RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Warnings about ‘shrinkflation’ have been spreading on social media as shoppers fear they’re paying more for less at the grocery store.
Christopher Herrington, an associate professor of economics at Virginia Commonwealth University, said it’s a decades-old strategy that tends to be more common when inflation is high and consumers are more sensitive to price increases.
“Shrinkflation is sort of like the evil little twin brother of inflation,” Herrington said. “If I’m a retailer and I want to raise prices on what I’m selling but I know consumers are going to be attuned to that, I can do it in a back handed way by shrinking the size or the quantity of what I’m selling, instead of actually changing the sticker price.”
Those changes are often very subtle but a new survey from Morning Consult suggests consumers are catching on.
“A massive amount of people have noticed shrinkflation in their day-to-day lives,” said Claire Tassin, a retail and e-commerce analyst with Morning Consult.
The survey of 2,210 adults, which was conducted from Aug. 19 to Aug 21, found 75 percent of shoppers have noticed shrinkflation somewhere at the grocery store. The most common offenders were snacks, pantry items and frozen foods.
Roughly two-thirds of respondents said they’re worried about shrinkflation. It’s causing some to search for alternatives.
In the survey, 49 percent of respondents reported switching to a different brand, 48 percent chose to buy a generic product rather than a name brand, 33 percent chose to buy in bulk, and 30 percent stopped purchasing from a specific brand altogether.
“So this is bad news for those brands who are hoping to retain customer loyalty. People tend to be really loyal and have high levels of trust for their favorite food brands,” Tassin said. “We also have to remember that groceries are really substitutable so it’s fairly easy to swap out if something does become too expensive or you feel like you’re getting cheated.”
Herrington said it’s important for consumers to understand why this practice is happening.
“As part of the inflationary environment, businesses are paying higher costs for labor, for shipping, for inputs, for raw materials and so businesses are also seeing that strain on their bottom line,” Herrington said.
To fight shrinkflation, shoppers should check shelf tags for the price per ounce, pound or sheet, or compare the net weight of products. If you buy the same item regularly, take note of the price and net ounces so you’ll know if it has been downsized during future shopping trips.