The changes are subtle and may avoid less discerning shoppers. But retail industry experts say we may see more consumer products begin to shrink in size or quantity, or both, due to rising costs.
Companies can raise prices, and many do. Others get the same price while offering customers less.
Edgar Dworsky, a former assistant attorney general in Massachusetts, consumer advocate and editor of the website ConsumerWorld.org, said product shrinkage, also known as “shrinkflation,” occurs with toilet paper.
“The shrinkage happens in times of high inflation because companies that make everyday products also pay more for raw materials, production and delivery costs,” said Dworsky, who has been watching how periods of high inflation affect consumer products for 30 years.
Dworsky said product reduction is becoming more and more common, and recently it has caught a few instances of brands shrinking the size of their products inconspicuously.
“This means losing the equivalent of about a roll and a half in the new 18-pack,” he said.
Dworsky noted that oversized toilet paper packs are now most stocked in stores. “Finding a four-pack is nearly impossible,” he said.
While Dworsky doesn’t track product prices, he said that when product shrinkage occurs, consumers either pay more for less of the product or pay the same price but less.
“This doesn’t mean that every toilet paper product from Procter & Gamble will see a change. But my guess is that changes are coming in more products,” he said, adding that he will soon have a report on other toilet paper brands.
Procter & Gamble executives acknowledged in its latest earnings call that the company faces a “challenging cost environment” as the ongoing effects of the pandemic on supply chains, a tight labor market and “materials availability remains strained”.
In an email to CNNBusiness, Procter & Gamble cited several reasons for the variation in the size of its products, and that store prices are set exclusively by retailers.
“Innovation has a cost element – adjusting the number per pack or pack size is a way to reinvest in that innovation while maintaining a competitive price point,” the company said.
P&G said it also adjusted product sizes for different retailers. So the rolls may have shrunk in some stores but not in others.
“At the same retailer, the range of products you find in a suburban area may differ from those found in a smaller urban retail location and on a retailer’s website,” he said.
Why does “shrinkflation” happen?
The “shrinkflation” phenomenon is nothing new. The practice is often triggered when inflation rises and companies’ costs rise.
When costs rise, consumer goods producers seek to offset the increases they pay for commodities, transportation, labor and other costs. They either raise the price of existing products or reduce the size of existing products, thereby increasing the price per unit of what you get.
These increases are passed on to shoppers through stores that purchase products from consumer products companies.
Other recent examples of downsized products that Dworsky noticed were Keebler Cookies. He said the Chips Deluxe with M&Ms package has dropped from 11.3 ounces per previous package to 9.75.
Shoppers have warned her about switching to a thinner squeeze tube that also holds two ounces less product, with new Gatorade bottles that hold less drink — 28 fluid ounces down 32 fluid ounces — and the Pantene conditioner packaging.
“For consumer goods companies, raising prices for consumers is a last resort. This is because price increases in stores are very noticeable to shoppers and can affect demand,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail research and assistant professor at Columbia University’s business school.
Instead, companies fine-tune products and packaging. “For consumers, it’s kind of a nuisance… or a concern depending on the product we’re talking about,” Cohen said. “I believe inflation will be here for a while and we will see that such product adjustments will continue to happen.”
— CNN’s Nathaniel Meyersohn contributed to this story