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Saturday, April 13, 2024

‘Shrinkflation’ Playing Crucial Role in Rising Prices, Corporate Profits: Analysis


Executives in corporate earnings meetings call it “price pack architecture,” but economic justice advocates, Democrats in Congress, and in recent days, Cookie Monster of “Sesame Street” have a different term for companies’ practice of reducing the weight or size of a product while charging the same amount for it: shrinkflation.

Major corporations like PepsiCo and Utz have not only kept prices high even as pandemic era supply chain and labor issues have eased—a practice recognized as “greedflation“—but have also increasingly been reducing the size of products like snacks, drinks, and even essentials like toilet paper rolls, a new analysis from Groundwork Collaborative shows.

“While shrinkflation is not new, it is arguably the most deceptive pricing practice companies use and has come under renewed scrutiny as Americans face grocery prices 25% higher than prior to the pandemic,” reads the report, titled Big Profits in Small Packages. “We find that as much as 10% of inflation in key product categories can be attributed to shrinkflation.”

Companies have claimed to customers that shrinking goods is for the public good, with General Mills telling NPR that reducing its “family size” cereal boxes from 19.3 ounces to 18.1 ounces without reducing the cost would allow for “more efficient truck loading leading to fewer trucks on the road and fewer gallons of fuel use, which is important in… reducing global emissions.”

To investors, though, executives made no mention of wanting to reduce fuel use or emissions from transportation in a 2021 earnings call, saying the strategy was simply aimed at managing the company’s “list pricing” and “promotional optimization,” according to Groundwork’s report.

“In quarterly earnings calls with investors and analysts, corporate executives are candid about their future plans to downsize product quantities by playing with ‘price pack architecture’, as well as the profits they plan to derive from doing so,” reads the report.

One French grocery chain pulled PepsiCo’s snack and drink products from its shelves in January due to its pricing practices after having issued a warning to companies about shrinkflation. In the U.S., however, the company told reporters in 2022, “We took just a little bit out of the bag so we can give you the same price, and you can keep enjoying your chips.”

“During this period of high inflation, where rising prices are putting a squeeze on household budgets, shrinkflation just adds insult to injury,” said Lindsay Owens, executive director of Groundwork Collaborative and author of the report.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently pointed to a number of examples of shrinkflation in popular products, including the shrinking of PepsiCo’s 32-ounce Gatorade bottle to just 28 ounces for the same price and Nabisco’s decision to provide 12% less product in its family size box of Wheat Thins.


The report identified Kimberly-Clark, the maker of diapers, sanitary products, toilet paper, and other personal care products that are essential to millions of families, as a “repeat shrinkflation offender.”

CEO Mike Hsu reasoned on a 2023 earnings call that the company can easily get away with shrinking their products since customers have no choice but to use them.

“If the price goes up on bath tissue, generally doesn’t mean you’re going to use the bathroom less, right?” Hsu said regarding its decision to provide smaller rolls in its Cottonelle toilet paper packages and to make its Scott toilet paper, as Groundwork found, “thinner and rougher with 20% less paper fiber.”

Shrinkflation, along with greedflation and the use of algorithms to determine pricing, have made it “increasingly clear that prices are untethered from market fundamentals and instead largely reflect a company’s market and pricing power,” Owens said late last month.


The group called on Congress to pass the Shrinkflation Prevention Act, which was introduced last month by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and would require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to classify shrinkflation as an unfair or deceptive practice and regulate it as such. The FTC and state attorneys general would be authorized to confront companies’ use of shrinkflation in civil actions.

Groundwork also urged lawmakers to reform the tax code in order to disincentivize companies from using shrinkflation and other “aggressive pricing strategies.”

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found in a recent report that some of the biggest companies practicing shrinkflation paid “incredibly low effective tax rates” between 2018-22, thanks to former President Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“Companies will have less incentive to overcharge customers,” said Groundwork, “if they have to ship a greater share of the spoils to the Treasury Department.”

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