Friday, 2 March 2012

How 'product shrinkage' increases prices by stealth

Take a look at these two bottles. The one on the right - bought a few months ago - contained 500ml of red wine vinegar. The significantly smaller one on the left, which my husband just picked up from Tesco for £1.23, has only 350ml.

I'm pretty sure I paid around £1.19 for that larger bottle which worked out at 24p per 100ml. The new size works out at 35p per 100ml - a whopping increase in a short period.

I can't for the life of me see why we should pay so much for vinegar. French supermarkets have it at a fraction of the price. In many branches you can't even buy an own brand vinegar now though I notice from that Asda has a 350ml bottle for 67p - that's 56p a bottle cheaper than the Aspall branded one.

Product shrinkage has of course been going on for a while but it seems to me it's got way more prevalent recently as this report from Which? last year suggests. I've noticed fewer teabags in some of the packets I buy, for example. Have you spotted any incredible shrinking products lately?


Frugal Living UK said...

I have indeed noticed a lot of shrinkage! But seeing it like that, two bottles next to each other really hits home doesn't it! Will be going to ASDA for my red wine vineger me thinks! It seems to me a very sneeky and underhand way to do things and disappoints me a lot, like you say, how can vinegar cost so much?

SarahP said...

Wow, and I would never have noticed the difference without that pic. I know it's happening on heaps of products now though.

Fiona Beckett said...

@FrugalLiving problem is that what Asda saves you on vinegar it will probably slap on something else. But well worth picking some up when you're next in there.

@SarahP - yes, the picture does bring it home, doesn't it - and the difference is even more dramatic when you see the actual bottles.

Hazel Paterson said...

Do you remember the days before soft scoop ice cream? These days ice cream is pumped full of air. Shrink the products, replace most of it with air, replace quality ingredients with cheap bulking, its all out there and so much of it goes unnoticed sadly.

Emmyw said...

Hi, new to your blog but really enjoying what I am seeing!

I've mainly noticed this issue with cosmetics.

Cleanser bottles get "redesigned" and then come back thinner of slightly smaller in scale!

Also many stores did it when the VAT change came in. The store I used to work in repackaged their chocolates so they contained a different number of grams, it looked like the prices had stayed the same and therefore customers supported them through the VAT increase but instead they just got less for their money!

Fiona Maclean said...

The same is true for a lot of beauty products (shampoo, hair care etc). It's such a shame imo because it makes the consumer feel conned when they notice. And, in my case that equals more likely to try a different brand.

Fiona Beckett said...

Hi and welcome, EmmyW! You and Fiona are right - it definitely applies to cosmetics and toiletries too. It's the underhand nature of it that really gets me. Like they're pretending nothing's changed.

I certainly buy whatever's on special offer when it comes to shampoos, conditioners etc

James said...

Not quite related but I did notice this week the vast cost difference between catering size spices and dried herbs and supermarket ones. Cash & carry large herbs 12 times the weight of the supermarket jars and only double the price! Someone somewhere is making a whole load of money on herbs & spices in supermarkets!

Tesco seem to do the best ras el hanout. Last year it was a large tin, now it's turned into a sachet 1/4 same amount for only 3/4 of the price. Watch out for that repackaging con.

On the whole price thing though supermarkets are cashing in on the rise in interest in cooking - really noticeable in the last 2 years. Sell small amounts at a very high price - Waitrose just makes you laugh when you look at unit cost. Tesco is good at hiding product shrinkage under price offers & 2 for 1 - they think we don't notice? Morrisons actually do good range of own brand - a good offset between quality & price. Thank goodness for wholesale though.

With all that wine around I'd thought you would make your own red wine vinegar.

Fiona Beckett said...

Fair point, James! The bottles (for tasting for the day job, rather than drinking I hasten to add) are so much part of the furniture I don't even notice them ;-)

Kavey said...

I've noticed more of this going on too. I realise that we can check the price per 100g or 100ml but for products we buy regularly, we probably only note the headline price, without realising the size of the container has shrunk. In your example, it's a very cunning redesign of the bottle shape too, which makes it much harder to notice.

laura@howtocookgoodfood said...

I am to surprised by this as I am finding it increasingly depressing to go shopping at the moment. Prices are hiking in all the goods I like to buy plus I don't find the whole shopping experience very satisfying.
My local corner shop is now seeming more competitive than ever so may just be turning to them more in the future!

Fiona Beckett said...

@kavey - yes, always worth checking the unit price. It's also true that bigger sizes of e.g. tinned tomatoes aren't necessarily cheaper.

And you're right, Laura - corner shops can be cheaper for some things, especially foods that are not currently on special offer in the supermarkets

Charlotte Pike said...

Hi Fiona,

Another interesting post.

I have seen many examples of this - it's very sneaky. Apparently Sainsbury's Taste the difference sausages have been made smaller etc etc. But I have noticed this with eggs too, from Sainsbury's. I bought medium free range own brand eggs this week, and they were so pathetically small, I'm sure they aren't as big as they used to be!


Linda said...

That seems to be the thing these days with all products.. I went to buy my favorite laundry detergent the other day, and as usual grabbed the large box and it somehow seemed smaller.
I checked the price and volume and found it was cheaper to buy 2 medium boxes than one large one.