Has Shrinkflation Forced You To Switch to Generic To Save Money? You’re Not Alone

Young woman buying groceries in supermarket stock photo
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If you’ve spent much time grocery shopping this year, then you’ve probably noticed the Incredibly Shrinking Portions. You buy an item — a bag of chips, maybe — and the packaging looks the same size as usual. But when you open it up there’s a considerably smaller amount of chips inside. This has been dubbed “shrinkflation,” and it has become quite a big (and annoying) thing in the consumer world.

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As research from Morning Consult noted, shrinkflation has become the business world’s answer to inflation — charging the same or higher price for what appears to be the same product, but reducing the size, weight or quantity. Most consumers have not been fooled, and most are not happy about it.

“These shrinking packages and products are especially frustrating when many shoppers are already working hard to save money by opting to buy fewer groceries and buying less expensive products,” Emily Moquin, food and beverage analyst at Morning Consult, wrote in a report.

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Morning Consult’s research found that a majority of U.S. adults (54%) have seen, read or heard something about shrinkflation, and roughly two-thirds (64%) are worried about it. Older consumers tend to be more aware of the problem, with 62% of baby boomers saying they have heard about shrinkflation vs. 53% of Gen Z adults and 47% of millennials.

“Across income groups, overall worry is relatively similar, but it’s more intense among lower-income consumers, who were more likely to say they were very concerned, while those in the highest income range, with more spending power, were more likely to say they’re only somewhat concerned,” Moquin wrote.

Meanwhile, only 25% of U.S. adults said they haven’t noticed shrinkflation in any grocery categories — meaning that grocery brands aren’t very successful at fooling consumers in general.

Among product categories, snacks rank first in terms of the percentage of U.S. adults who notice shrinkflation, at 55%. It is followed by pantry items (40%), frozen foods (39%), meat (37%) and bread and pastries (31%). At least one-quarter of U.S. adults have also noticed shrinkflation with beverages, dairy and produce.

Many consumers have responded by searching for cheaper items. About half (48%) said they elected to buy a different brand when they encountered shrinkflation, while a similar share (49%) said they chose a generic product instead. As Morning Consult noted, “this should be concerning to manufacturers and retailers” because it translates to lost sales.

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They should also be concerned that about three in 10 adults said they stopped purchasing from specific brands when they noticed shrinkflation.

The bad news is, shrinkflation could be here to stay — even after inflation and supply-chain problems ease.

“It’s very rare to see a product revert to its former larger size,” Edgar Dworsky, founder and editor of Consumer World, told CNBC.

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In addition to paying more attention to a product’s net weight or net count, he suggests complaining to the manufacturer. This probably won’t do much to end shrinkflation, but it might score you coupons on your next purchase.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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