When it comes to groceries, there is often more than meets the eye.
I mean, take a look at these two chocolate bars, laid out side by side:
If you were to take a look at each bar individually on the supermarket shelf, you might not notice that they are different. But, in fact, a closer look reveals that this is not the case as the left bar weighs 200g while the right bar weighs only 180g.
Despite the reduced quantity, the prices of the two chocolate bars are exactly the same.
While on the surface it may appear that product prices have not increased, under the subtlety of it all, our products are shrinking in quantity and size.
So if you’ve ever wondered if the tub of ice cream or bag of chips you usually buy is smaller than before, it might not necessarily be a figment of your imagination – it could be the result. from what we know. as shrinkage.
What is “shrinkflation” and why does it happen?
Shrinkflation, a term invented by the economistPippa Malmgren, is all about reducing the size or weight of a product while maintaining its price – an emerging trend in the F&B industry.
Essentially this means you get less than one product for the same price.
This is an event that has been happening for decades in many countries around the world, even in Singapore, and increases during periods of inflation and scarcity.
Amid inflation and rising commodity prices, brands are being forced to choose between raising prices and cutting material costs by downsizing their items to stay profitable.
However, as Director of Market Research, Derek Gohexplained, many brands are uncertain of the extent of their brand loyalty, making them reluctant to raise prices despite rising manufacturing costs for fear of losing customers to competitors.
To maintain their competitive edge while reducing production costs and increasing profits, companies are using shrinkage as a cost reduction strategy.
In a recent study conducted by CNA Insider, it was noted that many well-known brands such as Coca-Cola, Pringles and Cadbury had subtly reduced their portions through redesigned packaging. Product repackaging uses psychophysics, a strategy that relies on how our brain perceives changes in size.
As explained by CNA Insider, to reduce the noticeable disparities in the size of the redesigned packages, manufacturers are changing the diameter, length, width and height of their packages. When the volume of a container is changed in more than one dimension, our perception is relatively insensitive to these changes in actual size, giving the impression that the amount of product has remained the same.
This way, unsuspecting consumers continue to patronize these brands unaware that the unit cost of their products has increased.
What can we do against shrinkage?
Do you feel betrayed or cheated? Fortunately, there are ways to minimize shrinkage at the grocery store.
To start, we can compare unit prices when we shop in supermarkets instead of relying solely on price tags. When a company decides to put less in a package, the price remains the same; however, the unit cost increases.
Instead of comparing product prices as a whole, we could compare the unit price of each item between brands.
For example, the price of a loaf of bread with ten slices may cost S$4.50 while another loaf of bread with five slices costs S$3.50. Compared as a whole, this last loaf may seem cheaper.
But the unit price of the old loaf of bread is S$0.45 per slice, and the unit price of the last loaf is S$0.70 per slice, which makes the old loaf a better buy .
You may also want compare prices between retailers. Retailers regularly offer special offers of the week or run special promotions for a limited time.
A handy app to use to compare prices in our local supermarkets is “Price Kaki” from the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE). The app depends on crowdsourcing and retailer data to work, and prices are updated by everyday consumers when they visit the supermarket.
Also, to avoid paying more for less, we can track the weight of the products we buy regularly and read the fine print on the product packaging to ensure that the weight of the item has not decreased of its original weight.
If a package says “New and Improved” or “New Look,” it’s important to check that the part inside hasn’t shrunk over time.
Moreover, we could buy house brands as these tend to be cheaper than other alternatives since these products do not need to be imported and shipped.
Like a comparison, a bottle of FairPrice house brand mayonnaise costs S$2.60, while a bottle of Heinz mayonnaise costs S$4.30; almost twice as much as the private label version.
It was also noted by WebMD that private labels are often the last to discount their products, even when big brands do.
Although many shoppers tend to avoid house brands for fear of compromising the quality of their products, a Straits time survey suggests that house brands are not inferior to big name brands, allowing shoppers to enjoy the best of both worlds: quality and cost savings.
It may also be wise to buy your groceries in bulk or gather a group of friends to buy items together, in the form of group purchases. In this way, you can save on paying excess packing and shipping costs and the unit price of your products would also be cheaper.
For example, the “Group purchase” function on online retailers such as Shopee is a promotional feature that provides cost savings and discounts when two or more people purchase the same product together.
Through Shopee, users can create groups and invite friends to join the shopping group together.
In addition, there are also large local group buying communities to facilitate group buying between residents of the same neighborhood.
One of them is FreshSGa community dedicated to the purchase of fruits and vegetables in bulk.
According to FreshSG, buyers are required to join their respective estate’s WhatsApp groups before placing orders through their real estate hosts. Once the orders have been delivered, they can then collect their purchases from the domain hosts’ homes.
If you buy in bulk and prefer to shop in a physical environment, you may consider buying your groceries from outlet stores or hypermarkets around Singapore.
An example is FairPrice’s warehouse center, located next to MRT Joo Koon station, which offers discounts of up to 20% on bulk purchases.
As reported by AsiaOnea 1.6kg box of Kellogg’s Coco Pops cereal at the FairPrice warehouse center costs S$17.80 while the equivalent in weight costs S$21 at regular FairPrice outlets, representing savings up to S$3.20.
Finally, you might want buy discount or cashback vouchers through websites such as Fave when shopping in physical supermarkets or by downloading cashback apps when shopping online.
The Cashback app, Shopback, for example, offers 10% off groceries when you shop online via The FairPrice online storewhile websites such as Fave offer vouchers for groceries at various supermarkets.
As our shopping continues to decline across the board, perhaps one day we will all be forced to eat and drink from tiny plastic containers.
But before that happens, we can take proactive steps to guard against the effects of shrinkage wherever possible.
Best Maria Lin Kim and Tara Clark images via Unsplash.