Shrinkflation happens when companies keep the price of an overall package the same while reducing the size or quantity of the items in the package. The word is a portmanteau of the words shrink and inflation. The first use of the term is often attributed to Pippa Malmgren.
Shrinkflation is a sneaky way to combat the effects of inflation. When ingredients and manufacturing are more expensive, companies have two primary choices – increase prices or make smaller products. People typically shop by price so raising prices reduces demand. “Consumers check the price every time they buy, but they don’t check the net weight,” said Edgar Dworsky, a consumer advocate and former assistant attorney general in Massachusetts.
As a result, most companies resort to reduced sizes. These size changes are often subtle, like making candy bars sold in multipacks smaller than the ones sold individually or changing the shape of products so you don’t notice the weight difference. Shrinkflation is another example of the numerosity heuristic.
Shrinkflation isn’t new – in 2003 Dannon shrunk its yogurt cups from 8 ounces to 6 ounces and in 2009 Häagen-Dazs reduced their ice cream pints from 16 ounces to 14 ounces. But it does seem much more prevalent. Buzzfeed provides 15 “sneaky changes” while BusinessInsider shows 13 “extreme examples.” But to really immerse yourself in shrinkflation examples, you have to check out this shrinkflation subreddit. Shrinkflation is so common it’s become endemic.
To combat shrinkflation, people have to pay attention to unit pricing not just package pricing. Unit pricing is the price per weight or price per item in the package. Many stores make the calculation for the consumer, although it’s usually in small print under the total price on the shelf. While math may not be your strong suit, doing a quick calculation can save you money
One upside to shrinkflation is it might save you some calories. If your candy bar is now 1.5 ounces instead of 2 ounces, you’re unlikely to eat a second one and therefore your calories reduce by 25%. Of course, you don’t save any money.
There’s lots of debate on when inflation will end but I’m willing to bet that shrinkflation never does. Shrinkflation has become endemic.