How to spot “shrinkflation” at the grocery store (and save money)



FILE – In this April 29, 2020 file photo, a customer wears a mask as she looks at meat products at a Dallas grocery store. (AP Photo / LM Otero, file)

(NEXSTAR) – The price of just about everything is going up right now. Sometimes it’s obvious – like at the meat counter or at the car dealership – and sometimes it’s more subtle, like in the aisles of grocery stores.

This is because instead of raising prices, many manufacturers are choosing to shrink packaging instead – a trend called “shrinkflation”. General Mills was called out for doing so with its family-sized cereal, reducing the size of the 19.3-ounce cans to 18.1. Tillamook admitted to reducing their 8-ounce jars of ice cream. Each roll of toilet paper you buy may contain fewer sheets than a year ago. That pitcher of orange juice now suddenly has a bigger cutout that makes up the handle.

“It’s a real form of inflation,” said Bailey Norwood, head of the Oklahoma state agricultural economics department. “The price goes up, but the price you see in the grocery store doesn’t go up, the quantity goes down. … I understand people wouldn’t like it because it sounds a little sneaky.

If you’re shopping on a tight budget and trying to avoid being fooled by shrinkage, be sure to calculate the price per ounce of the products. This might involve pulling out the calculator, but often the grocery store will do the work for you – just read the fine print on the store’s price tag.

Pay attention to the price per ounce if you’re trying to avoid deviously higher prices. The ketchup on the left is 12 cents an ounce, for example, and the organic option is 18 cents an ounce. (AP Photo / Wilfredo Lee)

While the shrinkage may seem like a financial grab by companies, causing people to spend more, Norwood said it could be the least of many evils among ongoing supply chain disruptions, container delays in shipping. ‘expeditions and shortages.

“Businesses have to do something. They realize that they cannot supply the normal quantity at the normal price, ”he said. “Something must give. ”

To deal with rising costs, companies have basically three options, Norwood said:

  1. Make and pack everything exactly the same and increase the price. This might be the easiest option, but it could end up costing some customers completely.
  2. Reduce the quality of the ingredients to reduce the cost of producing the good and keep the price lower. But in this case, the brand’s reputation could be at stake and customers would end up with a lower quality product.
  3. Ration the product so that you can keep the product on the market, but only in smaller quantities. This is the shrinkage option.

“You have to ask yourself which is better: a little less cereal in the boxes, or 5% of people will encounter stockouts? said Norwood.

As things get back to normal, will prices come back down? Nobody knows, Norwood admitted.

“I’m sure there are some of these manufacturers who are going to keep the same lower product volume,” he said, before finding a silver lining: “Another thing is that some of these things – mostly if it’s junk food – it’s probably better if we had a little less.


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