Fewer chocolates in the box or milk in the ice cream: in order not to increase the prices on the shelves too much and risk scaring away customers worried about their wallets, some manufacturers are discreetly reducing the quantity, even the quality of their products, denounces Foodwatch association.
“Shrinkflation” (from the English verb shrink, to shrink), which consists in masking the price increases of products by reducing their weight, is in the sights of Foodwatch, which “fights for transparency in the agri-food sector”. In the show Further investigation broadcast Thursday evening on France 2, the association pinpoints six brands “which have changed the size of their flagship products in recent years”.
Lindt’s Pyrenean milk chocolate boxes have been reduced by six bites, going from 30 to 24 and reducing the overall weight by 20%. While the price per kilo, recorded at the Carrefour distributor, has jumped 30% since 2020, the increase in the price of the box has been limited to 4%… To justify this, Lindt France explains that “the price per kilogram increased, reflecting the volatility and rising costs of (its) operations,” according to a letter to Foodwatch.
A “generous format” mention that disappears from a label
Industrial production costs have soared in recent months (energy, transport, packaging), like those of agricultural raw materials, for example cocoa.
Ditto for Salvetat, owned by Danone, which reduced the size of its water bottles from 1.25 liters to 1.15 liters in 2020. Again, the result is the same: the price of the bottle increases little (+ 5%), while the price per liter rose by 15% at Intermarché. And Foodwatch points out, in passing, that the mention “Generous format like the people of the South” has disappeared from the label.
Regarding prices, some are discarding on supermarkets: “We can only advise a sale price that the distributor is free to apply or not”, writes the consumer service of Danone France. The information on the packaging is, however, their own. In this period of high inflation, supermarket customers are very sensitive to the prices displayed and it can be dangerous to increase them too much, at the risk of the customer turning to the competition.
Another example cited by Foodwatch is Kiri cheese, which reduced the serving size of its processed cheese by 10% a year and a half ago, with portions dropping from 20g to 18g. “At Auchan, the unit price does not seem to have changed but the price per kilo has increased by 11%”, notes the association. The Bel group explains that the cheese is sold “in a new, more natural recipe, without additives” and made in France from French milk. This required “substantial research and industrial investments to develop this recipe”.
The increase in packaging also denounced
Reducing the quantities makes it possible to remain “competitive” while preserving the margins, recently commented the financial analyst John Plassard, of the fund manager Mirabaud. According to him, about 2% of food products sold in supermarkets could be affected by “shrinkflation”, cereals and chocolate bars in mind.
“It’s a completely legal practice, provided that the weight of the product is clearly indicated on the packaging so as not to mislead the consumer”, explains Guillaume Forbin, lawyer specializing in consumer law at Kramer Levin. Foodwatch, however, regrets the “opacity” of the process and calls for better transparency in consumer information, via a petition.
This “shrinkflation” is not confined to France. Many users of the TikTok social network in the United States have pinpointed a tendency to pack more vacuum in the same container.
Another process: the consumer specialist Olivier Dauvers points on his blog to the example of a box of baby food from the giant Nestlé, whose size has increased, from 400 to 415 grams. It is sold much more expensive than the previous model (+23% of the price per kilo). But the pill passes thanks to the new packaging boasting a mixture now containing “5 cereals”, a supposedly better quality product.