Fewer bites in the box of chocolates sold in supermarkets, smaller portions on the plates of restaurants, smaller baguettes or sandwiches in bakeries… Welcome to the world of ” reduflation (a term that combines the terms reduction and inflation) or the ” shrinkflation in English (which comes from the verb “shrink”, to shrink), a discreet scheme put in place by certain manufacturers and restaurateurs which consists in reducing the quantities while maintaining a stable or even slightly increased selling price, in order to avoid sudden price increases and driving away customers. A way for professionals to remain competitive despite inflation without cutting back on margins. Observed for the first time in 1987, in the United Kingdom, the technique has been making a strong comeback around the world in recent months with soaring prices.
A global phenomenon
It finds its origin in the explosion of the production costs of industrialists, restaurants or other bakeries (energy, transport, packaging) and agricultural raw materials. French restaurateurs, for example, saw the prices charged by their CHD (Out-of-Home Consumption) distributors increase by 13% on average for the second half of 2022, according to the firm Food Service Vision, with an explosion in the prices of certain food products such as beef. (+28.2%) or mustard (+23.9%). There are also wage increases since April 1, 2022 on average of 16.3%. However, the ” shrinkflation » growing did not prevent menu price increases. According to a Food Service Vision and National Group of Independent Hotels and Restaurants survey, 40% of catering professionals also claim to have increased their prices since January 2022.
The phenomenon of reduced portions on plates is also found across the Atlantic. According to a study by the Yelp site published in July 2022, catering is one of the sectors most affected by this phenomenon, especially fast food. The study shows that it is mainly restaurants that serve ” affordable food who use this method the most. Fast foods, pizzerias, Chinese and Italian restaurants are considerably reducing the portions of their dishes.
“ Fast food, which works more on the assembly of raw products, with essentials like burgers and fries, will have more difficulties, with the increase in the price of beef and oil. It does not have the same flexibility as table catering, which will be able to adapt its daily specials »explains Florence Berger, associate director of the consulting firm Food Service Vision, in their latest Strategic Review.
Some fast food chains such as Burger King and Domino’s Pizza have announced that they want to reduce portions in the face of inflation from January 2022, while others have preferred to increase their prices, such as kebab establishments in France or even of the giant McDonald’s in the United States (group price increase of 2.7% at the start of the year).
A limit not to be exceeded
Prices may not go up, but customers complain nonetheless. Yelp’s survey reveals that a growing number of consumers are complaining about this famous ” shrinkflation “. Wouldn’t there nevertheless be a threshold not to be crossed? Indeed, reducing the portions while leaving the price unchanged is a practice whose ethics are questionable. It could harm the clientele and, at the same time, lead to a drop in attendance in catering establishments. However, in recent years, some agree on the fact that the portions served in restaurants were too large. A study published in 2018 by an international team of scientists, with the support of FAPESP (The Sao Paulo Research Foundation), showed that 94% of the most popular entrees served in sit-down restaurants were too high in calories and exceeded public health recommendations aimed at combating obesity. Thus, a reduction in portions could help fight against this problem but also against food waste.
In any case, the practice is in the sights of certain associations, in particular of food watchwho “fights for transparency in the agri-food sector”. In the program “Complément d’Enquête” broadcast Thursday evening on France 2, food watch pins six brands “who have changed the size of their flagship products in recent years”. Thus, Lindt’s Pyrenean milk chocolate boxes have been reduced by six bites, 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%… Salvetat, owned by Danone, has reduced the size of its bottles of water from 1.25 liters to 1.15 liters in 2020. In the end, the price of the bottle increases little (+5%), while the price per liter has risen by 15% at Intermarché. food watch points out that the mention “Generous format like the people of the South” has disappeared from the label.
To justify this, Lindt France explains that “the price per kilogram has increased, reflecting the volatility and rising costs of (its) operations”according to a letter addressed to food watch and consulted by AFP.
Regarding prices, some are discarding on supermarkets: “We can only recommend 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. The reduction of quantities “is 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, a lawyer specializing in consumer law at Kramer Levin.
According to financial analyst John Plassard, of fund manager Mirabaud, around 2% of food products sold in supermarkets could be affected by the “shrinkflation”, cereals and chocolate bars in the lead. The analyst also puts his finger on another phenomenon, the “cheaflation” (from English “cheap”, cheap). It consists of “replace certain products or foods with cheaper substitutes (food or not)”. He gives the example, in the United States, of an ice cream that has become a “frozen dessert”, because “it has been stripped of so many dairy products (…) that it can no longer be legally called ice cream”.
If it can “to pose an image problem”in the case where “the list of ingredients on the packaging has been changed”, nothing illegal there either, comments Guillaume Forbin. Anyone who does not comply with the “very strict” consumer law is liable to “very high fines”. 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.
A practice found in canteens
Collective catering is also affected by the “ reduflation and some schools have decided to resort to this practice in order not to increase the price of meals. The school canteen of Caudebec-Lès-Elbeuf in Seine-Maritime, with the agreement of the parents of pupils, has reduced the portions of meals by only offering a main dish accompanied by a starter, cheese or ‘a dessert. Our colleagues from BFMTV report that, due to inflation, the budget increase amounted to ” nearly 32,000 euros per year ” in the city. This solution therefore makes it possible to make savings which, according to the city, will have no impact on the children.
“ It’s better that they remove a food in the meal rather than increase the price, especially when you have several children who eat in the canteen “Explains one of the parents to BFMTV.
Finally, the magazine of the city of Caudebec-Lès-Elbeuf insists on the fact that this measure will also contribute to the reduction of food waste when this represented 21 kilos of food per child and per year according to a study carried out in March 2022.