Have you ever picked up your favourite snack off the shelf only to find it seems to be a little lighter and a lot smaller than it used to be?
You’re far from alone.
Business leaders, like everyone else, are aiming to balance the books in these inflationary times and some have landed upon what they’d call savvy (but customers might dub sneaky) ways to beat the high costs of making and selling goods.
While employing shrinkflation and skimpflation strategies may have fooled shoppers in the short-term, in the longer-term shoppers around the world are now noticing an array of products have shrunk and/or changed in the years following the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Going back even further, Fleet Street tabloids were riling Brits up about shrinkflation in the wake of people in the U.K. voting to leave the European Union back in 2016 by tapping into “the idea that companies are trying to maybe get one over people,” says Michael Clemence, associate director of trends & futures for Ipsos U.K.
Below, we dive deeper into a few of the *ahem* creative ways businesses are aiming to turn a profit during these tough times and how shoppers are feeling about it.
Turning olive oil into water? Just over one in five consumers say they’ve noticed ingredients changing, but prices not budging (a.k.a. skimpflation).
The practice of, for example, reducing the amount of pricey olive oil in a salad dressing and adding in cheaper water instead can be hard for busy consumers to catch as they’re doing the weekly shop. Though, that busy consumer may realize something is up once they get home and notice the taste and texture of their usual dressing isn’t quite the same.
Even though skimpflation can be hard to spot unless you are in the practice of, say, religiously reading the ingredient list on every item in your cart, 22% on average across 33 countries say they’ve seen the practice.
The French are très passionnés about food. So, it makes sense eagle-eyed shoppers in France have spotted changes in the products they love.
Yves Bardon, senior consultant for Ipsos in France, says 28% of the French have likely noticed skimpflation because they “are inherently suspicious of the food industry due to numerous food scandals and are very attentive to media reports or social media buzz that alerts them to changes in ingredients. Plus, this sensitivity to ingredients is undoubtedly because the French are fond of authentic, traditional and local products.”
Maybe size does matter… It may not be immediately obvious if you’re rushing through the store grabbing pasta and sauce after work, though when you go to cook up supper for your loved ones you may suddenly realize your usual box of pasta is now only three-quarters of a pound instead of a whole pound.
Recent Ipsos global polling finds 46% on average across 33 countries say they’ve noticed product sizes becoming smaller, but the price remaining the same (a.k.a. shrinkflation).
Shrinkflation is being seen the most by people in European and North American countries as companies test out ways to not raise prices while keeping up with stubbornly high prices for everything from ingredients to labour to rent.
The top five countries where people are noticing shrinkflation are: Great Britain (64%), France (63%), Germany (62%), Canada (60%) and the Netherlands (59%).
Honey, I shrunk the snacks? There’s no easy way to say this — there seems to be an attack on snacks.
The top products people have noticed getting smaller are savoury snacks (like chips/crisps and pretzels), followed by chocolate and sweets.
More concerningly, some shoppers say they’ve noticed items that are essential everyday items for many cash-strapped families, including bread, yogurt and even baby food, are getting smaller.
The case of the missing crisps Some may argue shrinking the size of your favourite crisps is a high crime (kidding … kind of), but 22% say it is acceptable for businesses/retailers to reduce the size of their products while keeping prices the same as a way of responding to rising costs.
And a similar proportion (23%) seem blasé about the practice saying it’s neither acceptable or unacceptable.
Following the Brexit vote almost eight years ago, the smaller size and altered shape of a certain sweet treat left Brits with a sour taste in their mouths. The shrinkflation reaction, fueled by the British tabloids, was so intense the chocolate company walked back the decision to change such a beloved product, recalls Clemence.
While shrinking and skimping has led to consumer backlash in the past, it’s seemingly only become more common in this pricey post-pandemic economy.
And a fair proportion of Brits are currently meeting the issue with a shrug, with 15% saying shrinkflation is acceptable and 22% saying it’s neither acceptable or unacceptable. “I think it's something that Brits have been thinking about maybe a bit longer than other countries and that sort of does breed some level of acceptance, if not for it, than being resigned to it,” says Michael Clemence.
Despite some keeping calm and carrying on, Clemence points out almost three in five (59%) people in Great Britain don’t think shrinkflation is acceptable.
Seeing red about red-hot prices It’s not just the Brits who are feeling, well, salty about their salty snacks and other products shrinking.
The latest wave of the Ipsos Global Inflation Monitor finds six in 10 are either just about getting by or finding it very/quite difficult to manage financially. And despite attempts by business leaders to obscure rising food prices via shrinkflation and skimpflation strategies, 69% predict the cost of their food shopping will rise in the months ahead.
Given the financial pain many are still feeling, it’s no shock almost half (48% on average globally) think it’s unacceptable for businesses/retailers to use shrinkflation as a way of responding to rising costs.
And perhaps even less surprising is the fact that the food-mad French seem, er, the maddest about the practice.
Out of 33 countries where Ipsos did polling, people in France are the most likely (67%) to say shrinkflation is unacceptable. The French government is tackling this big topic head on, while companies are essentially saying “who, moi?”.
“French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne wants a law banning shrinkflation and, in the meantime, make it mandatory to inform consumers about changes in product quantities,” says Yves Bardon. “As for the industrial players themselves, they have tended to take a position of denial.”