Honey, they’ve shrunk the goods – but not the price
Hundreds of common grocery products have become smaller, a move consumer experts say are price increases by stealth and deception
Our kids may not have shrunk but many of the products we buy for them – such as baby wipes and burgers – have
The snack has lost a finger, the soap has shrunk and the Curly Wurly is a shadow of its former self. Welcome to the incredible shrinking world of supermarket shopping, where the price stays the same but the product gets smaller.
Over the past 12 months, hundreds of things commonly found on Irish supermarket shelves and in Irish shoppers’ trolleys have been quietly made smaller by manufacturers anxious to maintain their profit margins in the face of higher prices on global commodity markets and smaller pay packets closer to home.
A reader was less than impressed when he realised his regular treat, a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk, had been reduced from 230g to 200g while the price stayed the same.
We contacted the chocolatier and, far from being apologetic, it offered a robust defence of the shrinkage, claiming it had no option but to make its bar smaller “because of a number of economic factors including ingredient costs”. It also said the bar “still represents a very affordable treat”.
And while it may well be affordable it is more than 10 per cent less affordable than it was a year ago. While the Dairy Milk attracted our reader’s attention, it is by no means the only product that has got noticeably smaller.
Earlier this year, British consumer magazine Which? identified a range of products that had shrunk – and the list was long. It reported that one litre tubs of Carte D’Or ice cream had become 900ml tubs while Magnum ice creams were 330ml instead of 360ml. Imperial Leather soap, which used to be 125g, is now 100g, a size reduction of 20 per cent. A packet of 48 Persil washing tablets has become just 40, a decline of 16.6 per cent. A packet of 56 Pampers Baby Wipes used to be a packet of 63, an 11.1 per cent reduction. Innocent Fruit Juice used to come in one- litre cartons but now it is sold in 900ml containers, while Birds Eye has cut the number of burgers in at least one of its ranges from 16 to 12, a fall of 25 per cent.
Speaking at the time, executive director of Which? Richard Lloyd described the practice of shrinking products as “an underhand way of raising prices” and he called for “simpler pricing so people can easily compare products to see which is the cheapest, and for offers to be genuine”.
‘Frustrating for consumers’
The chief executive of the Consumers’ Association of Ireland, Dermott Jewell, is even more forthright in his criticism of the practice.
“This is a very serious problem, as by any measure they are increasing their prices through stealth and deception. And they are doing it in a very deliberate way,” he says. He points to Pond’s Cold Cream, which reduced the size of the jar but kept the box the same size, adding a false bottom to ensure the smaller jar did not rattle around in it.
He says it is “very frustrating for consumers, who have to be constantly on their guard against deception”, and he believes that in the absence of legislation to force manufacturers to be more upfront about their sizing, a voluntary transparency code should be introduced that would encourage them to give shoppers more detailed information about changes to products.