Shrinkflation: How to make sure you’re getting the best deal

LISTEN - Shrinkflation: How to make sure you’re getting the best deal

Toblerone is making international headlines for all the wrong reasons, the Swiss chocolate now symbolising a phenomenon which consumers around the world are really fed up about - shrinkflation.

Shrinkflation - How to make sure you're getting the best deal

It’s essentially increasing the cost of a product by stealth. So when the input costs for a product goes up, instead of increasing the price of the existing product, the manufacturer makes the product a bit smaller - less in terms of volume or weight - and either keeps the price the same, or increases it slightly, but not by as much had the size remained the same.

The aim is to make the product look the same as the old, bigger pack - or the same as the competitors’ products, which haven’t yet done the shrinkflation thing - so that the consumer doesn’t notice the change. 

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The problem with that is that when consumers do notice, they are usually outraged and experience a dramatic loss of trust in the brand.

The mistake which Mondalez, which owns the Toblerone brand, along with Cadbury, is that the redesign was too radical. They messed with the iconic design of the bar, setting those chocolate peaks so far apart that the bar now resembles a bike rack.

So people took the wrapper off and immediately thought - “What the…?”

Toblerone trends on Twitter 

And suddenly Toblerone was trending on Twitter.

It reminded me of what Colgate-Palmolive did with its Protex soap about four years ago. They reduced the bar from 200g to 175g, not by making the entire bar smaller, and just scooping 25g out of one side. So there was this big ugly dent  in the bar of soap; something consumers only became aware of after purchase.

The company has since done away with the scooped out bar and replaced it with a smaller, but uniform 175g bar, which is what they should have done in the first place.

Another local product which caused a major stir with a sneaky downsize was All Gold tomato sauce - Tiger Brands shrank the contents of that iconic glass bottle by 50g - from 750g to 700g.

But there’s barely a product category that hasn’t seen pack downsizing - toothpaste, ice cream tubs, packs of bacon, tissues, pilchards, pet food bags and pouches, bread, beverage cans, packets of chips and, of course, probably the product that has upset people most - chocolate slabs. Cadbury’s has reduced the “super” slabs from 200g to 180g and then to 150g.

It’s perfectly legal as long as the weight or volume is accurately reflected on the pack.

The trouble is, because the smaller packs are deliberately designed to look the same as the originals, consumers who buy on price will assume the downsized pack is best value, when in fact they are paying less, but getting less.

What to look out for 

So to ensure that you’re getting the best deal, look for the unit price - that’s the per 100g or per 1kg price on the shelf label.

That tells you the true price you’ll be paying.

Of course, the problem with pack downsizing as a means of effecting a price increase is that it’s not a sustainable strategy. There’s a limit to how small you can go and call it “more affordable”.

And there are other shrinkflation impacts. It was playing havoc with Stats SA’s inflation stats, forcing the organisation to base its comparisons on unit prices, given the shrinking packs. 

It has also played havoc with people’s recipes. For example, tins of condensed milk have shrunk, so now people are forced to buy two of them to get the required amount of condensed milk for their lemon meringue pie or fudge.

But the trend will no doubt continue, bringing many more Mini Me products to our shelves, both local and imported.

So, pay attention to pack sizes and unit prices, and let manufacturers know how you feel about their sneaky price increase tactics.

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