Shrinkflation: for those struggling, it’s about more than just chocolate bars

If late capitalism can be boiled down to a social media-friendly phrase, look no further than “shrinkflation” – when goods are made smaller but still sold at exactly the same price. Figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that as many as 206 products were made smaller between September 2015 and June 2017.

High-profile examples include Mars shrinking Maltesers, M&Ms and Minstrels by up to 15%, while Birds Eye cut the number of fish fingers in a packet from 12 to 10. The makers of Toblerone sent the internet into frenzy in 2016 after it widened the gap between the distinctive triangular chunks. Last year, after the backlash, it reverted the bar to its original shape – but bigger, and with a higher price.

The reasons behind the trend are understandable; retailers blame rising costs and increasing competition on the high street, as well as the Brexit-linked fall in the pound. The problem is, it feels sneaky – corporations quietly giving their so-called valued customers less, while taking the same money, and hoping no one will notice. Or worse, knowing we will and betting we’ll buy it anyway.

Add it all up and shrinkage isn’t just an annoyance. For the millions of people struggling with food insecurity, it’s the difference between being able to afford the weekly shop or not. Chocolates make the headlines, but this trend largely affects everyday essentials. The ONS found most size changes occur with household items such as toilet rolls, nappies, and washing-up liquid, while foods with the highest numbers of product size changes included bread and meat.

No matter what businesses are up against, shrinkflation sums up multi-million-pound companies choosing to push the cost on to already squeezed families. That leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Frances Ryan is a Guardian columnist

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