/ Shopping

Toilet roll: are you being short changed?

Puppy toilet roll

Stories of shrinking supermarket essentials are rarely good news for your pocket. Well we’ve found that toilet roll has been shrinking, but the price has barely budged. So do you feel short changed?

When we asked Which? members to tell us which products had shrunk we were inundated with responses, but the one which kept cropping up was toilet roll. Several eagle-eyed contributors contacted us about Andrex toilet roll shedding sheets over the years.

Contributors such as Paul W who left this comment on Which? Convo:

‘Have Which? looked at toilet rolls? It is noticeable that they have reduced in width, not by very much, but a millimeter reduction means a “free” full roll every 100 for the manufacturer. When I built shelves in the airing cupboard to take toilet rolls a 2 roll height just fitted, now there is room to spare.’

So we decided to investigate further, delving into the archives to when we tested toilet roll in 2006 and 2008.

Caught short

What we found was that the standard Andrex toilet roll used to have 240 sheets, it now has 221 sheets – an 8% reduction. Andrex ‘Puppies On A Roll’ had 221 sheets per roll but now has 190 – 14% less.

But when we checked the price of the pack of standard Andrex four pack, we found that it stayed around the £2 mark.

Not content with this we continued our quest and investigated the length of Andrex toilet roll from 15 years ago.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of one Which? member who still had a pack of this artefact stored away and kindly sent us photographic evidence. This investigation revealed that Andrex toilet roll used to contain 280 sheets per roll – 59 more than the current pack.

Andrex said that the most recent size change was in early 2015 and that it didn’t drop the RRP:

‘We invested significantly in improving our product strength and softness. Reducing the roll by a very small number of sheets (this equates to five to six wiping occasions) has helped make this multi-million pound investment possible.’

Andrex also told us the earlier change took place in 2001, however, it said the RRP had dropped by roughly the same amount and that it had made improvements.

Shrinking products

Toilet roll isn’t the only product we’ve found to be shrinking – biscuits, juice and coffee are just some of the other products that we’ve also spotted slimming down. But as far as we’re concerned, these shrinking products are all very well and good, providing it’s not a sneaky way of increasing prices.

So do you feel short changed by shrinking toilet roll? Or do you think that it doesn’t matter? Have you noticed any other shrinking products?

Comments

It’s not just toilet rolls that are shrinking. The last packs of sanitary towels I bought contained 16 towels instead of the 20 in the previous package. We buy our toilet rolls at Iceland – £1 for four rolls – and up to now the quality has been consistent.

Phil says:
21 April 2016

The rolls provided at work look normal size but have a larger than usual cardboard tube.

Bought a Twix the other day and it was about two thirds the size they used to be also the new containers of Kelly’s ice cream are 950ml compared to the old style which were 1 litre. It’s a hidden form of inflation.

Surely the whole point is that inflation rates are monitored by the actual cost of a number of products in a shopping basket- so the prices remain the same and inflation rate is zero, even when our basket contains smaller or reduced quality items. Therefor we are being cheated because our pay and incomes depend upon inflation rates when we buy items- if we are actually buying less because the manufacturers are cheating us with smaller meaner helpings, then they are robbing us twice. Keep the size and quality and charge slightly more and stop pretending to be doing us a favour- ensure our shopping basket does cost more than it did and the government bears the brunt of higher inflation rates than it claims.

In a previous Conversation on shrinking products I asked Which? if the ‘standard shopping baskets’ used for the calculation of inflation rates and other indices were correctly adjusted each month to reflect changes in the size/volume/quantity of products and were based on unit values rather than packs. I don’t think the question was answered but I believe the official measures are so adjusted because of the obvious variation in pack or product size that exists across a single manufacturer’s range and between many different retailers.

I have no objection to companies offering products in any metric they choose but I think that for every grocery and provisions product there should be a common-sense national norm [e.g. one litre, 500 grams as appropriate] which must be offered before any other variations are offered. I would expect that to be shot down in flames by the consumer bodies because it would spell the death of pound shops which routinely resize their lines in order to meet their price point. But I question whether, on a like for like basis [taking quality into account], pound shops are actually any cheaper than an average of the major supermarkets across the range of groceries and provisions.

I don’t disagree, John, but I expect that the retailers would find every possible reason to opposed this proposal. I wonder if it would be more practical to encourage use and comparison of unit prices and make it mandatory to show unit prices whenever there is a multi-buy offer.

Hopefully the ‘shopping basket’ price comparisons are based on unit prices.

I think the very first issue of Which? examined the toilet roll market. I do remember one sentence: “It was large enough for the job in hand…”.

In theory the market should operate against manufacturers who shrink their offerings providing that all the loo roll manufacturers are in fact different companies. That’s very often where the real issues lie. a Capitalist economy is supposed to promote competition, yet all too often what the consumer is left with is collaboration. In many ways the non-explicit cartel is alive and flourishing.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I have noticed that a lot of own brand items are also shrinking but the price is not. Some of Sainsburys sandwich fillers look about half the size. They say they have reduced the price but I think they have shrunk the amount by a larger degree.

Buy rolls made from recycled paper to encourage all to be made the same (should be a law), not to match the curtains, after all, you are only going to stick them up your @r$£!

I do wish the questions would be phrased slightly differently. If prices of goods are going up which would option would shoppers prefer
A) Same size product & more expensive price
B) Smaller product, same price?

Not all companies are aiming to mislead customers.

P.s. re chocolate bars has anyone looked into how they have grown and then shrunk over time following the focus on calories per portion?

Sarah may be right that “not ALL companies aim to mislead” but nevertheless we ARE deceived by many of them, and the big brands seem to be the worst offenders.
Is it unreasonable to expect that when I buy a “Special Offer” it will be of a standard product at a special price. Such an offer in Tesco for a multi-pack of Twix bars had bars which are 30% lighter and 20% shorter than a standard bar. A similar pack of “Original” Mars bars gave the weight per bar as 39.4 g. against 51 g. per bar if i buy a single one.

Never mind the loss of sheets, I’ve also noticed that the height of the rolls have changed as well. I like to store my extra loo rolls in a cupboard in the bathroom, and up until recently, I could only stack 4×2 rolls in the cupboard space. I’ve since noticed that I can now stack 4×3 rolls in the same space… and there has been no change in the size of the cupboard!!

I am concerned mainly about the thickness issue. I find that I now have to use 2 sheets together as 1 is too thin. This means that a roll now is effectively 50% less than before, but I don’t suppose the makers mind as they are getting 100% profit due to this.

TO ADD TO THE TOILET ROLL DEBATE, THE MOST OBVIOUS REDUCTION IS IN THE WIDTH,SHOWN BY THE TOILET ROLE HOLDER.MINE HAS( ONE INCH SPARE)

I wondered why I was developing brown fingers!

During the last War I stayed at a farm near Malvern and the outside karzie was a 2-holer which was very conversational and comfortable during the summer and the cut-up copies of the Mirror served a purpose. This earth closet was rather pungent in the hot weather but I was impressed by the huge tomatoes plants growing in the effluent!

This goes on because by law the manufactures are obliged to declare the weight of the product, or the volume. If a reduction in weight takes place in production and the new weight is stated, then its legal, though misleading. All the Government needs to do is introduce unit pricing on the product, at the moment it’s displayed on the shelving, if at all. Customers are then more likely to notice this stealthy shrinkage.

kenneth, ” all Government needs to do is introduce unit pricing on the product,”. As shops sell the same product at different prices this would not work.
The problem I suspect for most people is that they will not see a price change when unit pricing is displayed – it requires them to remember what the pricing history has been, or what it is in other shops. Who will know that unless you research on line (smartphone?). It is useful, if properly used, to compare products and offers in the store on the day.

It’s not just items from the supermarket that have shrunk, I went into Paperchase yesterday for a card and they’ve all shrunk too yet the prices are still the same! Just about the whole range of cards are smaller than before.

I agree with the article but it would have been much more useful and informative if the dates of the sizes were stated on each product then we would know how much per year or period they have been reducing.

Roger Mitchell, ex RM. says:
26 April 2016

Many of the products now have shrunk, but more important is that this surely increases the CPI in 2015 by more than the Government figure that as been used to set this years nil rise in pension by the Government for veteran servicemen and women.

Surely this is fraud on a large scale by the Government which claims to uphold the Armed Forces Covenant but kicks veterans when ever it can.

The CPI and other indices are apparently based on unit prices and adjusted as these move so the index is probably as reliable as it can be [albeit subject to its own restrictive formula]. No account is taken, however, of any reduction in the size of a unit where it is not sold by weight, volume, or a spatial measure. So, in the case of toilet rolls, for which the unit is one sheet, the price comparison is on a sheet-for-sheet basis [or per ten or per hundred sheets more likely]. However, if the actual area of the sheet has been reduced by the manufacturer, that is not allowed for in any CPI or other index calculations, and nor is any other devaluation in quality of the product through a change in composition, consistency, ingredients, or such like. To that extent, all consumers are being short-changed when these value alterations occur and everyone is affected.

Military Service pensions are similar to other public service pensions [although some might be paid prior to general retirement ages] and any annual adjustments are based on the rate of inflation on 1 September in the previous year with no minimum guarantee except that when inflation is negative [as it was most recently at the relevant date] pensions are not subject to any reduction. So public service pensioners should be no worse off in real terms each year [in theory – but the composition of the index is controversial].

Under the State Pension ‘triple lock’ Guarantee the state retirement pension rises every year by the higher of inflation, average earnings, or a minimum of 2.5%, so even though the inflation rate was at or near zero at the time the pension increase was calculated, it actually rises by 2.5% for 2016-17.

According to the government, “the Armed Forces Covenant is a promise from the nation that those who serve or have served in the armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly”. I think it’s another one of those “we are all in the same boat” together platitudes and so long as we are all being treated equally unfairly no one can complain. More like a duck-billed platitude.

My two favourite chocolates bars have all shrunk to the point that I am concerned that Kit Kat Chunky and Boost bars are almost anorexic. It is the same with Cadbury creme eggs. This was my all time favourite sweet accompanied with with a mug of tea it was second to none. Now one bite and it is gone and worse still it no longer contains Dairy Milk chocolate in it.
I recently had a Twix and asked my wife was it from a family pack. To be honest the Twix was in need of a Twix!
The caring manufacturers tell us they have shrunk their products (but not the prices) in order to help combat obesity. Thank you very much but I have seen cases of people buying two Wispa bars instead of one to compensate for the reduction in size.
Because the manufacturers are so concerned for the Great British public’s well being we did not buy any ‘tins’ of Roses or Quality Street last Christmas and I no longer buy chocolate which has had the following benefits
1) A little weight loss
2) Not having to go to the toilet as often so saving on loo roll (Don’t tell Andrex or they will reduce the size of their toilet rolls further!)
3) I did not realise how expensive Chokkies had become ………nearly sixteen shillings for a Double or should I say a single Decker bar!

If you want to know how big Rolo’s where in the 1970’s put three of them in you mouth at once to re live the experience.
………………………………….Oh, don’t get me on about Malteezers they look like brown pea’s nowadays

graham says:
26 April 2016

capitalism, don’t you just hate it?

I am surprised in this debate about shrinking sizes that nobody has said that, in a lot of cases, packets of 20 of their favourite cigarettes now only contain 19, or, in the odd instance 18! O.K., good for the nations health but exceedingly sneaky and, I would have thought it would have generated a big uproar if people had noticed it. (it took me 6 months to realize “a packet of 20 please, meant 19!)

I’m surprised, given the known health risks, you still smoke Mike. I am smug, having given up 37 years ago 🙂

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I would be interested in seeing the difference between lungs that have lived their life in London and ones from somewhere like Inuvik

There have been so many comments in the various Conversations on this subject that it is easy to miss particular themes. Certainly the reduction in numbers of cigarettes in the packets was mentioned in an earlier Conversation which covered a much wider range of products, whereas this one has been focussed on toilet tissue as the big issue. I think galloping tobacco taxation, as well as a desire to be seen to be reducing temptation, compelled manufacturers to adjust their pack contents. For those who buy in bulk it probably means they get six packets instead of five now. Now that the cigarette gantries in shops have to be hidden behind sliding doors I feel that what was once a neutral display of little boxes has been given added drama as the doors roll across like the boulder hiding Aladdin’s cave and exposes the treasure within. I have no personal knowledge of this so I should be interested to know whether cigarettes have also been getting shorter and thinner.

I confess not having given a lot of thought to the size of toilet rolls but I wonder if the intention is to produce single-use rolls.

Are you suggesting washable ones for reuse? It seems an awful waste of paper at the moment. The Romans (historic ones that is) I believed used bits of sponge that I presume were rinsed for reuse (their newspapers might not have had the delicacy required). Perhaps we should be doing the same.

Though I’m fond of minimising waste, perhaps we could find other ways of economising than reusing toilet paper.

“minimising waste” seems appropriate here.

Thinking of the Ancient Romans’ management of waste, and that one of the twelve tasks set for Hercules in Ancient Greece was to clear the muck from the stables of King Augeas, it was curious that today I saw a lorry belonging to a company called Augean Waste Management who specialise in such services. Perhaps Hercules left unfinished business.