colluding with this process.

Wagonwheels – when I was young they were the size of my head, as I got older they stared selling ones the size of my hand – now a wagonwheel fits in the palm of my hand. The same happened to Farley’s Rusks.

Seriously though, I do not expect to have to calculate the difference between ‘per 100g’, ‘per 1kg’, and ‘per 100ml’, to see which packet of the same product is the bargain. Whenever I see the different units being used for the same product (different sized packs) on the same shelf in the same supermarket, I walk away without purchasing the product.

Innocent smoothies – I used to consider them an ethical company, the huge price increase (same price smaller package) have made me reconsider – now I make my own smoothies. My blender paid for itself in under a month!

Allan Fluskey says:
26 September 2011

Cathedral City mature cheddar used to be 400gr but has now shrunk to 350gr, but the price is still the same

Just a thought, does this progressive reduction in volume get taken into account when the Government uses its “consumer basket” to calculate changes in RPI?

Pampers nappies Acitve fit size 4 from 102 down to 92.
All Pampers boxes have shrunk recently. I stock up when they are on offer so can compare with my existing stocks
Fairy Dishwasher tablets from 42 down to 38
Prices are the same. To lure you P&G puts “new” on the box and sells them at “introductory price”. So you think you have a better product at a bargain price, clever. And next time you will buy again smaller size full price.