Shrinkflation: It’s not just happening to your chips and grits. It’s toilet paper too.

·3 min read

It was obvious my buddy Michael Crawford was a borderline genius even before he grew up to become an editor at the Wall Street Journal.

I discovered his genius one day while struggling to open a piece of Bazooka Joe bubblegum. I lamented that the one-cent chaw seemed smaller than it used to be.

With a wisdom seldom encountered in one so young, Crawford said: “Maybe your hands are just bigger.” Mind blown!

Crawford’s theory came to mind recently when I picked up a jar of peanut butter in the neighborhood Harris Teeter. Hmmm. Are my hands still getting bigger? Am I getting stronger?

Unfortunately, I was not experiencing an Incredible Hulk-like transformation right there on aisle 8. What I was experiencing was shrinkflation.

Say what?

Shrinkflation is the portmanteau used to explain the phenomenon of getting less but paying more.

Edgar Dworsky, founder of the very informative consumer advocacy site Consumer World (consumerworld.org) and former assistant Massachusetts Attorney General in consumer protection, eschews the cutesy “shrinkflation” in favor of the more direct “downsizing.”

Whatever one calls it, Dworsky tells me it “has been around for decades and decades, arguably going back to the days of the nickel candy bar.” Or, in my case, the penny bubble gum.

“Downsizing,” he said, “comes in waves, typically when manufacturers are experiencing higher raw materials costs…or higher costs of getting their goods to the store.”

It’s especially prevalent during times of high inflation, he said.

Professor Connel Fullenkamp, a Duke University economist, said shrinkflation is “just a relatively new name for something that’s been going on for a long time, especially in the food industry… It’s a pretty standard strategy (used) to pass on higher prices, but it’s been a while since they’ve had to do it so aggressively.”

What burns my grits — packages of which are also now smaller and cost more — is that companies often downsize products surreptitiously by disguising the size of the bag, bottle or jar to make it appear you’re still getting the same size and amount.

Not everyone is as exercised over it as I. Dworsky noted that some consumers, “particularly those with tight budgets, want to only spend $X per shopping trip, and keeping their total at about the same amount is useful to them.” He pointed out, though, that they’ll still have to buy more of the downsized product.

Fullenkamp said most companies know that consumers are more likely to look at a product’s price instead of its size. “It’s especially infuriating,” he said, “because you think you’re getting the same amount.”

He recounted a recent shopping experience that had us both figuratively rolling in the aisles: He picked up a bag of his and my favorite potato chips that was emblazoned with “FAMILY SIZE.”

When he checked the label, though, he noted that it was only 8 ounces. “I said, ‘That’s not going to feed my family,’” he laughed.

I haven’t drank Gatorade in a decade — if I want to consume that much sodium, I’ll just buy a box of Morton’s and turn it up — but a buddy called recently to share something he found hard to swallow.

That the 32-ounce bottle of Gatorade he was accustomed to was now only 28 ounces, even though you had to read the fine print to decipher that.

Gatorade is not the only offender. Near about every product on store shelves is being downsized, often in ways imperceptible to the nekkid eye.

Behold, it’s not just Gatorade, grits and potato chips that are being shrinkflated. Another essential item is also suffering cuts.

I asked Dworsky — hypothetically, I thought — “Aren’t businesses afraid that we’ll feel deceived upon discovering that the roll of Charmin we purchased has 10 fewer sheets than before?”

“Charmin’s last reduction of super mega rolls was 30 sheets, not 10,” he corrected me. “And Angel Soft just went down over 100 sheets per roll.”

Hmm, you have to wonder how long consumers are going to take that sitting down.

I’ll show myself out.

Editorial Board member Barry Saunders is founder of theSaundersReport.com.