A study conducted by the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) has found that 2,529 products had decreased in size between January 2012 and June 2017 — with many of these products also on sale to Irish consumers.
The ONS describe the changes as “shrinkflation” and say most of the reductions are in food packaging, particularly sweets and chocolates.
It said that shrinkflation contributed 1.22 percentage points to the rate of inflation of products classified as “sugar, jam, syrups, chocolate, and confectionery” since 2012.
“No, you’re not imagining it — some of your favourite sweets really are shrinking,” the ONS said.
“In November 2016, Toblerone chocolate bars reduced in size by about 10%, provoking outrage online. And Maltesers, M&Ms, and Minstrels have gone the same way.”
While the report analysed products for sale in British supermarkets, the majority of these brands are also on sale on this side of the Irish Sea, and the Consumer Association of Ireland reports that it has noticed the effects of shrinkflation here for “a good number of years”.
“The packaging of many products has been significantly altered to mimic the original size making it very difficult for the average consumer to take immediate notice that they were receiving less product for the same, and in some cases, more money,” said Dermott Jewell, policy and council advisor at the Consumers’ Association of Ireland.
“As this has become a global approach from manufacturers, the effect on the value for money aspect has not gone unnoticed by consumers.
“The household shopping basket, whether buying products from home or abroad, will have been altered significantly in recent years in terms of price paid for less quantity of content.
“Many consumers have been confused that their household budget continued to demand more purchases despite the fact that they were buying the same number of products. It has been the reduced quantities of content — introducing price increases by stealth — that lie at the heart of their confusion and which comes at a cost.”
Mr Jewell also dismissed manufacturers’ claims that the measures are a bid to prevent price increases for the consumer, or suggestions that a rising cost of business is to blame.
“The suggestions that this is done in this way to help the consumer is unacceptable,” said Mr Jewell. “That it is solely down to increased costs of ingredients is misleading.
“The consumer focuses upon price and ingredients — quantity has been well down their list of ‘need to watch’ factors — and manufacturers know and have taken advantage of this.
“In an area lacking entirely of transparency, one thing is clear — the consumer has been and is paying more for less — and that remains as unacceptable to the Consumers’ Association of Ireland now as it was when we first highlighted this issue many years ago.”