Hunter Jarratt was a frequent buyer of Quaker’s apple oats bars — until he realized the size of his favorite snack was decreasing in size, even though the packaging looked the same.
In his TikTok video, he pointed out that an old bar weighed 26 grams and costs $1.90 normally. But an oat bar now costs “well over $2,” at 24 grams, he claimed.
That means each gram in the 26-gram bar costs $0.073 while it costs slightly more — at least $0.083 per gram — for the smaller 24-gram bar, according to CNBC’s calculations.
“What it does have — is more air,” he said tongue-in-cheek.
That’s when Jarratt realized “shrinkflation” was at work — where some companies are reducing the contents of their packaging without raising the sticker price, and in so doing, charging consumers more.
PepsiCo — which owns Quaker and other household names, such as beverages like Gatorade and Lipton Tea, as well as Lays potato chips — did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Not only are consumers spending more on everyday goods, they’re also getting less than what they used to — and young people like Jarratt are not happy.
Like Jarratt, many are now taking to TikTok to call out companies that have reduced the size of products.
There were more than 261 million views of short videos related to “shrinkflation” on TikTok as of Thursday, according to the social media platform.
It’s difficult enough to keep up with the rising cost of living already, and when businesses start reducing the sizes of their items, it makes things worse.
In July, PepsiCo raised its revenue outlook for the year as inflation pushed up prices and consumers paid more for its products.
Expecting costs to rise even higher in the second half of the year, the global food and drink giant said at that time it plans to keep shrinking product sizes and deploying other ways to manage rising expenses.
How has shrinkflation impacted young people and are there ways to overcome it? CNBC Make It finds out.
Why is ‘shrinkflation’ happening?
For Krishnan Kara, 23, it was Cadbury’s chocolate bars.
“They used to be 200g for £2 and are now 180g for £2. A 10% drop in size but the price is still the same,” the digital marketer from London said.
“I was annoyed … Instead of openly increasing the prices of goods with inflation, these big brands chose to make the amount of product less.”
In an email response to CNBC Make It, a Mondelez International spokesperson said that “significantly increased production costs” have made it much more expensive to produce its goods.
Mondelez International owns Cadbury and other snacks like Oreo, Ritz and Toblerone.
“We understand that consumers are faced with rising costs too, which is why we look to absorb costs wherever we can,” Mondelez International said, without elaborating.
Inflation and shrinkflation are really having a huge impact on groceries and the bottom line of just about everyone.
The spokesperson added that it is the first time since 2012 that the size of medium Cadbury Dairy Milk bars have been reduced.
Drew Lee, 31, acknowledged that it’s as important as ever for companies to “do whatever they need to do to maintain their profit levels.”
“As a consumer, I don’t like [shrinkflation]. But I get why companies are doing it. Everyone has to make money,” said the industrial engineer.
Food ‘not lasting as long’
Even so, individuals whom CNBC Make It spoke to remain adamant that shrinkflation will hurt consumers.
“Inflation and shrinkflation are really having a huge impact on groceries and the bottom line of just about everyone,” said Lee.
Lee added that he noticed shrinkflation was at work because he would typically pour his packaged oatmeal from Target‘s private-label brand Good & Gather into a different storage container.
“I noticed that it did not fill up the entire container like it normally would. If I didn’t pour the oatmeal into a different container, I definitely would not have noticed this,” he said.
CNBC Make It reached out to Target for comment and a spokesperson said the company has not made any changes to its oatmeal packaging or product since its release in 2020.
“Shrinkflation is an attempt to trick customers into thinking they are paying the same price for an item when in reality they are paying a higher cost per unit for that item,” insisted Lee, the engineer.
Claudia Valladares, a financial advisor, said that shrinkflation is a cause for concern especially for “individuals who are on a tight budget.”
“It’s difficult enough to keep up with the rising cost of living already, and when businesses start reducing the sizes of their items, it makes things worse.”
Either I am choosing alternative products or unfortunately, having to spend more money on food … that is just adding more debt in the long-run.
Jarratt agreed, saying that that food is “not lasting as long” now that inflation and shrinkflation have become more intense.
“I am a university student on student loans … I have an allocated amount of money for food,” the 22-year-old added.
“Either I am choosing alternative products or unfortunately, having to spend more money on food … that is just adding more debt in the long-run.”
Here’s what you can do
Jarratt’s personal experiences with rising costs of living and shrinkflation propelled him to create a TikTok video — even though he admitted it’s not his “usual content” as an environmental educator.
“It is hard to truly be a conscientious consumer at the grocery store when most products are owned only by a handful of companies. But when you do spot a change, it’s important to speak up,” he said.
“People are definitely starting to catch on. A slight package change isn’t going to fool anyone.”
Other than creating awareness, here’s what some are doing to get by:
1. Pay close attention to prices and quantities
It is more important now than ever to pay attention to prices and make comparisons between stores when doing grocery shopping, said Lee.
“You could be throwing away a dollar here and there which will have a huge impact over time.”
Kara added that he is now paying more attention to the price per gram of food items.
“Something may look cheaper but the price per gram is higher than the same product that’s more expensive,” he pointed out.
2. No shame in ‘no-name’
Another way to tackle shrinkflation could be to abandon your loyalty to particular brands.
Jarratt said when he notices an item has shrunk, he would switch to another brand.
“For example, instead of buying Quaker’s oats bars, I would rather buy Nature Valley’s bars by General Mills, which at least still leave me feeling like I ate something,” he said.
“I may also buy a ‘no-name’ brand granola bar which is cheaper than other brands, and still somewhat filling as a snack.
He observed that smaller, lesser-known companies may have increased their prices but the sizes of products seem to have stayed the same.
“I would purchase from companies like that, and where possible and affordable, local businesses too.”
3. Consider buying in bulk
Valladares, the financial advisor, said that buying in bulk would typically allow you to “get a discount on the overall purchase.”
“This is because retailers know that they will be selling a larger quantity of the product and are willing to give a price break,” she explained.
“It also allows you to take advantage of economies of scale – the per-unit cost of the product decreases as the quantity increases.”
It’s always a good idea to compare the price per unit before making your purchase.