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How to stop the incredible shrinking groceries

It’s downsizing but not as we know or want it. Supermarket customers are angry at getting less for more.

  • Finance
  • Read Time: 5 mins

Budget busters

In some good news for online shoppers, supermarket chain Woolworths has just added a “Best Unit Price” tool to its website and app.

Its major competitor, Coles, already offers this feature.

Shoppers can use it to compare the value of similar products, or the same product in different sizes.

Woolworths said in an email to customers, “It means products with the lowest unit price will be shown first, so you can compare and make the best choice for your budget.”

I first noticed it when Weetbix biscuits got smaller and smaller, then, cakes, bread and, later, glasses of beer.

I was not just imagining it – “shrinkflation” is a real thing.

Producers and shops have been found to be making items smaller and/or using smaller packages while either inadequately reducing the price or not changing it at all.

By cutting the size and not so much the price, shrinkflation is a trick used to hide the fact that the customer is getting less, which adds to their cost of living.

Manufacturers think that when we go to the shops, we’re so focused on detecting a price rise, we won’t notice that the jam we bought last week in a 500g jar now only comes in a 375g jar.

A question of loyalty

Shrinking jars from jam makers Cottee’s and Rose’s were among the most-cited examples of shrinkflation nominated recently by readers of The Guardian.

The newspaper found that people were especially upset when downsizing was applied to products that have been around for a long time, because it rubs against brand loyalty.

Shrinkage among Ritz crackers, Mars bars, Pringles and Cadbury chocolate also raised the ire of Guardian readers.

Recently at one major supermarket, the selling price of a large pack of popular brand of breakfast cereal increased by 12% but the contents shrank by 5%, so the price per 100g (the unit price) increased by 17%.

What can be done?

French supermarket chain Carrefour is trying to combat the shrinkage trend by putting labels on shelves warning shoppers of the practice, and hopefully pressuring food suppliers.

Carrefour’s labels say, “This product has seen its volume or weight fall and the effective price from the supplier rise.”

That’s something the Queensland Consumers Association (QCA) would like to see in Australian supermarkets.

QCA spokesperson Ian Jarratt says manufacturers use shrinkflation to make “sneaky” price increases and improve or maintain their margins because shoppers are more aware of, and sensitive to, higher selling prices than reductions in product quantity.

Supermarkets could also help consumers spot shrinkflation if they made the unit prices (price per unit of standardised measure such as per 100g/100mL) much easier to notice, read, and understand.

Larger supermarkets are required to provide unit prices on shelf labels, internet sites, and advertisements.

QCA calls it “the value-conscious grocery shopper’s best friend”. But it says grocery product manufacturers need to make it a lot easier for consumers by more clearly displaying the quantity in the package.

QCA says Australian grocery prices are increasing rapidly, so consumers need to be vigilant.

Related reading: Consumers' Federation, The Guardian


John Austin

John Austin

National Seniors Policy and Communications Officer

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