6 Ways to Fight the Growing Trend of Shrinkflation

Tiny food sits on a plate.
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If you’ve had a sneaking suspicion that things you buy are getting smaller, you may be right.

  • Angel Soft toilet paper used to be 425 sheets per roll. Now it’s 320 sheets per roll.
  • A bag of Doritos used to be 9.75 ounces. It’s now 9.25 ounces.
  • Dial soap was 21 ounces, and now it’s down to 16 ounces.
  • Gatorade bottles were once 32 ounces, but are now 28 ounces.
  • Even Ben & Jerry’s recently reduced their pints of ice cream.

The size of the product has dropped, but the prices stayed the same — and even increased in some cases. What’s going on at our grocery stores?

Those are just a few of many, many examples of “shrinkflation” — a term coined to describe when companies reduce the size of a product but keep the price the same.

Though shrinkflation is more prevalent now with growing inflation, it’s actually been going on for years, according to ConsumerWorld.org founder, Edgar Dworsky who’s been following shrinkflation since 1995.

This GIF, which is an animated graphic, shows the difference between a 9.75 ounce bag of Doritos and a 9.25 ounce bag of Doritos. The difference is five fewer chips.
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

“I remember as a teenager I bought a Mounds bar and it used to be two ounces,” Dworsky told The Penny Hoarder. “Then all of a sudden, it became one-point-something ounces for the same price.” 

Since then, Dworsky has kept a close eye on all sorts of products and brands and the ways they try to pull a fast one on customers. 

Shrinkflation can be so subtle that you don’t notice it. So how can you spot shrinkflation on store shelves and make sure you’re getting the most out of what you buy?

6 Ways to Beat Shrinkflation

Beating shrinkflation starts by simply being a savvy shopper. You’ll need to pay more attention while shopping and be willing to change up your habits. Here are some ways to do just that:

1. Buy the Store Brand

Don’t hate on store brands. They’re cheaper, often just as good and sometimes even better than name brands. 

When it comes to shrinkflation, store brands also have another advantage: They’re usually the last brands to start package downsizing. 

“Usually one lead brand name shrinks their packaging first and the other brands follow suit,” Dworsky said. “Generic brands tend to be last to change.”

Shrinkflation experts like Dworsky say to look to store brands, or even other name brands, if you notice your favorite brand has started to offer smaller packages while making price increases. 

2. Compare the Price Per Ounce

This is called unit pricing. You simply divide the total price by the quantity to determine the unit price.

For example, if a carton of soup is 12 ounces and costs $2.40, the unit price on the soup would be 20 cents per ounce. This hack isn’t just for groceries though. Look at the price per ounce or per item for toothpaste, baby wipes, razor blades and many other consumer goods you buy.

Most stores include the unit price next to the total price on the tagged shelves below the items.

Unit pricing is required to be disclosed in many states, while many retailers still choose to disclose it even when it isn’t mandatory.

3. Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk from retailers like Costco and Sam’s Club not only helps you save money, but it will also help you reduce the amount of shrinkflation you experience.

In many cases, goods bought in bulk are a better deal because they typically have a lower price per unit. Let’s say a single apple costs 75 cents at the grocery store, and a three-pound bag at Costco containing six apples costs $3. You’ll save 25 cents per apple by purchasing in bulk.

This is especially true with dried goods, which last much longer. The more of these types of products you already have on hand, the less you’ll need to buy from the grocery store — potentially avoiding the back-and-forth waves of shrinkflation.

One great online alternative to buy in bulk is Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program.

4. Consider Other Stores

Inflation has even affected discount stores like the Dollar Tree, Family Dollar and Dollar General. Not everything costs a dollar anymore, as some items have been raised to $1.25 or $1.50.

That said, you can still find a lot of good products, including pantry essentials, for an amazingly low price. From pasta and eggs to cereal, chips and snacks — all for a dollar-ish.

There are deals to be found at other places too. Drugstore rewards programs and plentiful coupons can drop the price of your shampoo or granola bars to little or nothing.

5. Shop Online

Shopping online is more of a timesaver when it comes to shrinkflation than anything else.

You can compare prices and unit pricing quickly without wandering the grocery store and struggling to read the fine print on a price tag. You can also quickly compare prices between stores — or even just other sellers — and brands to see where your dollar will go further.

Then, even if you choose to visit the store in person, you should have a good idea about how it handles shrinkflation.

6. Take Advantage of Discount Apps

Stores like Target and Walmart have apps with an extensive collection of digital coupons to help you save.

Make a shopping list, and possibly a meal plan, then browse through these apps to find which coupons are available for the goods you need. Other apps like Upside and ibotta help you get cash back rewards at many grocery stores.

Skimplation, Shrinkflation’s “Evil Cousin”

Shrinkflation isn’t the only consumer dupe shoppers need to worry about. Dworsky warned us about shrinkflation’s “evil cousin” — skimpflation. 

Unlike shrinkflation, where product sizes get smaller, skimpflation is where the ingredients or materials that make up a product are diluted to save the manufacturer money. 

One example that Dworsky shared involved the butter substitute Smart Balance. 

“Smart Balance used to be made up of 64% oils as its fat content,” Dworsky said. “Then, they decreased the oil amount to 39%, and the only way a consumer would know was by looking at the fine print on the bottom left-hand corner of the package.”

Consumers eventually did notice this recipe change and complained enough to Smart Balance that the manufacturer returned its oil percentage back to the original amount. This is rare, though; consumers are generally none-the-wiser when formulas change and brands rarely return a product to its original formula if they’ve derived a cheaper one. 

Skimpflation can be very difficult to identify because companies are not required to disclose their specific recipes or product breakdowns on goods. 

“If you think about it, we don’t have the exact recipe for Tide detergent, as one example,” Dworsky said. “It’s thick and blue. We won’t know if there’s more or less whitening ingredient in it, or a little less cleaning agent. We have no idea on so many products what their makeup is.”

You Are Your Own Best Advocate

It can be frustrating as a consumer to know that shrinkflation and even skimpflation are not, in most cases, illegal. It is a classic example of manufacturers using customers for greater profit margins while providing less value. 

“Shrinkflation is not against the law,” Dworsky said. “Manufacturers still put the net weight or net count on a package which they are required to do, and it’s up to us to be savvy consumers.” 

Shrinkflation and skimpflation both require a consumer to be hawk-eyed about their frequently purchased products and to report any perceived ingredient changes to outlets like Dworsky’s website or the Better Business Bureau

As consumers, our best defense is being knowledgeable and aware of how the products we purchase change over time, and submitting tips, complaints and reviews of these products. If enough people keep their eyes peeled and voice their irritation with shrinkflation, especially for a particular product, brands may listen and either revert back to an old size or propose a happy medium alternative.

“The sneakiness never ends,” Dworsky said. “Is shrinkflation worse now because of inflation? Absolutely. Will it ever disappear? No.” 

Robert Bruce is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder. Colorado-based writer Kristin Jenny focuses on lifestyle and wellness. She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder.