Shrinkflation is a widespread phenomenon that involves reducing the size of product packaging while keeping the price the same. It is a phenomenon that is emptying shopping carts, but more importantly, consumers' wallets.
In this way, manufacturers can increase prices without the consumer immediately noticing, and the goal would be to counter inflation and not make consumers perceive a price increase. However, this business practice has been deemed unfair by many economists since it represents a subtle way of creating perceptual deception for the consumer.
Indeed, this habit is causing the anger of consumer associations that denounce the harm that this practice causes to citizens. Some investigations in Italian supermarkets have revealed that many types of food products, from detergents to toothpaste to toilet paper, have been subjected to this commercial practice, resulting in a decrease in the volume of goods.
According to food inflation data, this summer will be the most expensive at the table in decades. According to preliminary estimates, in June 2023, the national consumer price index for the entire community (NIC) recorded no monthly change and a 6.4% increase on an annual basis, compared to +7.6% in the previous month.
This means that the reductions in the volume of goods have not been accompanied by a corresponding price drop, but on the contrary, consumers are paying more for less product.
The classic example to explain shrinkflation is the bag of crisps. Those who go shopping will find the same price as always and the same package they are used to buying. What changes is the number of chips inside, 5 or 10 less. An almost imperceptible trick that multiplies from product to product.
Shrinkflation, however, is not a new phenomenon. The "typical" case that made the news was that of the Toblerone bar: a few years ago, to cope with the increase in the cost of cocoa, manufacturers decided to reduce the number of chocolate "teeth," lengthening the spaces between them to save on raw materials. A decision that did not go unnoticed, sparking the anger of consumers. Now, British company Cadbury is doing the same, reducing the size of its Dairy Milk chocolate bars by 10% while keeping the same price.
IlGusto, a weekly insert dedicated to food and wine published by the Italian newspaper "La Repubblica," has identified some examples of shrinkflation in Italian supermarkets, from Conad to Carrefour, from Elite to Esselunga, from Coop to Tigre to Gros-Dem-Pewex.
Among the examples found, as already mentioned, there is the case of Toblerone, which went from 200 to 170 and 150 grams, Milka chocolate, which went from 300 to 270 grams for Alpine Milk and Nuts & Raisins bars, and KitKat, which went from 45 to 41.5 grams. Even Algida ice creams like Magnum and Cornetto have been downsized over the years. The price of the classic Cornetto, for example, has increased by 178% from 0.90 cents in 2001 to 2.50 euros today. A similar case is that of Fior di fragola, the fresh mix between popsicle and ice cream, and Cremino, whose price has gone from 0.55 cents to 1.80 euros, one of the most substantial increases for the products in question. Another significant increase concerns the Magnum Classic, which has seen its public price rise by 125% from 1.20 euros to 2.70 euros. These are significant figures, especially when we think of products like Calippo and Cucciolone, which have seen their prices increase from 0.80 cents to 2.40 euros. In the latter case, this is a price increase of 200%.
How to defend oneself - consumer associations
Manufacturing companies and large retail chains are not required to indicate this practice and often do not advertise it, so the only way to know what and how much is being purchased is to read labels carefully and evaluate the cost per kilogram or liter.
Consumer associations, such as Codacons and Non-Profit Consumerism, have filed complaints with the Antitrust and Public Prosecutors' offices asking for investigations to verify whether this practice is legal or whether it constitutes crimes such as fraud or unfair commercial practices.
The National Consumers Union and Non-Profit Consumerism maintain that shrinkflation is "a trick that empties shopping carts" that allows huge profits for manufacturers but actually empties citizens' pockets." Even the Antitrust has monitored the phenomenon and stressed that transparency towards the consumer is essential.
It should be said, however, that downward weight variations are not always linked to shrinkflation but may derive from healthy choices made by companies that want to reduce portions of foods with a lot of salt, sugar, or fat.
Consumer awareness is essential to avoid falling into the traps of shrinkflation. Reading labels and evaluating the cost per kilogram or liter helps to understand if the price corresponds to the actual quantity of product purchased. In addition, consumer associations are doing their part to raise public awareness and to demand greater control by competent authorities over the practice of shrinkflation.
Ultimately, shrinkflation is a phenomenon that is affecting various sectors, including food and beverages, personal care products, and cosmetics. Its spread is linked to the economic crisis and changes in the economic system, but consumers have the power to defend themselves against this unfair commercial practice by choosing to buy products that meet their real needs and market standards.
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