Beware of shrinking products with increasing price tags

Back in the 80s I had a strange fascination with Shrinky Dinks — the toy, not ‘the deflating disappointment’. Sigh. If you were a kid during the late 70s and early 80s, you too probably couldn’t avoid these plastic pieces shaped like Smurfs or superheros hiding in your cereal boxes and under your peanut butter jar lids.

If you have no idea what I’m squawking about, I’ll briefly bring back the magic. Basically, you take your Shrinky Dink character, color it with a marker, and then oven bake it for like two minutes. The magic happens when that Dink shrinks to one-third their original size and becomes nine times thicker. Cool, eh! Kids could then turn Shrinky Dinks into shoelace charms or necklaces. So much awesome fun in a teeny tiny package.

Anyhoo, as an adult my fascination with teeny tiny things hasn’t waned. I often bake miniature morsels and I’m a little obsessed with compact packages. In my world (yeah, it’s a nice place to visit) small things can bring a lot of big fun.

But my wondrous world of the teeny tiny came to an end the other day when Carl brought home the groceries. Turns out his favorite brand of peanut butter turned into the dinks of shrinks by packing 25% less product into each jar. Yeah, the store discontinued the larger 1kg size in favor of this 750g shrunken micro mini — a decrease of 250g, or 25% per jar.

HONEY, they shrunk the peanut butter!

After unsticking my tongue from the roof of my mouth in disgust, I did a little mathy math to figure out the cost of a humble peanut butter sandwich. I went through my grocery receipts and found the prices.

The gobsmacking results surprised me, and we’re not talkin’ peanuts here, people.

consumer spending

Over time we’ve purchased both the 1kg and 750g jars for $3.99 each. At $3.99 per jar, there’s a jump in unit price from $0.40/100g to $0.53/100g — an increase of $0.13/100g.

Bottom Line: The lip smacking mathy math does not lie — a 25% decrease in product size at $3.99 per jar results in a 33% increase in peanut butter price!

What you can do about ‘Shrinky Dink’ products

Price inflation with product deflation is a strange, and expensive phenomenon. There’s no doubt that mindlessly buying your usual grocery products without paying attention to unit prices, sizes, and old receipts can cost you. Yeppers, those marketers are sneaky sneakers and often repackage and rebrand shrunken products JUST to charge you more.

As a smart consumer, there are a few tactics you can employ to combat the dreaded Shrinky Dink product and save yourself a little dough.

Tactics for combating Shrinky Dink products:

  1. Buy the larger size. If the former regularly sized product becomes a cute micro mini, compare the unit price of the larger size, if available — it may be a better deal.
  2. Compare prices at another store. When your usual supermarket becomes super at shrinking, do a price check experiment at another chain to compare prices. My Price Check Experiment at Costco shows you how to do it, and reveals super savings on certain products.
  3. Make it at home. If you’re fed up with paying bigger prices for smaller grocery items, then roll up your sleeves and get friendly with the word HOMEMADE. Carl hasn’t bought peanut butter in months since he now roasts and grinds organic nuts at home for less.

    Here’s the recipe: Homemade Peanut Butter: A Visual Guide and Cost Analysis.

Lastly, calling up customer service and registering a complaint about micronized products might be worth a shot too.

Question for you guys: Have you ever noticed a shrunken product with the same price? What do you do about it?

Your two cents:

  1. Kay January 23rd, 2012

    I agree with Joy. They used to have 16 oz Organic greens, now they sell 11 0z org. greens for the same price.

  2. Lynne February 23rd, 2012

    Anyone notice that they’re going through boxes of Scotties kleenex faster and faster ? They’re putting less tissues (123) in the box while maintaining the same size box. Seems to me we’re paying a lot more for “air”. !!

  3. Savvy Scot March 2nd, 2012

    Good article. We have found similar things happening the UK as of late…

  4. Nathan March 14th, 2012

    Just noticed Cracker Barrel cheeses have gone from 10 to 8 ounces. There was still a 10 oz. sitting on the shelf along with the new batch of 8 oz. blocks. All were the same price ($4.39). I spotted the change immediately before even comparing the old block I found. Sinister.

  5. Craig April 7th, 2012

    and Cracker Barrel Baby Swiss went from 10 oz to 7 oz!

  6. andy April 10th, 2012

    It’s all so that the stores can hit the “magic” retail. If they keep the size the same, and the manufacturer increases the cost, your retail goes up with it.

    Think about it.

    Say, Peanut butter for $4.99 per jar.

    A month later, same size $5.29…….most people would say “stupid supermarket making more money off of me….what a ripoff”, when in reality, the peanut butter companies costs went up due to a bad crop, increased fuel costs, etc.

    BUT, if the peanut butter company takes the extra 30 cents off and reduces the size by 10 percent………whala! same $4.99 retail.

    No magic, just economics.

    SO, buy big, and buy generic (my advise)

  7. Jody June 4th, 2012

    Kirkland Toilet Paper! Last April you received 36 rolls. This past winter I discovered that you now receive 30 “bigger” rolls. I looked it up – they rolled it looser so the rolls appear larger – but same number of squares. I lost 6 rolls of tp. Needless to say – I am no longer buying my favourite tp.

  8. AverageMan June 10th, 2012

    One of the hardest products to comparison shop for is toilet tissue. The number of rolls in a package is only a hint of the quantity you’re buying. The only sure way to get the best value when buying TP is to calculate a ‘cost-per-square-inch’ for competing brands, then make your purchase based on that unit cost.

    And while we’re on the subject, has anyone else noticed how much narrower the rolls have become? The holder I have has been around for decades, yet today’s rolls only cover 3/4 the width of the holder. Yeah, it’s still four rolls in that package, but each roll is 25% narrower than it used to be.

  9. AverageMan June 10th, 2012

    We used to buy ice cream in half-gallon sizes (64 oz.). Then they dropped the size to 56 ounces (no price change), and now 48 ounce containers are beginning to appear in stores – again without any corresponding drop in prices. At this rate, all ice cream will look like Ben & Jerry’s before long. And that assumes Ben & Jerry won’t start shrinking.

  10. Connie Solidad August 14th, 2012

    I try to keep it really simple when I shop, and just look at different products and what they cost per ounce. A lot of stores make it easier for me, since they print the per ounce content on a lot of price tags.

  11. AverageMan August 14th, 2012

    I agree that ‘consumer-friendly’ price tags now show a unit cost per ounce, per pound, etc., but that doesn’t apply to paper products like tissues, paper towels and bathroom tissue.

    It also gets confusing with laundry detergent. One ounce of one brand may not be the same concentration as one ounce of another brand. We’re left to calculate the cost per load, and even that varies if you do partial loads.

  12. Patricia November 6th, 2012

    This is such a relevant topic!
    For a long time, I have noticed the varying sizes of products with the cost staying the same at first, later changing.
    Canned tuna and salmon were the first ones in which I noticed this change.
    I don’t understand how the manufacturers are allowed to do this!

  13. Muriel November 6th, 2012

    I would be willing to pay $3.99 for that particular peanut butter but in the stores where I am shopping it is either $4.99 or $5.99. I have not seen it anywhere in the last few months for $3.99

  14. md November 6th, 2012

    A while ago, my Marcelle moisture cream got a packaging upgrade. It now comes in a spiffy 50 ml glass jar instead of the previous 60 ml plastic container. And the price went up $2 to $3…

  15. md November 6th, 2012

    Oh, and not quite the same but equally outrageous: Kraft “whipped” peanut butter with the white lid; same size jar, same price, only 3/4 as much product by weight…

  16. Lori November 6th, 2012

    Just noticed yesterday that the bag of Science Diet cat food I always buy is now 7 lbs. The one I bought last month was 8 pounds, and prior to that I recall that I used to buy the 10 lb size. But they all cost the same–roughly $36.00. It just felt lighter in my hands which is what made me look at it in the first place. Maybe it was the final lb that clued me in to finally looking at how much I was getting for the same price.

  17. Patricia November 13th, 2012

    Question:
    If so many of us are noticing these little package & pricing tactics, how do companies manage to do this manipulation, legally?

  18. AverageMan November 14th, 2012

    There’s nothing illegal, unfortunately, about this practice. As long as the package contains the amount (by weight, by count, or whatever) that the label says it contains, there is no fraud.

    As a consumer, you’re expected to know what you’re buying and make a decision based on the price charged. It’s not likely that a company will volunteer information by printing a ‘New, Smaller Size!’ disclaimer on the package

  19. DJL December 7th, 2012

    I’ve noticed this trend for years, so now I pay attention to the price per weight listing on the shelf. You can often get a better deal by buying a larger container. For instance, now that OJ is coming in 59oz. containers, instead of 64oz., I buy the 128oz. size and pay a lot less per oz. They have even had coupons on the shelf for the 128oz. size, making it about HALF the price per oz.!

    Tips:

    Look on the higher and lower shelves for larger sizes and getter better deals.

    Call the company and complain. I did so about one product and they mailed me some coupons.

    If the package says “new and improved,” it is now smaller. Saw this on an evening news report months ago; it was reported to them by a pre-teen girl who noticed the trend.

  20. Penny December 17th, 2012

    Another shrinking product!!

    Last Christmas I bought a 3 pack of Aquafina Hydrating Lip Balm at Walmart. There were 3 flavoured lip balms plus a bonus of a Hydrating Lip Oil

    In this 3+bonus pack last year: Each of the Lip balm 2.8gms
    The bonus Lip Oil is 5g

    This package sold for $3.98

    This year, same ‘deal’ or so I thought
    3 lip balms + bonus
    each of the lip balms are only 2gms each and the bonus is just a plain lip balm again only 2 gms.

    Last year’s deal 8.4 gm of reg lip balm + 5 gm lip oil
    This year’s ‘deal’ 6 gm of reg lip balm + 2 gm lip balm

    Same price, drastically less product!!!

  21. lgbphdinme January 31st, 2013

    4 years ago, I noticed the shrinking size of the Northern toilet paper I used and yet, the price continued to rise. I wrote to the manufacturer and their rationalization for this was ensuring decreased shipping rates. What a bunch of hooey! Shopping with a calculator and a measuring tape is now a practical necessity for unit measure congruity. It isn’t just the retailers that are doing it either. In years past, I bought lugs and bushels of fruit and vegetables for canning. Now the boxes they provide from the growers hold 15% weight(calc. 9/1/12) of the fruit for double the price.

  22. MrsBos February 10th, 2013

    I recently wrote to Orville popcorn company to complain that the only thing “magic” about their new pop up bowl was that it has less popcorn for the same price! Companies think we are stupid 🙁

  23. Andy April 1st, 2013

    my peeve is mismatched units of measure on that little sticker on the shelf for the same product/different brand or even different sizes of the same brand right next to it.
    whether it’s listed by- per ounce, pound, etc., the same product will have different units of measurements, one will list at ‘per ounce’ and the next ‘per pound’, or ounce vs. gallon.
    Just makes for a little more math but would make sense a store should (have to)use the same unit of measure for the same products. Doesn’t help that a pound has 16 oz., a gallon 64 oz., etc.. The different measures mean it not ‘just a quick look’ to get the information we wanted…

  24. Barb Crowther May 19th, 2013

    Loblaws has now started selling ‘mini-packets’ of ground beef at $0.20 more per kilo. There are only two of us and so a pound of beef will go a long way. Bit it was the long weekend and we were thinking hamburgers….Imagine my surprise when I realized the pckge of about a pound cost $10.76/kilo where as the slightly larger pckge was $10.56. Just glancing at the pckges wouldn’t have revealed any differences except that the one labeled ‘mini-packets’ also cost more…..

  25. Esther September 7th, 2013

    How about the larger measures in the packages of laundry soap, protein powder and other items. I have been buying the same laundry soap for ever and I noticed suddenly the scoop appeared bigger. I measure it with a scoop from a previous package and surely it was slightly bigger the measurement lines were still the same but when I put the measurement from the old scoop into the new scoop it fell short. The other day I opened a new jar of protein powder and I noticed the immediate increase in scoop size which was dramatic. They advertised on the outside that now you get 60 gr of protein in one serving where it used to be 52 gr, however the size of the scoop went from 70cc to 90cc. So the serving increased 15.4% but I have to use 28.6% more product. Also they decreased the volume from 2 pounds to 1.9 pounds.

  26. md September 9th, 2013

    And another thing to watch for: some years ago the holes in the top of containers of Comet Cleanser suddenly got way bigger, so you almost automatically have to use more… I’ve taken to decanting it into a shaker bottle with smaller holes, but what a pain…

  27. Gary Wing November 13th, 2013

    This is really the pits. We pay more we get less and I even found it in Sam’s where muffins pre-packed are 1/3 smaller. Sam’s and WalMart seem to be in the lead for shrinking stuff!
    We need to have the some regulations back into items. OH GOD some republican just dropped dead. You know even the word “regulations” can put them into fits of rage!

  28. Ed_in_NY December 10th, 2014

    Just wanted to add my voice even though the last comment was about a year ago.
    ************************
    SALTINE CRACKERS!
    There are supposed to be 40 crackers per sleeve. I make a dessert that uses one sleeve in a cookie tray, 5 rows by 8 rows. Now I keep coming up short! When you search around, the published specs all have begun to say “ABOUT 40 crackers per sleeve”. But whereas I have been making this particular dessert for 30 years and never was short a cracker, now the crackers are short every time. They’re shaving crackers off of production, calling it an imperfect science, and charging us the same or more. “Who’s gonna notice?” they’re asking in the board room. “Cheaters” is all I can reply…

  29. Dani August 11th, 2015

    I just bought Lance’s peanut butter crackers two for one at the Food Lion her in Outer Banks. There was hardly ANY peanut butter. What a rip off. I will never buy this brand again.

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