Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

The world of shrinkflation

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Back Home by Chris Hardie

Let’s set the record straight – I am not an economist – which the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines as “an expert who studies the relationship between a society’s resources and its production or output, using a number of different indicators, in order to predict future trends.”

However, I do work in the field of economic development, defined as “programs, policies or activities that seek to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community.”

So while I am not formally trained as an economist, I did receive an A+ in economics class in high school and took an economics class in college. Sadly my grade in that class plunged to the average level.

All of that is a long preface to say that while I may not have the degree, I do understand the basics of our economic system, the fundamental principles of supply and demand, and the difference between consumable and nonconsumable goods.

An economic challenge that we have all faced the past couple of years has been inflation, the increase in prices for goods and services. The 2021 inflation rate was 4.7%, which soared to 8% in 2022. So far for 2023 the rate has cooled off to 3.7% for the 12 months that ended in September.

We’ve all felt the pain, feeling like we needed a second job just to cover the cost of food and groceries. It’s also an opportunity for aging curmudgeons like me to simultaneously reminisce and grouse about remembering when hamburger was 59 cents a pound, you  could buy 8-packs of returnable 16-ounce soda pop for less than $2 and bags of potato chips were filled to the top for 69 cents.

Ah, the good old days, when the almighty dollar was backed by gold and ice cream came in gallons of 128 ounces and two quart boxes of 64 ounces; canned vegetables were 16 ounce cans. Then along came the metric system, 2-liter bottles and all sorts of confusing packaging that deviated from the even gallons or increments thereof.

There’s a term that describes what’s at work on our retail shelves – shrinkflation. It’s when the product becomes smaller and you pay more for it. Remember when half-gallon ice cream containers were really 64 ounces? They shrank to 56 ounces and now some are 46.

There’s a website – – that tracks these sneaky shrinkflation ploys, like canned vegetables going to 15 ounces and now some are 14.5. Or cake mixes that were once 18.25 ounces, then were 15.25 ounces and are now 13.25 ounces. If they keep shrinking the size, you won’t be able to have your cake and eat it with more than two people.

I noticed this shrinkflation recently while purchasing paint. I’ve purchased hundreds of gallons of paint and only recently noticed that the ounces were less than 128, ranging from 110 to 123 ounces. Allegedly you still receive a full gallon when the colorant is added. I did find some pre-mixed paint that was a full gallon, but who is measuring? Is it really a gallon of paint?

Shrinkflation is rampant in the paper products industry, where it’s easy to become confused by the super-mega-gargantuan packages of rolls that are almost too large to fit on the toilet paper holder. The larger rolls hide that you are actually getting fewer sheets for the dollar.

But even if you are good with math, there are also sneakier ways of getting you to pay more for less. Mouseprint notes that some manufacturers also employ “skimpflation,” where they reformulate a product with cheaper ingredients – like water – in salad dressings or even cough medicine. You end up paying more for less even if the amount stays the same.

To alert consumers of these changes, Carrefour – the second largest retail chain in France – recently announced that it will put warning labels on products that have been subject to shrinkflation. The French parliament also is considering a proposal that would require manufacturers to clearly label products that have been reduced in size with the same packaging.

I am a firm supporter of free enterprise and that companies need to make profits. But bigger is not always better anymore when it comes to prices. Pay attention to the price per ounce sticker prices on the shelves.

I know farmers would like to have the ability to be paid more for less, but they are still stuck with prices based on bushels and hundredweights. There doesn’t seem to be a push to pay them more for less.

I never did take a Latin class, but In the end, it comes down to caveat emptor.

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at [email protected].

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