Are your favorite chips suddenly coming with more air in the bag? You might be a victim of shrinkflation.
When we talk about ways to beat inflation, it’s usually in reference to soaring costs. But shrinkflation is a sneakier, less obvious way for companies to pass on price increases to consumers.
Essentially, shrinkflation has you paying the same and getting less. And it’s so subtle, that you may not even know it’s happening. Here’s how it all works and what to watch out for.
What causes shrinkflation?
Much as you use your bank account balance to measure your economic wellness, companies eye their profit margins to gauge success. In periods of high inflation or during economic downturns, companies’ bottom lines can take a hit.
To increase profits or at least minimize losses, manufacturers often jack up sticker prices — a few cents here, a dollar there. The problem with this, though, is that rising prices can only go so high before shoppers take note.
So how, then, do companies protect their profits without losing our business?
Well, in short, they short us.
What does shrinkflation mean for you?
Rather than taking more of our money at checkout, retailers and manufacturers use shrinkflation to give us less bang for our buck.
Bottles of our favorite shampoo or our go-to snack packs may look the same and cost the same, but they contain less product. This means you’re paying more per ounce, per gram, or per pound than you were before.
Shrinkflation, or package downsizing, is certainly a good strategy from a business perspective. But for consumers, it feels frustrating at best and deceitful at worst.
Shrinkflation can happen to any product at any time. Nothing is safe. Are any of your favorite brands pulling the proverbial fast one on you?
Here are some categories that are experiencing shrinkflation now:
Snacks and beverages
Your kids’ lunchboxes might be a little lighter these days, and your midnight snacks a little less filling.
Doritos previously offered a 9.75-ounce bag of chips, but Frito-Lay has cut that down to 9.25 ounces. Technically, that means there’s only about five fewer chips per bag, but this still isn’t news any of us likes to hear.
Family-size boxes of Nabisco Wheat Thins are also shrinking. Before, one of these boxes would net you a pound of crackers. Now, however, you’ll only get 14 ounces, or about 28 fewer crackers.
Gatorade is following suit and drinking the shrinkflation Kool-Aid, too. Not long ago, you could find 32-ounce bottles of Gatorade, but now, you’ll have to quench your thirst with just 28 ounces of this sport drink.
Both Charmin and Cottonelle appear to be making good use of shrinkflation, giving us a different kind of toilet paper shortage than the one we experienced in early 2020.
Charmin’s Super Mega package decreased from 396 sheets per roll to 366 sheets per roll, and their Mega package dropped from 266 sheets per roll to 244.
In a similar move, Cottonelle’s Ultra Clean toilet paper once boasted 340 sheets per roll. Now, it’s down to 312 sheets per roll. Their Ultra Comfort toilet paper also shrunk, going from 284 to 268 sheets per roll.
Shampoo and body wash
Personal hygiene products seem to be taking a shrinkflation hit all around.
You’ll get fewer uses out of your Dove Body Wash, with product volume decreasing from 24 to 22 ounces. Pantene Pro-V Curl Protection Conditioner is down, too. A bottle of this hair tonic now contains nearly 2 ounces less of product, dropping from 12 ounces to 10.4.
What does this mean for you? You’ll either need to ration your products, buy them more often, or use a little savvy the next time you shop.
How can you spot and avoid shrinkflation?
Shrinkflation is subtle. So sneaky, in fact, that you might not know it’s happening. There are signs you can look for, however, and all it takes is a bit of grocery store sleuthing.
Compare package volume
The easiest way to know if a product has been downsized is to check the net weight or volume.
Before you head to the supermarket, do a quick sweep of the products you have on hand. Check your shampoo bottles, your toothpaste, your pretzel bag — anything you buy regularly. In your phone or on a piece of paper, write down the product name and size.
While you shop, pull out your handy-dandy list and compare these sizes to what you see on grocery store shelves. If the weights or volumes decreased, shrinkflation struck again. If they’re the same, your go-to brands are safe — for now.
Pay attention to per-unit pricing
Another way to watch for shrinkflation is to check a product’s per-unit pricing. The full sticker price may not have changed, but if the per-unit cost is going up, the package size is probably going down.
You likely won’t remember what you paid per unit for something you bought last month or even last week. If you shop online or through grocery store apps, you can review your digital receipts for past purchases.
You can also start tracking this now, whether you still have old receipts or not. Make a note of the per-unit price the next time you go shopping, then browse the supermarket aisles again in a couple of weeks to see if prices have changed.
Knowing which manufacturers haven’t caught the shrinkflation bug is just as important as understanding which ones have.
If you’re running through products more quickly — thus spending more in both the short and long terms — or simply can’t stomach the thought of paying extra for less value, turn to competing goods instead.
You might not be able to find identical flavors or fragrances, but you can likely find reasonable substitutes. Go a step further, and prioritize competitor products with a lower per-unit cost than the ones you normally buy.
This switch doesn’t have to be permanent, but it will help you save when shopping. Ride out shrinkflation with the lower-cost competitor, then go back to your longtime favorites if and when prices stabilize.
Just like us as individuals, companies may take steps to prepare for a coming recession. Inflation is bad, but shrinkflation isn’t much better.
Package downsizing means we get less value for the same or higher prices. That hits us where it hurts most: right in our wallets. Aside from smart shopping, our best line of defense is being proactive with our own finances.
One thing you can do is use one of the best credit cards for buying groceries so you’re earning cash back or rewards on your regular purchases.
You could also investigate joining a warehouse club like Costco. Members swear by using popular Costco shopping hacks to save money.
Finally, review your budget regularly, and see where you can cut back. Use those spare funds to pad your savings. That protective cushion will not only help you meet your needs in the face of rising costs, it’ll also give you invaluable peace of mind in an uncertain economy.