Congress is about to take on 'shrinkflation'


Expert shopping hacker offers tips on how to beat companies at their own game

After falling on deaf ears as corporate profits grew five times as fast as inflation, consumer concerns over shrinkflation might finally be getting heard.

Both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and members of Congress are trying to establish shrinkflation as an illegal practice and give the government and state attorneys general the right to bring civil actions against companies who engage in it. 

In Congress, the ones wielding the swords are U.S. Representatives Christopher Deluzio (D-Pa.) and Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez (D. Wash.). Together, they’ve introduced the Shrinkflation Prevention Act.

If enacted, any company that reduces the size of their products without lowering the price will be called in on the carpet or, where necessary, have the book thrown at them.

“When companies are passing along increases in costs to themselves, I totally get it,” says Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).  “But here's the deal…over the past few years, their profits have gone up, their profit margins by 75%.  Now, that's not just passing along increased costs. If that were the case, profit margins would have stayed the same. Instead, it's using inflation kind of like a smokescreen. 

"For example, that good old bag of Doritos, five chips are now missing. The Oreos, missing a couple of Oreos in there. The toilet paper is just a little shorter [of a] roll than it was before. And the consumer, paying the same, gets less."

However, the proposed bill faces pushback from some Republican members, who are skeptical of its ramifications for business operations. 

How bad has shrinkflation become?

Shrinkflation has been around since Medieval times when bakers sometimes reduced loaf sizes during times of grain scarcity, subtly increasing the price per unit of bread. And, sneaky or not, over the course of history, others have followed suit because it's a subtle way for companies to boost or protect profits without directly raising prices.

But, companies have gotten clandestine about the practice, trying to make it difficult for consumers to notice. For example, companies may repackage items with smaller dimensions or change their formulas to include cheaper ingredients while still maintaining a similar look.

Many well-known products have been affected by shrinkflation. As Warren noted, there’s toilet paper where the rolls might have fewer sheets. Case in point, Cottonelle's mega rolls have been reduced from 340 one-ply sheets to 312 sheets, and their soft version has been reduced from 284 two-ply sheets to 268.

Researchers at Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation found that seven Kellogg’s cereal boxes had shrunk since 2019, while 22 product packs were unchanged.

Chocolate bars are now thinner or shorter. Yogurt comes in smaller containers, too, as do chips. And, Tropicana discreetly rolled out 52-ounce clear plastic jugs to replace their 59-ounce containers but kept the price the same.

Can you hack your way around shrinkflation?

Short of getting a seat at the table of Kellogg’s board of directors and trying to talk some sense about being honest with consumers, Rather-Be-Shopping’s Kyle James says consumers have some options.

He offers several hacks that you can use to tilt the playing field in your favor:

Ice cream: “Try to buy ice cream produced by local creameries, many of which still package their yumminess in half-gallon cartons with a price point lower than the big brand names,” he says.

Orange juice: James said the secret here is looking at the price-per-ounce on the price sticker when buying OJ. 

Cereal: Another price-per-ounce hack, but James notes that sometimes going for the “family size” box or something from Costco can get you a better return on your dollar.

Toilet paper: “Buy your TP from Costco as the sheets still measure 4.5″ x 4.0″,” James suggests. “Way bigger than brands like Scott and Charmin that come in at 4.1″ x 3.7″ per sheet.”

Yogurt: Smaller containers are more convenient, yes, but also more expensive. James’ work-around hack is to, again, buy larger volume multi-serving yogurt containers so you pay less per ounce.

Tuna: Yes, nothing’s sacred when it comes to shrinkflation. Tuna, too, has a shrinkage problem – a serious one.

“Twenty years ago, a can of tuna weighed in at 7 ounces. Nowadays you’d be hard-pressed to find one over five,” James said. “Unfortunately, the price of a can of tuna has not been shrinking, making the cost per ounce significantly higher than in the past.”

The good news is that there are lots of tuna producers, it’s got a long shelf life, it’s usable in many ways (sandwiches, casseroles, salads, etc.) and it goes on sale a lot. 

If tuna is something you like, keep an eye out for sales and grocery store coupons which can bring the price down. 

“If you have the pantry space, you’ll want to stock-up when the price is right and beat the canned tuna manufacturers at their own game,” said James.

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