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Grocery ‘Shrinkflation' Is Worse Now ‘Than in Any Other Period in Memory,' Says Expert — 3 Ways to Avoid It

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If you keep tabs on grocery prices, you probably aren't surprised to hear they've risen 20% in the last two years

But there's another type of inflation you might have not noticed in the grocery store aisles during that time: shrinkflation. 

Otherwise known as downsizing, "shrinkflation" describes how companies subtly decrease the size of a product without reducing the price. The packaging often remains the same, except for hard-to-notice changes in the product's labeling. 

"Shrinkflation comes in waves," says Edgar Dworsky, founder of Mouse Print, a website that tracks instances of shrinkflation in groceries. "And it tends to be worse in times of inflation, as we have now."

How shrinkflation is costing you

Cases of shrinkflation are on the rise, according to Dworsky, a former television consumer reporter who says he's been tracking downsized products for decades.

"In 2022 and into 2023, I'm seeing more examples of products being downsized than in any other period in memory," he says.

These changes aren't announced by manufacturers, however, making it "impossible" to say exactly how many products are affected by shrinkflation, says Dworsky.

Instead, he relies on reader submissions as well as his own research in the shopping aisles. Recent instances of shrinkflation listed on Mouse Print include:

  • A carton of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies that's decreased from 6.25 ounces to 6 ounces 
  • Colgate Total Deep Clean toothpaste that's downsized from 5.1 ounces to 4.8 ounces
  • Various varieties of Green Giant frozen vegetables have downsized from 10 ounces to 8 ounces
  • The volume of Unilever's Dove body wash has been reduced from 24 ounces to 22 ounces to now 20 ounces

Shrinkflation is most common with paper products, candy, orange juice, cookies, breakfast cereal and snack foods like potato chips, says Dworsky.

A variant of shrinkflation is "skimpflation," which is a reduction in the quality of the product, usually through using cheaper or fewer ingredients than before.

A recent example of is the dilution of active ingredients in store brand cough syrups, so that you have to consume twice as much to get the same dosage as before.

Unfortunately, skimpflation is perhaps the most difficult form of price inflation to track since the exact quantity of ingredients often isn't listed on the package.

"Two scoops of raisins in Raisin Bran — well, how big is the d--- scoop?" says Dworsky, pointing out the difficulty in knowing whether there's fewer raisins in the cereal compared with previous versions of the product.

How to avoid shrinkflation

Unfortunately, it's not easy to spot shrinkflation unless you have an older version of the product on the same shelf as the new one, says Dworsky.

"Do we really have the spatial memory to recognize that a particular product has a narrower bottle or narrower box? I don't think so," he says. "And most consumers don't pay attention to the fine print. That's why downsizing really works."

Here are three tips from Dworsky for avoiding shrinkflation.

1. Look for the product's net weight

When comparing similar products, look for the net weight measurement listed on the package, which refers to the weight of the product minus all the packaging.

Since the net weight of a product can vary between similarly sized packages, this information will tell you exactly how much you're paying for. Often, the "cheaper" product will have less net weight, which means you get less bang for your buck.

You'll also want to track the net weight of products you regularly buy, as shrinkflation can make them less of a bargain over time.

Ignore labels like "family size," "mega size" or "fun size," since they have no standard meaning, says Dworsky. 

2. Use the unit pricing listed on store shelves

Grocery stores usually have unit pricing for most products listed on the shelves, which lists the price based on the weight of a given product, typically expressed as price per pound or price per ounce. A 30-ounce jar of mayo that costs $8 would have a unit price of $0.27 per ounce.

Unit pricing can be helpful when similar products have all sorts of different weights and prices.

The downside is grocery stores can be inconsistent with how they display unit pricing, even within the same product category.

"Look at shampoos, for example," says Dworsky. "Some brands might have a unit price in terms of gallons. And some might be in terms of price per ounce."

This makes it harder to do a quick apples-to-apples comparison between two similar products. In that case, you might need to use the calculator on your phone to figure out which one is cheaper.

3. Stick with store brands

Store brands, or private label brands, like the ones offered by CVS or Kroger, typically have cheaper products than the other major brands you find on store shelves. 

Store brands also tend to lag major brands in downsizing their products, which means you're more likely to avoid shrinkflation in the long run, says Dworsky.

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