Corporate excuses for smaller sweets leave bitter taste

Chocolate bars are getting smaller and the companies claim to be doing us a favour

It is very reassuring to know that the multi-national companies who make all those chocolates and ice-cream that we love so much are suddenly willing to shrink their products in order to help us shrink our waistlines.

These multi-national companies – aware of both an ever-growing obesity problem in Ireland and our inability to simply eat less of their delicious treats – have in recent years taken upon themselves to make their products smaller to help us control ourselves.

And as the size of their treats have fallen, so to have the prices haven’t they?

No. No they have not.


Many products beloved of Irish consumers have gone through a process of shrinkflation in recent years.

Take the Yorkie bar. Some readers will be old enough to remember when the chunky chocolate bar first hit our shelves in the mid-1970s. Back then its unique selling point was its size. It was, we were told “good, rich and thick” which was why truckers relied on it to get them through the day.

Back then a bar weighed 70g. Today a Yorkie weighs 46g, hardly enough to get a trucker from Dublin Port to Harry’s in Kinnegad. The price has not, however, fallen.

Then there is the pink Snack which has been giving its devotees two fingers for more than a year now. That is because the two-fingered treat used to be a three-fingered treat.

Despite losing a third of its digits, the price has not fallen at all.

Last year Kraft, the maker of Cadbury Creme Eggs, reduced its multipack from six to five. Snickers bars have shrunk alarmingly in recent years while Twirls have barely enough chocolate in them to make their way round a small ballroom even once.

The list of products hit by Shrinkflation goes on and on. One- litre tubs of Carte D’Or ice cream turned into 900ml tubs, while a litre of Innocent smoothies became 900ml. Magnum ice creams, which used to be 360ml, are now 330ml - and they will be a fair bit smaller come the spring.

In the run-up to last Christmas Nestlé, which makes Quality Street chocolates was branded a ‘Scrooge’ after picture showing how its tins had shrunk since the 1980s had shrunk by almost 50 per cent.

Over recent years manufacturers have blamed the higher cost of cocoa on commodity markets for driving production costs up. They said that rather than make products dearer they made them smaller. Now they are singing from a different hymn sheet but a hymn sheet that has the same affect on consumers nonetheless.

Unilever announced on Friday that it was to cut back the size of single-serving ice creams, including Ben & Jerry’s, Magnums, Cornettos and Feasts and to drop some other product lines entirely.

The company claimed it was taking the decision in order to “help consumers make healthier choices as part of a balanced lifestyle”. The smaller sizes will start appearing in the springtime. As part of the sugar cull, Magnum Infinity Chocolate & Caramel, Magnum Infinity Chocolate, and Cornetto Choc ‘N’ Ball are all likely to quietly disappear from our shelves.

“It was important there be no compromise to taste or quality and that’s exactly what we’ve delivered,” said Noel Clarke, brand building director for ice cream, Unilever UK & Ireland. “Our products will still taste as good as ever, but through a process of development and resizing we will ensure our entire single-serve ice cream portfolio will contain 250 calories or fewer.”

As yet, there is no indication if prices will fall in line with the product shrinkage, although if past examples are anything to go by, consumers should not be holding out for any significant savings.

Other companies, including Kelloggs and Coca Cola are also taking steps to cut the sugar levels in their products.

On one level this is to be welcomed. The sugar content of processed food has hit the headlines in the Republic in recent weeks on the back of the screening of the Sugar Crash documentary presented by Dr Eva Orsmond which investigated Ireland’s unhealthy relationship with sugar.

That unhealthy relationship has seen the Republic become the world’s fourth largest consumers of sugar with each of us taking an average of 24 teaspoons of the stuff a day, most of it hidden in the food we eat.

While companies might insist they are acting in the best interests of consumers, the bottom line is the bottom line. Products got smaller two years ago because the cost of the raw materials went up and the companies passed that on to consumers.

And now the industry fears that the British government is on the verge of introducing a “sugar tax” which would negatively hit their profit margins.

Both the higher cost of cocoa and the fears of a sugar tax are - from their perspective at any rate - legitimate reasons for multi-nationals like Unilever, Nestlé, Coca Cola and Kelloggs to either increase prices or reduce sizes.

It would just be nice if they didn’t pretend they were doing us a favour in the process.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast