#TBT: Today we look back at when we started getting less for our money at the supermarket.
When Packages Were Downsized
Our story begins only five years ago. According to the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics, from 2012 to 2017, the size of 2,529 products decreased. Yes some did become larger. But only 614.
Don’t the following Cadbury chocolate bars look rather similar? The bottom one with rounded chunks has 14% less milk chocolate:
Also, Cadbury placed fewer Creme Eggs in its boxes:
And Tetley took tea bags from its package:
As you surely expected, price typically did not fall when the package shrunk. Sometimes the item’s price remained the same. At other times, it dropped but by less of a percent than the package was downsized. Also, but much less frequently, price actually went up.
Asked why they downsize, the manufacturers’ responses ranged from increasing ingredient costs to helping consumers fight obesity. Asked how, some keep the same height and width but diminish the depth. Others indent a drink bottle or even retain the size but put less in it. You can see there are many possibilities.
Our Bottom Line: Thinking at the Margin
Downsizing packages is really about thinking at the margin.
Economists like to tell us that we always think at the margin. If we consider the margin to be that imaginary line where we add or delete something extra, then we occupy the margin everyday. Deciding whether to sleep a bit later, you are doing some analysis at the margin. Debating whether to speed to your appointment also places you at the margin as does removing teabags from a box.
So, on this Throwback Thursday, we can look to before more (of a package) meant less (inside).
My sources and more: Thanks to the Quartz Index for its U.K. data and inspiration and the Guardian and the Daily Mail for more detail. Meanwhile, if you want to read about U.S. shrinkflation, this Boston Globe column is dated but conveys the message and the facts.