/ Food & Drink, Money, Shopping

Products are getting smaller while shopping bills get bigger

Mini cupcake

We have discovered yet more household products that have shrunk, while the price has stayed the same or even increased. Are any of your favourite products shrinking?

In our investigation into shrinking products, we found a pack of Birds Eye beef burgers with four fewer burgers in it than before – 12 down from 16. We also discovered Pledge furniture polish had shrunk by almost a fifth. And we found you get fewer Dettol anti bacterial wipes and even fewer crisps than you used to.

For most of the products we investigated, the price stayed the same after the shrink. The biggest decrease in product size we found was 25%, while the smallest was Walkers cheese and onion crisps that decreased by 6%. Check out our gallery at the bottom of this post for some of the shrinking products we found.

How do you feel about shrinking products?

It’s certainly a topic that gets people hot under the collar. Last time I wrote about shrinking products on Which? Conversation, over 100 people joined the debate and some very strong views were expressed. Alan Pearcey felt that he was being tricked:

‘Manufacturers and retailers are equally complicit in this blatant, underhanded, conspiracy to confuse and cheat those who represent their very survival – their customers – with this latest ‘smoke and mirrors’ practice.’

M. would rather see prices go up:

‘I would prefer them to raise prices so we could see the knife coming, rather than put up with this devious practise.’

Frugal Ways wondered if shrinking products avoided being picked up by price index measures:

‘It’s clear to me that smaller pack sizes for the same price is an actual price rise, yet this sharp practice does not impact on inflation, RPI, CPI figures, etc. These figures are used nationally by governments, councils, et al, to calculate benefits, wages, etc.’

So why are products shrinking?

We looked at branded products (eg not supermarket own-brand), using independent shopping website mysupermarket.co.uk. We asked the makers of these products why they had shrunk them, and were generally told that, in the face of rising costs they choose to shrink products rather than increase prices.

Many of the manufacturers we spoke to said supermarkets ultimately set prices. We asked whether they reduced the wholesale price or set a lower recommended retail price when the product shrank. Most manufacturers either said they didn’t do this or wouldn’t comment. So it’s perhaps not surprising the prices in supermarkets didn’t drop.

Would you prefer a price increase or a smaller product? How important is it that manufacturers and retailers make it clear to shoppers when a product has reduced in size?

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Comments

I suggest that we sort out unit pricing rather than worrying about package sizes and prices. I have not much of a clue about supermarket prices but I do have a good idea of what represents a cheap or expensive unit price.

Unit pricing was introduced to help customers make a useful comparison in cost of products sold in different package sizes, etc. It has not always been helpful, mainly due to the proliferation of multi-pack discounts. This would not be difficult to overcome. Thus if a supermarket offers three items for the price of two, all that is needed is a second unit price.

I think this is a much more realistic goal than trying to persuade manufacturers not to vary package sizes. Even if they never did this, we can hardly expect all manufacturers to use the same package size.

When you buy fuel for your car, you see the unit price (price per litre) and can easily compare that with the price charged at other filling stations.

hobbiland says:
21 March 2013

That is a good idea. Force manufacturers to provide per kg, per litre, per metre and per sheet prices. Some supermarkets do it but not all. Make it he law!

Shrinking sizes are a big con. They think all customers are stupid. Shrinking sizes in the name of healthier chocolates or smaller washing up bottles better for the environment. What a big con!

I bought four bags of muesli yesterday, simply because I noticed the unit price was low. I have enough toilet rolls to keep me going for a year and I’m on the lookout for decent shampoo on offer at a low unit price so that I can stock up.

Bob says:
23 March 2013

Unit pricing is mandatory for shops larger than 280 square metres. See:
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2004/102/made

Graham Cox says:
23 March 2013

Thanks for the intelligence.
Problem is that we don’t know all the unit prices (ie we cannot remember them for products from each manufacturer) and hence find it tough to know when they are changed. They are not listed on the receipts.

MrsTabby1963 says:
23 March 2013

I totally agree Graham. It is hard to keep track of stray grams that ‘go missing’ and unless I write down the price per 100g in a little book to keep track of whether prices are increasing (who does that??) of my usual grocery items, it can be difficult to check. Frustrating.

happydemic says:
24 March 2013

Me… I do that!

I use a shopping list app and I have written the unit price next to the items I buy weekly. Since I use the app every time I shop, I can immediately see if the price has gone up, or if a special offer is as good as it seems. I also find it useful at the discount stores as I can see what is actually cheaper at my usual supermarket. When the price changes, I update the price in the app – and prepare to tighten my belt another notch!

That seems like a good idea, happydemic. I’m sure your app is more reliable than my memory.

Hi WaveChange, thanks for starting this thread (if that’s the correct term).
Fuel unit price is a good analogy. I need to use 99 octane in my high performance engine, so litre/gal pricing comparison is very important to me at 19mpg.

I hope my comment will fit in with this thread.

For a long while, I have been honouring ASDA supermarket in Swindon with my custom. A daily
1.5ltr of fortified British wine. 15% vol. £6.80…
Today I collected my daily medicine and low and behold, They offered a
1.5ltr of fortified British wine. 13% vol. £7.00.

So, they apparently added more water, then increased the price.

Tesco yesterday have also increased their prices for a 1ltr bottle of similar. But the ABV remains the same.

15% abv hardly qualifies as fortified wine, and 13% is the same as a lot of red wine. It would be interesting to know what Asda has to say about that.

John S says:
21 March 2013

Arden Grange dog food, largest bag, down from 15kg to 12kg.

Lisa M says:
21 March 2013

I’ve stopped buying Innocent smoothies/juices as it infuriates me that they’ve reduced the size from 1L to 900ml, whilst the price is pretty much the same.

I’d do the same with Frijj milkshakes (from 500ml to 471), but the other half loves them too much…

I wonder if they think us consumers are stupid and just won’t notice?

The other thing that seems to have gone on unnoticed is the labelling on larger box/packs that used to imply this box is good value is slowly being re-written, A 1kg box of crunchy nut not no longer says Best Value pack but The biggest one. And if you dare to query it with the manufacturers you get “its more in-keeping with the image we’re trying to portray”. So they’re trying to mislead us from all directions.

kateydog says:
21 March 2013

Aldi own-brand washing powder – a Which best buy – is now in smaller pack and no longer has a measuring cup in the pack.

Douwe Egberts coffee shrunk late last year and when I phoned them to complain, they told me they reduced the size rather than increasing the price. They also did not want to exceed the £7.00 band for 200 grams. I explained to them that by keeping the price the same it was the same as a price increase but they did not accept this was a price increase.

When I next visited Waitrose and Tesco – my usual haunts, I spoke to a manager and asked them not to stock the coffee as I felt DE was dishonest by increasing the price by stealth. I was told that because the new size and unit price was displayed on the shelf, the store was pricing honestly.
Before leaving the stores, I used my pen to circle the new size on the shelf.

Good on yer Figgerty; I will carry a pen in future,

It was good of you, Figgerty, to telephone the manufacturer. I wish I had time to do this more often. With my current telecoms bundle it would cost me nothing except the time it takes to get through to somebody – anybody! – who would take the slightest bit of interest in the complaint. If enough people would do this the manufacturers might take notice . . . or they might not, and just shut down their customer phone lines so they can legitimately claim they have had no complaints!

Some items come in familiar sizes – 250g tea, butter, 1/2lb coffee, 1 kg flour/sugar, 4 pt milk, 75 cl wine. I would not expect these sizes to change and if they did without telling us, to keep the price stable, I would feel deceived. I link the price to the size.
Other items, fruit, veg, cheese for example, I tend to think of price per unit weight.
But some items, like chocolate, sauce, biscuits, cereals I don’t really link price and size. I don’t know what to look for to see if it has changed – a change in size can be subtle and unnoticed, particularly if it’s in a box.
The answer is to show the price per unit – weight or volume – but even then you will be unfamiliar with the expected price per unit for many items so maybe they should also show the last unit price and the new one with the date it changed. It is done when prices fall, so why not when they rise?

Lesley B says:
22 March 2013

Don’t get caught out when shopping in Morrisons some of their butter is now sold in 200g packs and not the familiar 250g

monty says:
22 March 2013

john west tin tuna fish and princess tin tuna fish in sunflower oil both have been reduced in weight
in last few months.

Graham Cox says:
22 March 2013

So Alice, has which reported Patak’s to the authorities? Lable before and after say ‘Medium,serves 4’ don’t they?.

Have you ask the ONS is they adjust for ALL these changes in the calculation of the CPI?

Best wishes

Graham Cox
PS Separately , how about a campaign to boycott sellers who use 99 etc at the end ( for everything or almost all that they sell). Now Witherspoons have joined in the psychological cheating with all their deals jumping from sensible number to 99p on the end.

mags says:
25 March 2013

I agree with the “99p” idea Graham! I’ve always rounded up the prices (and taught my son, now 22, to do the same – he’s a great bargain hunter, as are all students I imagine …) – glad to see that Marks & Spencer began some years back to price clothing in whole £s – why don’t other retailers?

I was informed by a friend trade insider years ago that spoons had to remove their “pints a pint” campaign with marked glasses. They had to remove this and go back to smaller glasses which leave you paying for the head. The reason was they would have gone bankrupt if they hadn’t.
Look out for the bi-annual re-release of a larger with a gimmick, all aimed to create a larger head or a distorted glass with a larger volume to depth ratio.

Tessa Clegg says:
22 March 2013

Not only are things shrinking, but I’ve noticed, for instance, that Marmite tastes less strong, and fabric Elastoplasts don’t stick until I saw a “new” product called Extra Strong Elastoplast!! We are being taken for mugs.

Well spotted, Tessa. I was given some of the Marmite XO – which is a more matured and reputedly stronger & tastier version – and thought it was very little different in taste from the regular product. I hadn’t realised – because at the time I was still only part way through a large jar of the original Marmite – that the regular Marmite available now is not as appealing as its former character. I am now on the new regular version and find I have to spread more on in order to achieve the sensation I am looking for.

I expect that we can rely on Patrick to do a little research and provide an update about this change. Perhaps the Marmite mines are nearly worked out.

I’d say I’d do a taste test, but it takes me quite a long time to get through a jar…

Graham Cox says:
22 March 2013

Tessa ,

We are not being taken for mugs but being de-frauded and i say that as an economist. Your Elastoplast example is a good one .

Richard investigates says:
22 March 2013

Watch out for Alpen Raspberry and Apple.
Original Alpen comes in bags of 1.5Kg or boxes of 750gm. Nice and easy to see the best price.
They have recently introduced a new product – Raspberry and Apple Alpen. Same wholegrain wheat, rolled oats etc. A few more raisins, some apple pieces and some strawberry pieces but no roasted sliced nuts.
Same box, same price but only 560gm! That’s a whole 25% less!

They can make whatever excuses they like,but they are very slippery in trying to hide their tricks. I noiticed last year that toilet rolls were minutely narrower. Then recently i bought a pack of 24 on specil offer, when i opened them i discovered the ones inside the pack, not showing on the outside, were smaller than the outer ones. If that’s not dodgy practice i dont know what is. Excuse capitals, nasty conjunctivitis makes print difficult..

Redders says:
22 March 2013

Sainsbury’s fresh pasta (penne, fusilli, etc) was knocked back from 600g to 500g last year or the year before, but the price has been steadily increasing.

Lynne A says:
22 March 2013

I accept that, with rising food prices, either products have to shrink or prices have to be raised. However, if the product shrinks then so should the packaging – just putting less in the same sized container is a blatant attempt to defraud us.

Where it does cause a real problem is with cooking ingredients. All recipes are based around standard pack sizes – a 400g tin or a 500g packet of mince, for example. I always choose the manufacturer who still uses the standard sizes, even if they cost that bit more, but it means you do have to read every label very carefully to make sure you are getting what you think you are.

Julia Hills says:
22 March 2013

Malcolm made a good point when he wrote about some things having to be a specific quantity, like milk, fats etc. ( although I have also noticed butter being sold in 200 g sizes rather than 250 g), thereby making it obvious when there has been a price rise. Bread sold as a loaf is another product, which is sold as 800 g or 400 g, but I have noticed that in store bakery items such as rolls or buns, which tend to be sold by quantity rather than weight, have all got much smaller recently. And has anyone noticed that some supermarkets are selling eggs in boxes of 10 rather than a dozen?

I don’t see why the contents of packs or jars should shrink or reduce. Are we going to use less if the amount in the pack or jar is less – NO – we still use the same amount. .I used one full teaspoon of coffee per cup before and after Douwe Egberts changed the quantity from 200 grams to 190grams. The difference now is that I am paying 5% more for the coffee. A 5% price increase by stealth – dishonest practice. I don’t buy their coffee any longer and tell any coffee drinkers I know of their deceitful practice.

We should contact these companies and complain about their deceitful practice and also protest to the supermarkets who sell their products. Shopping is now like an obstacle course and you really need to be alert to avoid being swindled. It is like decimalisation and metrification all rolled into one.

KENNETH WOODS says:
22 March 2013

I recently asked the manager of our local Waitrose if he would weigh a small packet/bag, of Walker’s Crisps as i was sure there was so little in the bag. But he said he did not have a weighing scale which could do that, I am so glad you are taking this matter up. I believe whatever is packaged these day’s bear’s no resemblance to 2-3 year’s ago

Bob says:
23 March 2013

Kenneth,
I sometimes weight packs when I get home. They usually exceed the marked value but the ‘e’ symbol indicates it complies with the rules for average quantity. Some can be more, some can be less.

The key term is ‘Tolerable Negative Error’:
****************************
http://www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/cgi-bin/shropshire/bus1item.cgi?file=*badv024-1111.txt
A batch of packages must, at the time of packing, comply with the following rules:

The actual contents of the packages must not be less, on average, than the nominal quantity.
The proportion of packages that are short of the stated quantity by a defined amount (the ‘tolerable negative error’ or ‘TNE’) should be less than a specified level (generally no more than 2.5%).
No package should be short by more than twice the TNE.
****************************

Derek Weale says:
22 March 2013

Warburtons soft rolls used to be £1.20 for 6 now £1.20 for 4 shrinkage of 33% !!!!!!!!

Ken Armitt says:
22 March 2013

I too agree that the solution is to force all sellers, by law, to display a standardised unit price for all items. This price should be displayed in the same size character set as the total price and alongside it.