July 28, 2021 — If your family seems to be going through favorite products faster than usual, it doesn’t necessarily mean someone’s enjoying secret snacks. It could be “shrinkflation” at work.
Shrinkflation happens when a manufacturer’s costs to produce an item increase, but they’d rather not raise the price you pay at the store. Because most consumers are price-conscious — you probably know how much you pay for the things you buy regularly — the company shrinks the package size instead. You pay the same price for your favorite chocolate bar, breakfast cereal, toilet paper, or ice cream, but you don’t realize you’ve taken home less of it until the carton runs out sooner than expected.
Shrinkflation Isn’t New
Though he prefers the term “downsizing,” lawyer and consumer activist Edgar Dworsky has been tracking the practice for decades at his website Consumer World. He says it often ramps up during periods of inflation.
“Manufacturers have a choice,” he says. “Raise the price of an item or do a sneaky price increase by making packages smaller. You’re paying the same but getting less.”
Dworsky says shrinkflation got its start back in the days of nickel candy machines when chocolate makers needed to raise prices. The vendors balked, since their machines only took nickels. So instead of charging 6 cents, the manufacturers made the bars smaller. Problem solved — and it’s been happening ever since.
During the pandemic, Dworsky didn’t see an increase in shrinkflation. But the most recent consumer price index showed the highest annual inflation rate since 2008. Now, shrinkflation is on the rise, evident in discreet price hikes for items like trash bags, tortilla chips, candy, cat food, and more.
The shrinkflation community on Reddit has nearly 10,000 members, posting new examples almost daily. Recent ones include air freshener, deodorant, chocolate, and even a prepared salad bought at a big-box store, which shrank a full 5 ounces. “A very noticeable difference, I’m still hungry,” one person said.
Food-Insecure People Hit Hardest
Before the pandemic, food insecurity — when finances keep you from being able to afford enough food — was the lowest it had been in 20 years in the U.S., according to Feeding America, which tracks the rate. The organization projects the number of food-insecure Americans will grow from 35 million in 2019 to as many as 42 million this year.
Craig Gundersen, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He’s also the lead researcher for Feeding America.
“Poverty rates hardly rose at all during the pandemic, because of the sti