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Shrinkflation

“Honey, I shrunk the cereal” is not a new movie adding to the 1990s comedy classic series; it’s a phrase consumers might find themselves repeating while putting away groceries.  You may notice that your favorite product container shape has changed, gotten smaller, or is missing a serving that was once included—this is not your imagination, it is shrinkflation. Shrinkflation is the process of items shrinking in size, quantity, or quality, while pricing remains the same or goes up.  This practice is common in consumer goods as a way for manufacturers to reduce production or packaging costs.

Product pricing may increase due to a rise in business costs, like the cost of: fuel, lumber, utilities, or rent.  When production costs go up, manufacturers may use cheaper ingredients, raise prices, or downsize packaging.  Shrinking container size keep prices the same, but give customers a little less for their money.  Shrinkflation is legal, as long as products are clearly labeled, and the business is not engaging in unfair or deceptive practices.

The Division of Standards, an agency within the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR), oversees weights and measures in the Commonwealth and enforces the item pricing law, unit pricing regulations, and item pricing waivers to retail food stores.  The DOS also inspects pre-packaged food and non-food products to ensure that the net quantity is accurate and that any variation is within the acceptable legal metrology parameters. The laws and regulations under DOS oversight require food and grocery stores to individually price mark most items with the actual selling price. The laws also require food and grocery merchants to sell any item at the lowest price indicated on an item, sign, or advertisement.

While the DOS continues to work to ensure consumers are protected with respect to pricing, and weights and measures, consumers can take these steps to combat shrinkflation:

  • Shop around and consider competitors’ or store brands to compare value if you notice a product has downsized. According to ConsumerWorld.Org, store brands are often the last products to experience shrinkflation.
  • Compare unit pricing on items to determine the best deal when evaluating different packaging designs.
  • Purchase less pre-packaged foods. A single orange, head of lettuce, or dozen of eggs are not as susceptible to shrinkage, and price increases will be more evident.

The Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law enables the Attorney General and consumers to take legal action against unfair or deceptive conduct in the marketplace. The law does not define any specific business actions that violate the law; rather it states that “unfair or deceptive practices” are illegal.

Visit the OCABR website for more information on the Consumer Protection Law.  For information related to weights and measures, item pricing, or unit pricing, visit the DOS website.

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