The word SHRINKFLATION is too benign, writes RUTH SUNDERLAND. What we’re witnessing is nothing less than an insidious form of theft
Most of us are now frustratingly familiar with ‘shrinkflation’, with food and toiletry manufacturers reducing the size of products but keeping the price the same – or even putting it up.
Of course, retailers and consumer goods makers have faced higher costs due to Covid and the war in Ukraine – driving up the price of ingredients, energy and labour – but too often they have been quick to exploit this as an opportunity to cash in and use the cover of inflation to slip through unjustifiable price increases.
The word ‘shrinkflation’ – first coined by an American economist in 2015 – is far too benign. What is actually happening is a sneaky and insidious form of theft perpetrated on shoppers.
As a result, a trip to the supermarket now involves a forensic exercise in checking prices, weights and volumes.
In many cases, the reduction in size is subtle and goes unnoticed. Sometimes packaging is in fact redesigned to obscure the change.
The word ‘shrinkflation’ – first coined by an American economist in 2015 – is far too benign. What is actually happening is a sneaky and insidious form of theft perpetrated on shoppers
We are increasingly faced with a bewildering range of offers for goods such as dishwasher tablets and cleaning wipes, and the only way of getting the best value is to scrutinise labels showing the price per individual item, weight or volume.
CLICK HERE: Shops are accused of cashing in on cost-of-living crisis as price of some basic groceries soars by up to 30 per cent
Shoppers deserve clear and fair prices, not this shameful exercise in corporate gaslighting.
Other sly practices are afoot. The director of product development at one leading food retailer told me that products are being tweaked without telling consumers – with expensive ingredients removed or replaced by cheaper substitutes. The food obviously will not taste as nice but the price is the same, or more.
My suspicion, too, is that some produce, including lettuce, is being left slightly longer on shelves so it is not so fresh and crisp. Again, we are paying the same, but receiving inferior goods.
Refusing to engage in the subterfuge of shrinkflation may mean smaller profits in the short-term, but in the long run shoppers are put off, trust is eroded and companies’ reputations damaged.
Shrinkflation is not only a fraud on shoppers – it also risks creating a deception about the whole economy due to the illusion that prices are not going up when, actually, they are.
The Office for National Statistics is wise to this and has made efforts not to be taken in, but it makes its job all the more difficult. Portmanteau words ending in ‘-flation’ have entered the lexicon. We are now cursed with ‘greedflation’ – companies raising prices exorbitantly, by far more than they need to cover any legitimate increase in their own costs – and ‘sneakflation’, when supplementary charges are surreptitiously added to the advertised price.
Key to all this is the original demon, plain old inflation, which has been running way above the Bank of England’s two per cent target for 18 months.
Its governor Andrew Bailey, who for months said price rises were a transitory phenomenon that would sort itself out, must bear some of the blame for the hefty cost of our weekly shop.
To their credit, some retailers are taking a stand. Stuart Machin, the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, told me: ‘I am obsessed with shrinkflation. I measure everything and challenge and question if I think something might have got smaller. I don’t like it and we don’t do it.’
Others should take a leaf from his book. As for shoppers, when we see shrinkflation, we should vote with our wallets.
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