While there are some signs that inflation is going to start getting better in this country, things remain pretty grim. In some areas, the cost of a wide range of products and services has gone up nearly 10%, while income has stagnated or risen much more modestly. The grocery store is where inflation really hits hard in both obvious and more subtle ways: Companies know you hate paying more for their products, you see. That’s where “shrinkflation” comes in.
Shrinkflation is a simple and shady concept: To hide the fact that their stuff costs more than it used to, they shrink the amount of it in the package and keep the price the same. You’re still getting less for your money, but it’s not quite so obvious. Typically with shrinkflation, the size of the packaging remains the same—you have to literally check the weight and count listed on the labels to know you’re getting slightly less than you used to. If you don’t pay attention, you can come home with a bag full of groceries that won’t go as far as you think.
Check product labels to spot shrinkflation
Step one to fighting back against shrinkflation is to check those labels. If you can (and haven’t already), take an inventory of the products you currently have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer and note the volume and weight of each. For example, look at the cereal boxes in your cupboard and note the weights. When you head to the grocery store to buy a fresh box, compare the volume of cereal you’re getting. Keep in mind that most grocery stores offer “unit price” information on the shelf tags as well, which can help you see at a glance what the cost per item, pound, or ounce actually is. Pretty quickly you’ll have a list of the things you buy that have been shrunk, as well as the items that have simply raised their prices—and the few things that haven’t done either.
A quick clue that a company has recently adjusted the size of its product? Buzzwords on the labeling like “new” and “improved” or advertising a new look. This is often used to distract you from the fact that there’s less stuff inside. Something else to be careful with is “family size” or “party size” versions of products. They’re usually larger, yes, but they may also have been downsized via shrinkflation, so you still need to compare notes on how much you’re getting for the price.
Shop sales and store brands
If you’re not already clipping coupons and using a store app to get discounts and deals, now’s the time to start. Yes, the grocery store company will gleefully hoover up your shopping habits and sell that data (as well as use it to try to manipulate your shopping habits), but if you haven’t been taking advantage of these savings, this step could go a long way to mitigating the financial hit that shrinkflation represents because you can start doubling up on your purchases without spending full price.
The other thing to do is investigate store brands. Store brands have a reputation for being second-tier stuff, but that’s not true anymore in most cases. Store brand quality is often on par with name brands, but it’s almost always cheaper. If you can find a store brand cereal, for example, that still comes in a 16-ounce box when your normal choice is now only 14 ounces, you can quickly eliminate that shrinkflation from your shopping cart.
Buy in bulk
Some families already buy in bulk to save money. If you’re not, or you only do it for specific items, now’s the time to consider buying as much as you can in bulk. The price discount on bulk items might not eliminate the loss to shrinkflation altogether, but at the very least, it will soften it. You should still check the unit or volume pricing to ensure you’re actually getting as much of a deal as you think, and you have to be careful not to overbuy or you might wind up losing even more money when your groceries spoil and expire. But if you’re thoughtful about bulk-buying, you can compensate for a lot of shrinkflation.
One final note: Once companies shrink their products, they typically don’t return to the previous size, and eventually the smaller version is simply the norm. That means that even if inflation recedes to more manageable levels in the coming months, you might still need to apply your new strategies for the long-term—or find new brands to be loyal to.