No, you haven’t been imagining it, your chocolate bars have been getting smaller, and the issues extends far beyond ‘Toblerone-gate’.
A study conducted by the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) has found that 2,529 products had decreased in size between January 2012 and June 2017, with many of these products in Ireland.
The study showed that while prices for many of our favourite supermarket and newsagent items have stayed the same, their diminishing size is a form of ‘stealth inflation’.
Yet, it took consumers four to five years to notice what’s been happening.
From a psychological point of view, the study illustrates how consumers focus on price and ingredients far more than quantity when it comes to many FMCG products.
Yet, a tipping point has been reached: consumers have begun to notice and they believe that they are getting worse value for money than five years ago. As they see their chocolate bars and toothpaste tubes getting smaller while their toilet roll tubes get bigger, consumers have noticed themselves buying these products often.
In turn, this has some negative implications on brands. We know that Irish consumers are still wary to open their wallet too much, despite economic growth rates. And in a context where trust in society is declining, shrinkflation can pose a threat to brands who consumers perceive as being a bit sneaky, unhelpful or even dishonest, in turn prompting them go to elsewhere.
Conversely, brands that champion honesty, being more straightforward or adding more value to consumers in this way could take advantage of shrinkflation.
One approach that has worked in recent years is new packaging formats. In a climate where consumers are increasingly time-poor and health conscious, brands providing single portion snacks and meal replacements on-the-go have opened up new opportunities for themselves. Brands that help people live their lives get thanked, even if they pay marginally more for the benefit.
At the same time, we must bear in mind that shrinkflation can have positive outcomes on the public health side as a subtle way to nudge people into eating less foods that can be harmful in excess.
Studies in the US found that people would feel just as satisfied eating a smaller quantity of food from a smaller plate as they would eating a larger quantity on a larger plate. Critics of ‘nudging’, however, are also right to question its honesty, even if the outcomes are a social good.
This suggests that context exerts a powerful impact on our food consumption consume food has a significant impact on how much they consume. But also on their perception of brands.