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Shrinkflation is real. What is it, and how can you combat it?

Maliya Ellis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Fashion Daily News

The downsizing is most common in canned and dry goods, as well as non-food items like paper products, he says. It’s harder to pull off with frequently purchased products or products that come in recognizable sizes, like a gallon of milk or a carton of eggs, for which volume changes are unlikely to go unnoticed. Items sold by the pound, like most produce, are also immune; you can’t exactly shrink the size of an apple, fruits and veggies, so they are prone to price increases instead.

Some eagle-eyed consumers have begun to notice the shrinkage. On r/shrinkflation, a Reddit forum with more than 36,000 members, disgruntled shoppers regularly post pictures of an original product alongside its new, miniature version.

The term popped up for the first time on Yelp in the past few months, according to data from the restaurant review site. Shrinkflation can strike when you’re out to eat, too: Users noticed trimmer portion sizes, especially at lower-cost restaurants serving fast food-like fare.

But if you haven’t noticed the shrinkage in your own grocery cart, you’re not alone; you’d be forgiven for not scrutinizing the net weight of the breakfast cereal you purchase every other week, especially if you’re in a rush. It’s easy to be “on autopilot” while checking items off your list, Inman acknowledged, and the grocery store can be noisy and visually overwhelming.

To cut through that noise, a consumer’s best friend is the per-unit price, says Inman — the smaller number underneath or beside the total price, usually expressed in dollars per pound or ounce. There’s no room to hide with a unit price. If a package has shrunk, the per-unit price will rise even if its total price stays constant, making it a reliable metric for tracking changes over time.


Unit prices can help you make more informed decisions about how to stretch your dollar, Inman advises. For example, if you notice the price per pound has gotten “out of whack,” you’ll know to look for alternatives, like store brands or substitute products, or forego the purchase altogether — but only if you realize the price is out of the ordinary in the first place.

To maximize your dollar, Inman recommends being vigilant about unplanned purchases, which make up about half of most consumers’ grocery items, according to his research. Some of these are what he calls “unrecognized needs,” the items you forgot to put on the grocery list but actually need. It’s the “unplanned wants,” the novelty purchases or indulgences, that can be scaled back to save money, he says.

In short, Inman recommends you “take the blinders off” at the grocery store and be more thoughtful about your purchases. So next time you shop, consider taking note of those per-unit prices, and perhaps think twice before making an impulse buy.

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