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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?


I have no hard and fast facts on this, but I get the impression that medicine bottles are smaller than they used to be not so long ago.
There may be different reasons for this. It may also be a good thing?

I’ve been buying KP salted roasted peanuts for years and I’m used to the 300g pack – recently I can only find 270g packs printed as ‘NEW RECLOSE PACK ‘- they have a piece of sticky tape attached! They are retailing at the same price as before so I’m now getting 10% less for that price. On investigation I found that the 500g pack has also shrunk to 450g which again is a 10% shrink – sneaky tricks from KP Snacks Ltd.
It appears to me that the government’s claim that food prices have not risen is false and the RPI should be adjusted accordingly – in fact several things like annual increases in pensions and benefits depend upon this unless I’m mistaken.

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David – If you go to the previous page you will see a long response to a similar point made by Roger Mitchell about the relationship of price increases to pension rates and the adjustment of the relevant indices.

This is a very timely conversation! Right since the beginning of the recession, I had noticed products getting slimmer, lighter, smaller, subjectively less dense (Fairy washing up liquid) , packaging weights / volumes in strange numbers eg 675ml, even the taste of some foods had changed

Subjectively again, Lidl and Aldi have not joined this trend, and if I am correct on this one, huge kudos to them

And excellent that Which has also published an article on this matter!

Cushelle Toilet Paper Rolls, until recently at Waitrose £2.00 for 4 rolls of 200 sheets = 25p per 100 sheets (also £4.00 for 4 rolls of 400 sheets – same unit price). Today I saw the same pack prices, £2.00 and £4.00, but I noticed that the unit price was no longer that neat round figure of 25p but is 27.8p per 100 sheets. Look at the pack and you see they are now rolls of 180 sheets or 360, where they were 200 or 400. By my reckoning that’s an unannounced price increase of 11%. Waitrose, to give them their due, clearly show the new unit price, and that the smaller pack contains rolls of 180 sheets, but it’s not as clear as it would be if the quantities in the pack had remained unchanged and the price simple increased. I don’t see why we should tolerate these stealthy attempts to increase prices in ways that manufacturers and retailers hope we won’t notice. In most areas of life – dealing with family and friends, or employers – this kind of attempted deception by omission would not be acceptable, so why do we have to endure it when we are shopping? The result is loss of trust and a degradation in standards of behaviour in commerce.

A few months ago, at Tesco, Ainsley Harriott packet soups (made by Symington’s Ltd) suddently dropped from 4 packets per box to 3. Did the price drop by a quarter?

Sheila says:
5 May 2016

This is far from a new strategy. It goes on all the time, but not quite so obviously as at present. It just comes to the fore every few years for a new audience.

In the early 1970’s (yes that long ago) this was gone into as part of a course I did in advertising. We were told that if we thought that manufacturers were cheating the consumer we ought not be doing the course. I’m afraid I did finish it, but didn’t end up working in advertising.

A story for you: Persil washing capsules now come in bigger packs, but shoppers shouldn’t have to pay any more as manufacturer Unilever says RRPs will remain the same.

The new packs for Persil bio capsules, Persil non-bio capsules and Persil colour capsules contain two or three more capsules than they did previously, bringing them up to 12, 22 and 38 washes per pack.

By our calculations, this would make the cost per wash 38p – but that’s some way off the cheapest we found in our last round of laundry detergent tests.

Read more: http://www.which.co.uk/news/2016/05/persil-increases-pack-sizes-but-not-prices-440631/ – Which?

I saw this in Which? news and nearly posted it here as a “good” change to offset the continual “bad” changes. Glad to see you do it Patrick.

I don’t know whether the cheaper ones you mentioned gave an equal wash result?

On tv today one story concerned a lady who buys all (not clear if actually everything) not by what she needs, but by “yellow sticker” goods that are being sold off as they reach their sell by date. Her menus revolve around what is available. She saved an awful lot of money, but I’m not sure I’d put up with the meals that might be generated. However, food for thought. 🙁

I have a friend who does this, mainly with foods that can be frozen if they might not be used promptly. I am offered discounted produce at least once a week, delivered to the door. As far as I’m aware, all the supermarkets discount surplus produce with a ‘use by’ date, but there is a move towards supporting the community rather than offering heaving discounts to customers.

Recommended Retail Price not increasing ….. and who ever pays RRP? The supermarkets may well be paying more for Persil and that will end up on the shelves shortly – but still be significantly lower than RRP.

Janet says:
11 May 2016

It is not just toilet rolls, every thing you buy these days is smaller than it used to be. Chocolate boxes are a prime example, they used to weigh one kilo now they don’t.

Ian says:
13 May 2016

It’s not just the size that manufacturers are shrinking. Foster’s Gold lager has just dropped from 4.5% to 4.3% alcohol and yet the price remains the same.
The labels on the bottles and cartons remain identical, apart from 4.5% being changed to 4.3% – so it’s difficult to spot unless you study the small print!!
Even their website shows 4.5%.

It’s not just loo rolls that have shrunk, loos have got smaller too!!!

The shorter length, the narrow seat with a small hole to park your bum, seats that don’t cover the porcelain ………. they definitely don’t seem to be designed for comfort any more.

Anyone got a suggestion for a back to wall loo that is more modern looking but in an old fashioned size?

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That’s definitely a ROFLMAO !!!! 🙄

We might actually have found one this afternoon – a Vilroy and Boch Subway that would probably do the business in comfort.

US loos are definitely made for the job and not designer bums !!!

There is interesting research on poverty that uses loo rolls as a fundament-al part of its study. This is an introduction:

This probably has a strong resonance in the UK:
” As this report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis points out, “a household with a net income of $20,000 may pay as much as $1,200 annually for alternative service fees” while those more financially secure may only pay a few dollars (or none at all) for a chequing account. The privilege of being rich allows one to save more on mundane expenses, savings that may go unnoticed.

Read more at: phys.org/news/2016-05-poor-told-toilet-paper.html#jCp

An update on shrinking products: we recently found that tins of Princes mackerel fillets in sauce now contain less fish than before. The tins themselves haven’t got smaller, but the amount of mackerel in each one has dropped – by up to 20%.

Princes told us that they changed the recipe in response to taste tests, and said they’ve dropped the RRP of the tins, but looking at pricing info from the last 6 months, it doesn’t look like the price reduction has been passed onto shoppers.

Has anyone spotted similar examples, where important ingredients are being cut, leaving you feeling short-changed?

Hmm sounds a bit fishy to me 🙂

James Hewitt says:
9 October 2016

And now – yet again – Andrex have reduced the roll size to 200 sheets. They claim the sheet is thicker but this appears to be due to them putting some annoying pattern on the paper rather than actually increasing the paper thickness. Apparently we are all idiots and just suck manufacturing cost reduction up. Unfortunately I can’t find a decent alternative to Andrex – believe it or not!

Gus helps toilet rolls now 2ply not 3ply. Rubbish.

Geoff Emson says:
25 February 2017

I recently bought a couple of rolls of kitchen towels from a supermarket, either Asda or Tesco (I can’t remember which one now) thinking that the price seemed reasonable. When I came to use them they were pathetic- not much bigger than a very small handkerchief and totally unsuited for the job of wiping up spills. I shall check what I am buying more carefully in future.

Yup, you have just witnessed shrinkation in action. It won’t be long before we are presented with “new, bigger, better” that will be exactly the same as we were used to previously, only at a higher price. Andrex have been at that for years, which is why I stopped buying them.

Sainsbury’s used to sell their own ‘compact’ toilet rolls. The tube was smaller and they felt denser and heavier. The literature on the back of the packet proudly proclaimed how they were helping the environment through less packaging and transportation etc.

They lasted ages! They cost more but it was worth it to have the freedom from having to think about buying toilet rolls all the time.

Sainsbury’s, in their wisdom, have now ‘improved’ their toilet rolls, making them softer etc, which equates to a loose, flimsy roll that lasts half as long as their compact ones.

What’s most irritating is how they underestimate their customers. They assume we are all simple creatures and price is the only thing we care about.

They also reduce loyalty in customers – their compact toilet rolls and organic fruit and vegetable ranges were the only two things that made me shop at Sainsbury’s. They’ve just scrapped one of those things.

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I used to have a wall-mounted kitchen roll holder and at one time could buy any brand of roll. Shorter rolls arrived and they fell out of the dispenser, so I had to look for the right length in the supermarket.

It occurs to me that it might not be long before kitchen rolls will become short enough and narrow enough to fit the toilet roll holder. Progress and innovation.

duncan, the 5% tax cannot be made null as vat is imposed by Europe, and we apply the minimum level it can be. What these people can do is to reduce the price they charge (by 4.76% = 100/105)) but that reduced price charged will still include 5% vat that has to be remitted to HMRC. 🙁

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The point is, if Sainsbury’s can afford to reduce the price by the equivalent of the vat, if they at some point become zero rated, as we hope, then they can reduce the price even further (by another 4.76%). Perhaps they have been overcharging in the first place? 🙂

Possibly. While I welcome the move, I am sure the loss on these products will not affect the bottom line. Keep an eye on the price of loo rolls. I shall not be sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation of any overall price reductions in any of the supermarkets.

Men and women who unfortunately have a bladder weakness problem are presumably paying 20% VAT on their absorbent pads and liners. Isn’t there a valid case for a similar VAT concession at 5%?

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That’s right, Duncan. But for many people Asda is the only close supermarket. Their cheeky bottom-patting price claims seem to have been dropped from their advertising now in the face of tough competition from the discounters.

I am sure hygiene products have been big profit earners for years, partly because of the low VAT rate on tampons etc, which has enabled premium pricing for what are basic products. They are necessities, especially in this more hygiene-conscious age, yet no one has properly explored the true production costs of such simple items. The manufacturers and the retailers exploit the embarrassment factor as it is not something people wish to talk about, let alone complain about.

Linda says:
8 September 2017

Thanks for highlighting this Ella. I was wondering who else had noticed. Like you, I buy a very few specific products in Sainsbury’s, mostly for ethical and environmental reasons. Now that they’ve stopped their own brand Fair Trade tea and backtracked on this ‘less packaging saves storage, transport costs and waste’ claim for their toilet rolls, I’ll be shopping more elsewhere instead.

How dare they offer the new and old packs side by side on the same shelf last week, with the same barcode at the same price, when not only have they reneged on the packaging reduction initiative, they’ve also reduced the number and size of the sheets – from 240 to 220 sheets per roll and each sheet is 5mm narrower? So for a pack of nine rolls, the total area has gone down from 29.46 square metres to 25.78. That’s well over 10% drop in the size of the product, pretending to be the same amount and not even holding on to its environmental credentials. I’d rather pay more than feel ripped of by Sainbury’s.

Warning – don’t entice me to buy your products with self-righteous claims, and then just abandon those principles and expect me to keep buying them as if nothing had happened. I won’t.

I was noticing that I’m buying their toilet rolls more frequently so emailed them about it. Here is their reply:-

‘Thanks for your recent email about our Super Soft Toilet Tissue. I can understand how frustrating it must be that our toilet rolls don’t last as long as they used to.

I’ve contatcted our Communications team and they’ve advised that we have reduced our toilet paper size to 220 from 240 to bring it in line with other brands which are on the market.

I hope this information helps.

We appreciate you taking the time to contact us and we hope to see you back in store again soon.

Kind regards’

Also, the large pack now contains 16, rather than 18 rolls. They, too, have started putting a fancy pattern on the tissue to make it look thicker – it isn’t.

And has the price been adjusted pro rata? Sainsbury’s neglect to comment on that.

I think toilet rolls should be as big as will fit on the holder and the number of sheets or their size should not be changed on a whim. Companies wonder why we don’t trust them . . . it’s obvious isn’t it?

Making the cardboard core bigger and embossing the paper to make it look thicker are despicable tricks that decent companies would not stoop to.

Not necessities given the existence of the alternatives – the pill and menstrual cups.

It is odd that during all this protest there was not much more made of the menstrual cup alternative. Cheaper, long-lasting and saves a bundle for the planet in unnecessary production, transport and disposal costs.

Pardon me for asking, Patrick, but which comment are you addressing?

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Drat! I thought I had clicked to answer under your post.

An earlier comment of yours containing this
” I am sure hygiene products have been big profit earners for years, partly because of the low VAT rate on tampons etc, which has enabled premium pricing for what are basic products. They are necessities, especially in this more hygiene-conscious age, yet no one has properly explored the true production costs of such simple items. “

Not necessities given the existence of the alternatives – the pill and menstrual cups.

It is odd that during all this protest there was not much more made of the menstrual cup alternative. Cheaper, long-lasting and saves a bundle for the planet in unnecessary production, transport and disposal costs.

There is quite a bit of detail here on this commercial site and Choice in Australia carried out some testing which was favourable. It has been covered on Radio Four a couple of times.


Thanks Patrick. Clicking to reply to a particular comment usually places it at the bottom of the thread which is why we are all having to resort to naming the commenter or making some other connecting reference.

Yes, I understand your point now. My view is that the market has determined that tampons and related products are necessities despite the existence of possible alternatives. I somehow don’t see re-useable menstrual cups becoming the popular choice.

Necessities – like toilet tissue or sanitary products – should not be overpriced, and I think they are. I suspect if we could find out the actual manufacturing and packaging cost it would be very low relative to the retail price. I accept that there is an element of marketing expenditure, distribution, and overheads but they are not products that cause much wastage for manufacturers; I suspect there are very few returns.

As soon as we exit the EU I expect sanitary products to be VAT-exempt or zero-rated. And as I have said before, I would expect bladder weakness products to be treated the same to give older people in particular some dignity and comfort without embarrassment at a reasonable price.

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I have used Cushelle for some time now. Have noticed recently that has become much thinner and has poor perforations which often results in the sheet tearing in the middle. Crap

Unless we get to the bottom of this we could see single-use toilet rolls soon.

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My experience too Gorge (Should that be George ?). See my comments on Cushelle below.

Has Which? Ever heard of the preposterous toilet roll sheets which I increasingly come across? In my university department (Cambridge) they have installed these rather unusual reels which have individual sheets that are 36 x 8.5 cm (14″ x 3.3″).
inches inches) I don’t believe that academic backsides are all that big. Some of your correspondents are concerned about the shrinking size of toilet paper but these rolls are preposterously large. They are supplied by the manufacturer of the dispenser. These are preferred by organisations because people can’t steal the toilet roll but the downside is that the consumption of paper has gone up enormously. Is this just a scam by these manufacturers to make sure that we simply spend more money on their product than ever?

Cushelle toilet rolls are also suffering from a drop in quality, but instead of cutting the width or the sheet number, they appear to have cut the thickness of the sheets. Cushelle was always soft on both sides and really soft and thick, but the latest lot I bought was the same on one side of there sheet, but the other side was rough, and the whole thing felt a lot thinner. As if they had taken one ply away from the original making it thinner and less strong. I complained to Cushelle, and sent in a sample for them, but they said they could not (would not ?!) comment on the result of their examination of the sample. They sent me a money off voucher for my next purchase, but I sent it back. The quality is now so low I would not use Cushelle ever again.

I believe it was 1996 when Mr Barwise [subsequently chair of this consumer charityfor 6 years?] was employed to write a paper to the EU commission on behalf of a UK firm opposing the merger of Kimberley Clarke with Scott Paper.

It was a very major takeover as evidenced by this
” Jul 24, 1995 – A strong new competitor to Procter & Gamble Co. approached the world stage last week with the proposed merger of Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Scott Paper Co. But analysts say the biggest losers in the deal could be smaller brands caught in the crossfire. The $6.8 billion deal would give Kimberly-Clark …”

Quite a lot of detail in the EU summary on the market in each of the EU countries.
This is an example of some of the detail :
(13) For instance, ‘recreping` is a process used by Scott for its premium Andrex product which involves heavily dosing the base stock with chemicals. Another process, ‘Through air dried` (TAD) or ‘blow drying` creates softness in the end product by forcing the paper fibres to protrude vertically from the sheet. This is an additional process after that of ‘paper preparation`. This process creates an exceptionally soft product and it is used by KC on its branded toilet-tissue products as well as by Scott in producing its new super premium ‘Andrex Gold` brand. Scott has now decided to rebrand it under Scott’s pan-European brand ‘Scottonelle`.

I think that the US and EU have been too accommodating to the idea that four or five firms makes a market competitive. It does not. Effectively you have a group of firms all reasonably satisfied with the status quo who act in uncooordinated concert to the betterment of the firms. The advantage the US has is that whistleblowers on unethical practices like cartels are financially rewarded to come forward.

Think Unilever, and Procter and Gamble, and soap powder and the EU fining them several hundred million euros to see how working in concert big businesses work the public over.