The changes are subtle and may go unnoticed by less discerning shoppers. But retail industry experts say we could see many consumer products begin to shrink in size or volume — or both — due to rising costs.
Companies can raise prices, and many have. Others are charging customers the same price while offering less.
Product downsizing, also known as “shrinkage,” is happening with toilet paper, said Edgar Dwarsky, a former Massachusetts assistant attorney general who is a consumer advocate and editor of the website consumerworld.org.
“Downsizing occurs during times of high inflation because companies that make everyday products are also paying more for raw materials, production and delivery costs,” said Dwarsky, who has been tracking how high inflation affects consumer products for three decades.
Dvorsky said product downsizing is becoming increasingly common, and he cited several recent examples of brands inexplicably shrinking the size of their products.
“This equates to a loss of about one and a half rolls in the new 18-count package,” he said.
Dwarsky notes that large-sized toilet paper packs are often stocked in stores. “It’s almost impossible to find a four pack,” he said.
Although he doesn’t track product prices, Dworsky said when production declines, consumers either pay less for the product or more for the same price but for less.
“It doesn’t mean that every Procter & Gamble toilet paper product will see a change. But my guess is that more products are going to see changes,” he said, adding that an upcoming report on other toilet paper brands will be forthcoming.
In its most recent earnings call, Procter & Gamble executives acknowledged that the company faces a “challenging cost environment” due to the continued impact of the pandemic on the supply chain, a tight labor market and “stretched material availability.”
In an email to CNNBusiness, Procter & Gamble pointed to various reasons for the differences in the sizes of its products and that store prices are determined solely by retailers.
“There is a cost element to innovation – adjusting per pack count or package size is a way to reinvest in this innovation while maintaining a competitive price point,” the company said.
P&G said it also tailors product sizes to different retailers. So rolls may shrink in some stores but not in others.
“At the same retailer, the assortment you find in a suburban location may differ from what you find in a small-footprint urban retail location — and what’s on the retailer’s website,” it said.
Why does “contraction” happen?
The “shrinkage” phenomenon is nothing new. This practice is usually triggered when inflation rises and companies’ costs rise.
When costs rise, manufacturers of consumer goods look for ways to offset the increases in paying for materials, transportation, labor and other expenses. They either raise prices on existing products or downsize existing items, thereby increasing the price per unit you’re getting.
Those increases are passed on to shoppers through retailers, who buy products from consumer goods companies.
Another recent example of downsized products, Dworsky noted, is Keebler cookies. Chips Deluxe with M&Ms package has dropped to 9.75 from the previous 11.3 ounces per package, he said.
Shoppers alerted him to new Gatorade bottles that have less drink — 28 fluid ounces down to 32 fluid ounces — and changes to Pantene conditioner’s packaging to a slimmer squeeze tube that holds two ounces less of the product.
“For consumer product companies, raising prices for consumers is a last resort. Because price increases in stores can be perceived by shoppers as hypersensitive and affect demand,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies and assistant professor at Columbia University’s business school.
Instead, companies make subtle adjustments to products and packaging. “For consumers, it’s kind of an annoyance or concern about the product we’re talking about,” Cohen said. “I believe that inflation will be here for some time and we will continue to see such output adjustments take place.”
— CNN’s Nathaniel Meyersohn contributed to this story