If skyrocketing inflation wasn’t bad enough, shrinkflation, an act I’d call deceitful, is being perpetrated by producers of myriad products and seems to be rampant on grocery store shelves.
Shrinkflation is the term used to describe manufacturers’ practise of reducing the size of a product, or the number of items within, while not reducing the price. So, consumers are paying the same for less, but are doing so without being informed of the sleight of hand at the till.
But what is maddening is the fact shrinkflation is not done in a forthright manner.
To hide the smaller size or fewer items, producers of products will change the shape of a container, add distracting marketing slogans to the packaging (“New and Improved!” “Value Pack!” “Family Size!”) or alter the design and/or colour of the container.
Every shopper has encountered this frustrating phenomenon, even if they did not know it. My latest encounter with this scheme came on the weekend when an already expensive tube of toothpaste came with 10 fewer millilitres than the tube I purchased a couple of months ago.
I call the practise deceitful because manufacturers are not honest about what they are doing and why.
If inflation has increased the cost of making a product — fuel, labour, material costs, etc. — then tell the consumers as much as you explain why the package of toilet paper has fewer sheets per roll than before, but carries the same price as before.
Manufacturers could also simply retain product sizes and raise the price to account for the cost of making the product, but they know human psychology and shopping habits.
The price is everything even if it isn’t — which is why so many items end with a .99 or .9 at the end of the price tag, whether it is gas for $1.69.9 a litre or a bag of chips for $4.99. You are really paying a buck seventy for the litre of gas and five bucks for the chips, but your mind is fixated on four dollars and $1.69.
Shrinkflation is not new, but it has become a talking point during this inflationary period, which has seen everybody, including companies that make things we buy, pay more and more.
The New York Times this past weekend had a fantastic article on Edgar Dworksy, a Massachusetts man known as an expert in shrinkflation.
Google his name and you will find him being interviewed all over the place — in this past weekend’s New York Times, on CBC-TV’s Marketplace back in May, in the Detroit Free Press last week and in the Boston Globe in 1998.
He is a consumer advocate who used to be a television news consumer reporter, a modern-day Ralph Nader, but with a focus on things like pinto beans, rather than exploding Ford Pintos.
Dworsky runs two interesting websites: mouseprint.org and consumerworld.org. The former has numerous articles on product price comparisons, while the latter includes a robust section on shrinkflation.
Granted, the products are in the United States, but the examples he cites can also be found in Canada with similar consumer items.
Visit the site and you will learn that shrinkflation not only involves size, but ingredients, too.
For example, a Hungry-Man instant chicken bowl package is still 425 grams, but now contains 15 per cent less protein.
A container of Smart Balance butter substitute is the same size, but has 40 per cent less vegetable oil, meaning water is now its primary ingredient.
And on and on and on the comparisons go.
Don’t be surprised to see “soylent green” on the ingredients list of your “new and improved” ready-to-heat-and-eat breakfast sausages.
One last note on these insanely high prices at grocery stores — if a business is going to charge an eye-popping $6.99 for one sheaf of romaine lettuce, said company should damn well ensure that $6.99 sheaf of lettuce is crisper than a sunlit winter morning in the Arctic.
I have too often encountered sticker shock at the grocery store, followed by a loss of appetite when I examined the wilted and slowly rotting vegetable before me.