Wednesday, June 2, 2021

When You Watch Prices, Don't Forget Shrinkflation

What prompted this post is a comment that I noticed in my daily email from FEE (the Foundation for Economic Education).  Newsletter Editor Brad Polumbo starts out saying, 

I learned a new word today: “shrinkflation.”

For someone in his position, I was bit stunned by that.  I've been writing about shrinkflation, the combination of raising prices while making the packages smaller, for the life of this blog.  It tends to make the price increases look less bad.  People see they're paying more, but may not notice that the packages have gotten smaller.  

One of the tactics companies use to hide inflation in their prices is to sell smaller packages at slightly higher prices, rather than raising the price on the familiar size by a higher percentage.  Ice cream makers shrank their half gallon containers a while back, many other manufacturers, such as Doritos and other chip makers, and candy bar makers followed suit.  A so-called gallon of paint we just bought says it's 120 oz - not 128.  Even Moe's catfood can is 5.5 oz, down from 6.  

(Note: that's from a 2010 article.  I removed two dead links, but the two that are there still returned as I'm writing this.)  The UK Daily Mail did a thorough piece on this in 2015.  It's not a new trick, but it's worth watching for.   

This is an example graphic from the UK, but it's a good example of the things you'll see.  Sometimes you get something like a package sold by the numbers of things in it, like the fish sticks (fingers) at bottom left, and you can see the package says 10 instead of 12.  Paper products: paper towels, toilet paper, and such, will tell you how many sheets per roll.  Sometimes the weight is all you have.


  1. Blue Bell (the national ice cream of Texas) is still a half gallon.

  2. We picked up some bags of mulch from the local big box home improvement store last week that were priced the same as they were last year. After noticing that a bag did not seem to cover as much ground as before, I found an empty bag from last year. Sure enough, last year's bag held 2 cubic feet of mulch compared to this year's 1.5 cubic feet.

  3. As foretold by the prophet. In this case, Robert Heinlein.

    1. Odd you mention that. I'm slowly working my way through Heinlein, via audiobooks this time. I've been amazed at how much of what he wrote about has came to pass. I just worry about how much more will-"Nehemiah Scudder" anyone?

  4. Coffee cans are the worst culprit for this. I bet I have four different sizes of empties out in my garage from over the last few years.

  5. Baby wipes started out with 80 per package. Then they dropped to 72. Then reduced again to 64. Now they are down to 56. The big box of baby wipes I buy started out with 12 packs per box, then it dropped to 11 per box. Now it is only 10. Still comes in the exact same size box that will hold 12 packs.

  6. .308 -> .223; .45 -> 9mm; carbines; snubbies?

  7. Soon we'll be buying quarter-sized pizzas with pizza-sized quarters.

  8. That's just the shrinkflation you can see and quantify.

    Early on, in the Obamanation meltdown going in 2009 and afterwards, there was a more subtle version.

    My tell was when the microwave chicken meal started having the chicken just walk through, without any notable chunks appearing in the pasta and sauce, where formerly you got a about a half a chicken's worth of chicken chunks. Went on for about a year, until they got back to normal.

    It's much like the old Eastern European recipe for horse-and-chicken soup, during tough times.

    "Say, what's the ratio of horsemeat to chicken meat in that soup?."
    " 50-50. One chicken, and one horse."

    Or the boardinghouse joke in True Grit:

    "Be careful; the beef stew here will hurt your eyes."
    "How's that?"
    "Looking for the beef!"

    Plus ça change...