The rise of ‘shrinkflation’ and what you can do to save money

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INDIANAPOLIS— For the past few months, the term “inflation” has been the word du jour. The rising costs of goods and the customers left footing massive bills doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

But while increased costs may make a direct and obvious impact, consumer advocates say manufactures may also be using slightly “sneakier” ways of generating more revenue.  

“Shrinkflation,” or “downsizing,” is when a manufacturer lessens the amount of product yet sells the item for the same price. It isn’t a new phenomenon by any means. However, advocates warn consumers may start to notice it more in the coming months.  

“It’s a sneaky way to pass on a price increase,” Edgar Dworsky said.  Dworsky, a former Assistant Attorney General for Massachusetts, has been a consumer advocate for decades and currently runs the website consumerworld.org. He adds that “Shrinkflation” has been going on for decades and is a popular option for manufacturers wanting to aid their bottom lines.  

He said they have three basic options:

  1. Raising the price directly
  2. Re-formulate the product with cheaper ingredients
  3. Downsize and give consumers less

They tend to choose the downsizing option sometimes in combination with raising the price because consumers are not going to notice it as much.

When shopping, Dworsky says people tend to be price conscious, but not “net weight” conscious, which is where shrinkflation can be most aptly noticed. Many times, the packaging of the product can remain the same size, or even appear larger, when, in reality, a reduced amount of the product is being offered.  

“They’ll notice when the $2.99 container of orange juice goes up to $3.29. But, if they take a few ounces out of the carton, most people are not going to notice. But when they do notice, they get upset,” Dworsky said.  

Nearly every category of product has been victim to shrinkflation. Paper products, cereal, candy, and ice cream have all seen size reductions. And, if you, as a consumer are always getting less, you ultimately have to buy more frequently. 

Still, there are ways to get the biggest bang for your buck. 

Michael Bosserman, a Regional Manager for Needler’s Fresh Market, says even amongst a sea of price increases and shrinkflation, big value can be found if you know where to look.  

“A lot of people shop the perimeter; they need to get up and down those aisles. There’s a lot of ways in the aisles that you can save money. Supermarkets tend to say hey focus on the end, the perimeter. But if you get down those aisles you can save a lot of money,” he said.  

There’s also plenty of savings to be had shopping store brands. Not only are store brand products usually cheaper, but they also tend to be some of the last products to make any price, or size changes, while also being nearly identical to big name brands.  

“The private label brands are as good if not better than the national brands,” Bosserman said.  

Bosserman also recommends holding onto those ads and mailers stores send out as they often can lead to large savings. But, when it comes to the biggest savings, both Bosserman and Dworsky recommend checking the fine print of each price tag.  

“You’ve got to be a better shopper in these tough times. That’s checking the price, checking the net weight, and understanding what manufactures may be doing to shoppers,” Dworsky said.  

Dworsky also warns that due to the pandemic, it’s possible consumers will start to see not just smaller product sizes, but higher prices as well. Making it all the more important to focus on unit price and value to save the most money. 

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