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Are We All Victims of the Diabolical Grocery Shrink Ray?

Are We All Victims of the Diabolical Grocery Shrink Ray?

We have been hearing about the coming rise in the price of consumer goods set to hit us like a wave of price hikes and less bang for your buck. But walk into your local grocery store and things may not seem all that different. That bag of chips still looks and costs the same as it did last month, as does that pint of ice cream and that package of toilet paper. We, as Americans, seem to be relatively untouched by the Cassandra of inflationary spending that is threatening to wreak havoc on our grocery budgets. Everything is fine…just fine.

But take a bit of a closer look and you will start seeing a pattern. While many grocery store items still cost relatively the same, the packaging and volume of the product are decidedly shrinking. A once 16-ounce package of dried pasta still looks the same, but the volume is now closer to 13-ounces. A 15.5-ounce can of corn is now 11-ounces with just a bit more filler for exactly the same price, and toilet paper, while still may be 1000 sheets per roll, has gotten a bit shorter and thinner – making the downsizing virtually imperceptible unless you stack up the older version of the product with the newer inflation-era product. It is the work of the “Grocery Shrink Ray!”

While hardly a new phenomenon, as websites like The Consumerist has been reporting on the trend for a few years now, these instances of food inflation have become more and more frequent over the last few months in anticipation of the coming increase in the cost of raw materials.

As reported in The New York Times, in nearly every economic downturn in the last few decades, companies have reduced the size of some products, disguising price increases and avoiding comparisons on same-size packages, before and after an increase. 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). The majority of these companies break out the shrink ray surreptitiously, secretly hoping that consumers are too preoccupied to really read the labels and realize what is happening. So they stealthily camouflage these price hikes by selling these products in increasingly smaller, or more eye-catching, packages. Why pay more when you could get less?

To be fair, the alternative would be to have these companies be upfront and just jack up the prices to meet the increase in production costs, which would certainly not bode well with consumers. But as it has been demonstrated, consumers are much more reactive to price hikes than they are to shifts in quantity. So the companies are doing it all on the down low to keep consumers relatively happy and not feeling cheated. But the fact is, we are being cheated.

The majority of the products that have fallen victim to the diabolical grocery shrink ray are processed and packaged foods like canned soup, chips, condiments, etc. So if you pledge allegiance to whole foods (as in the quality, not the chain store) you will not likely see this shrink ray in effect, as much as you will witness (and feel) the good old burn of American inflation. Is this deception? And if so, is it warranted? One thing we can be sure of is that when, and if, the economy bounces back, the volume of the packages will not likely readjust to their old glory.

Read more: Following Food, Food, Household Hints, Reduce, Recycle & Reuse, , , , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

81 comments

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9:38PM PDT on May 10, 2013

noted

8:28AM PDT on Jun 14, 2011

We must be getting bigger cause everything in the store is getting smaller

11:22AM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

We shoppers do notice these things and it's irritating to pay the same price for less goods.

1:00AM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

Smaller amounts are O.K. It's the higher cost I object to.!

6:39AM PDT on Apr 9, 2011

Thanks, maybe it's better in that smaller amounts results in less waste.

9:29AM PDT on Apr 8, 2011

Yes...but it's true that smaller portions of ready-made food is probably a good idea. We just need to be aware when we're stocking up on staples, that's all.

4:07PM PDT on Apr 7, 2011

This is not news to me. I have been aware of it for years. What is bothering me lately is ads of whole cases of food being sold at a discount. I noticed it in last week's grocery ads and this week as well. I makes me wonder what is going on?

10:01AM PDT on Apr 7, 2011

This is nothing new in marketing.However,I do think it's wrong to assume the consumer is too preoccupied,or just not smart enough to notice they get less for their money.
I'd prefer they simply tell the truth.Tough economic times are hitting everyone.Including these companies,which employ many people who need the work.
I see no reason for these companies to "lie" & it is a lie when they try to pass these products,packages,etc...as the same as they were.
Somehow it's not making anyone lose weight.So are they also adding more fat,salt,sugar,to make up for less being in the packages?
Glad we plant a garden,grow alot of what we eat.And eat very little processed food now because of the junk that's in it.

7:55AM PDT on Apr 7, 2011

Naomi Klein reviews all these patterns in her book"Shock Doctrine" --the elitists have set this up purposely--the loss of jobs, the housing bust,inflationary prices--all to gain control over the population by destabalizing them and hitting them with shocks that keep them spinning--it is a strategy that they have been perfecting in third world countries and abroad and have now brought home to roost.

3:34AM PDT on Apr 7, 2011

thanks for warning about it!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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