Shrinkflation hits over 200 food products - and bread and cereals are the most likely to reduce in size

Published by Stephen Little on 21 January 2019.
Last updated on 21 January 2019

A bar of chocolate with a bite taken out of it

Consumers are paying the same for over 200 items in their shopping baskets, but the products have shrunk in size, official figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) examined around 17,000 items between September 2015 and June 2017.

As many as 206 products shrank in size while 79 increased, according to the ONS. 

It found that prices tended not to change when products changed size, consistent with the idea that some products are undergoing “shrinkflation”.

This is when food manufacturers keep the price of a product the same, but reduce the weight of the product. This conceals the effect of leaving customers with less for their money. 

The majority of products experiencing size changes were food products.

In the bread and cereals category there were 36 cases of shrinkflation. Meat and confectionary products both recorded 25 cases of shrinkflation.

Everyday household products such toilet rolls, nappies and tissues have also seen a reduction in size while keeping the same price.

Rising import costs

Mike Hardie, head of inflation at the ONS, says: “Over the last few years, consumers may have noticed that some companies have reduced the size of their products while the price remained the same, which is often attributed to operational and material cost rises.

“The majority of size changes occurred in the food and drink sector. Every day staples such as bread and cereal are most likely to have seen reductions in size, while consumers may also find some chocolate products to be smaller now than they once were.”

The evidence backs up what shoppers have been seeing for years. Most famously Toblerone reduced the number of chunks in its bars in 2016, while McVitie’s has cut the number of Jaffa Cakes in a packet from 12 to 10.

Other notable examples of shrinkflation include Snickers, Twix, Mars and Yorkies, which have all seen a drop in weight but have maintained their price.

Manufacturers have tended to blame shrinkflation on the rising cost of ingredients - attributed to a weaker pound. 

The pound has declined in relative value following the EU Referendum in 2016. In turn, this has pushed up import costs for manufacturers.

Inflation spiked as a result, most notably in December 2017 when it reached a five-year high.

Rather than directly pass this cost on to the customer - which could affect sales - some have reduced the size of the product.

No direct connection to Brexit

However, the ONS says that there was no evidence to suggest that Brexit is directly to blame for shrinkflation. Instead it says the phenomenon of shrinkflation has longer-term roots. 

It says: "There was no apparent trend in the frequency of size reductions or size increases over time for the period studied. Consistent with our previous analysis, the trend remains stationary in the period following the EU referendum (June 2016)."

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown, says: “In the past, companies blamed the rising price of raw materials. In the last couple of years these prices dropped back, but the shrinkage continued.

"The ONS investigated whether this was due to the fall in the pound, but said it hadn’t spotted trends that can be attributed to a Brexit effect. It may simply be that manufacturers have found a way to boost profits under the radar.

“Shrinkflation seems sneaky, but outside of the years of runaway price rises, inflation is pretty stealthy anyway.

"When we see our savings statements, we tend to look at the interest payments as money we’ve made, whereas in fact, unless the accounts are offering a rate that’s higher than inflation, we’re actually losing money.”

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Kelloggs Cornflakes 790gm

Kelloggs Cornflakes 790gm size just been replaced by a 720gm size in what appears to be exactly the same size box.

Price: In Tesco new size is costing £2.69 old size £2.50 which equals 18% rise. Dorchester Tesco had both on the shelf on Monday 11/02/19.

Sainsburys new size is costing £2.70, old size £2.59 which equals 14% rise