Price-conscious shoppers pay attention to price. But there's no such thing as a net-weight-conscious shopper. Your average consumer "can tell instantly if they're used to paying $2.99 for a carton of orange juice and that goes up to $3.19," consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky told NPR. "But if the orange juice container goes from 64 ounces to 59 ounces, they're probably not going to notice."
Which is why companies have been doing just that: Reducing the contents, then changing the package design, making it taller (though skinner) to maintain "shelf presence"—while leaving the old price unchanged. The practice is known as "shrinkflation."
Dworsky runs Mouseprint.org, a website dedicated to catching and calling out shrinkflation practitioners. It's not your imagination—there really did used to be more Doritos in that bag. Eight years ago, Dworsky reports, they were almost 12 ounces. But here's the latest change they've made, without charging less:
"When companies continually downsize their products, eventually some of them reintroduce the original larger versions, but at a much steeper price than they were originally."
Shrinkflation can be difficult to spot, because during that short period of overlap, retailers will try to separate the old stock from the new. Dworsky has discovered they'll shuffle the old boxes to a different part of the aisle than the new ones, presumably so that you won't notice the different package sizes.
His call to action, if you're lucky enough to stumble upon it: "If you spot a product that has been downsized, please take a sharp picture of the old and new one, including the net weight, and submit it to edgar (at) mouseprint.org . Thanks."
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