Maybe you have heard of the term shrinkflation, which combines shrinking with inflation.
When companies reduce how much product is in their packages, many times to save money, and it is usually done in a way that is not meant to make you notice.
“Companies have been shrinking products for decades,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumerworld.org. “I remember as a kid in the 1960’s noticing that my Mounds candy bar that used to be 2 oz. was getting [smaller].”
“We as consumers are easy victims for these types of price increases,” added Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America.
Last year, Doritos reduced the number of chips in its bag, a fact the company confirmed in an e-mail to the Scripps National News Desk, saying the move was not due to inflation.
In 2014, Doritos parent company, Frito-Lay, owned by PepsiCo, cut the number of flavored chips in its bags by half an ounce, from 10 oz. to 9.5 oz. At the time, Time Magazine estimated the move saved the company $50 million annually.
“Basically, it’s a sneaky way to pass on a price increase,” said Dworsky. “[These companies] know that consumers are price-conscious, so they’ll definitely notice if the good goes up in price, but if they take out a little bit from each package, they know consumers are not net weight conscious.”
The net weight refers to the product weight that is readily marked on the side of each package. Federal law dictates that weight must be “printed in a style that is conspicuous, prominent, and easy to read,” which puts the onus on the consumer to be aware when an item’s weight changes and if the price changes with that weight well.
Consumer advocates suggest paying attention to what you are paying “per ounce” or “per unit” rather than in total so you can spot when items change weight and identify the best deals in the store.
“The responsibility is truly on the shoulders of the consumers,” said Gillis. “You can no longer quickly run through supermarkets and just grab things off the shelf.”
The thing is, this volume change is typically more permanent than we would like to think. There have always been various packaging sizes, but Dworsky says they do not often go back up without some marketing ploy once they go down. That party-size bag of chips? Chances are, the normal portion used to be closer to that size, but it was reintroduced under a more stylish title.
“You’re never going to see “Look, new, smaller size of Starburst on the package,” said Dworsky. “As long as they put the net weight or net content on the box, on the bag, they’re complying with federal law.”