Unfortunate as it is for our food budgets, grocery store inflation is old news. The price tag on pantry essentials and specialty products alike have been steadily creeping up for a while now, thanks to supply chain issues and rising manufacturing costs. Now, companies are employing another, sneakier strategy to save themselves money.
Shrinkflation, or the phenomenon of products shrinking while staying the same price as their larger version, has come for your favorite grocery store finds. While the profit-boosting tactic isn’t new, it’s becoming a whole lot more common. Here’s what you need to know about shrinkflation and how it could play out at the store and in your kitchen.
What Is Shrinkflation?
Like inflation, the goal of shrinkflation is to help food manufacturers cut costs and boost their bottom lines. It’s just a lot more subtle than increasing the price. Chris Mentzer, director of operations at Rastelli Market Fresh, a New Jersey-based specialty supermarket, says many customers don’t even notice when shrinkflation happens—at first. “It’s just a way to swallow the pill a little bit easier,” he says.
Theoretically, shrinkflation could impact anything in the grocery store, but Mentzer says it’s most common right now in pre-packaged snacks and drinks. Chobani Flips yogurts have shrunk almost a whole ounce, from 5.3 to 4.5 ounces in one serving, and boxes of granola bars might contain one fewer. The Wheat Thins family-sized box now contains about 28 fewer crackers.
Potato chips, long notorious for filling backs with air, are the biggest offender in the snack aisle: “A bag that used to contain 12 or 13.5 ounces of chips might now only have 7.5 or 9 ounces of chips,” Mentzer says.
It’s not just your food; paper goods are taking a hit, too. Rather than raising the price on a box, for example, Kleenex just put five less tissues in their small box. Mentzer says he’s noticed paper towel brands including 150 towels per roll rather than 160. Even if the change seems subtle, you’re ultimately paying more even if the price isn’t going up (although Mentzer notes some companies are shrinking their sizes and raising the price tag).
What Should I Do?
Shrinkflation is meant to be sneaky, so pay close attention to package labels before you put something in your cart. If you’re trying to save some money, be open about switching to another brand. Mentzer says most off-brands aren’t changing pack sizes (yet) because they can’t afford to change packaging as quickly as major brands can. Plus, store brands are usually cheaper in the first place. “The quality with a lot of second-line brands is good,” he says. “Once you cook the pasta and put sauce on it, you probably won’t even notice the difference.”
One other important consideration: Along with increasing your grocery budget, shrinkflation could potentially impact your recipes. If you normally use a small carton of heavy cream in a dessert, you may need to buy two (depending on how much is in the smaller carton). Luckily, Mentzer says, the product dimensions and recipes haven’t changed in most cases (meaning, a graham cracker should be the same size as before). Typically, you’ll just notice fewer items in the package—for example, there might be 16 graham crackers instead of 20. Either way, when precision is important, we’re big fans of investing in a quality kitchen scale.