The Incredible Shrinking Product Conundrum

Has this ever happened to you while browsing the items in a supermarket aisle? You notice something odd, like a can of tomato soup that seems to be smaller than it used to be. Or, the cans of tuna you purchased that used to be enough for three sandwiches, are now yielding just two. And didn’t all those roles of toilet paper seem to last longer in the past? You aren’t imagining things. Many consumer products are growing lighter, thinner, less substantial – all while maintaining the same price. It’s known as “stealth downsizing.”

According to the UK’s Office of National Statistics, more than 2,500 products on supermarket shelves decreased in size or weight in the five years between 2012 and 2017. When costs rise, a company has three options: raise the price; make smaller packages; or change the ingredients. Most companies opt for smaller packages… hoping consumers won’t notice. 

With every economic downturn over the last few decades, companies have reduced the size of some products, disguising price increases. Each time, the marketing campaigns are coy; this time, the smaller versions are “greener” (packages good for the environment) or more “portable” (little carry bags for the takeout lifestyle) or “healthier” (fewer calories). Companies are rarely called out for it.

What can you do? Be more wary about what you’re buying, by reading the labels for content amounts, doing comparisons, and ultimately switching brands if you think you’re being taken advantage of. That speaks volumes.

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