64% of consumers worry about contraction inflation. This is what to watch for

A customer shops at a Kroger grocery store on July 15, 2022 in Houston.

Brandon Bell | fake images

Many consumers have been hit with a surprise at grocery store labels due to record inflation.

But another surprise that is capturing the attention of consumers, and even trending on TikTok, is “reduced inflation.”

Nearly two-thirds, 64%, of all adults are worried about the inflation contraction, according to a new Morning Consult poll, while 54% have seen, heard or read something about the phenomenon.

Shrinkflation is ‘getting less for the same price’

Shrinkage occurs when consumer products become smaller in weight, size, or quantity, while their prices stay the same or even increase.

Consumers have been pointing to examples of low inflation for months, amid record inflation. The trend is taking hold as companies face higher prices for gas and ingredients, as well as supply chain constraints, according to Emily Moquin, a food and beverage analyst at Morning Consult.

Meanwhile, consumers are on high alert as prices have risen higher, making them more sensitive to shrinking inflation, according to Moquin.

“When you notice that the package is smaller or you get less for the same price, it’s especially frustrating,” Moquin said.

While reducing inflation is getting a lot of attention right now, it’s not new, as this kind of downsizing has been going on for decades, according to Edgar Dworsky, founder and publisher of Consumer World.

“Unfortunately, we’re in the middle of a tidal wave of inflation, so we’re seeing more and more items going down,” Dworsky said.

How consumers are reacting to shrinking inflation

According to the Morning Consult survey, the main categories in which consumers are noticing a reduction in inflation include snack foods, pantry items, frozen foods, meat and bread and pastries.

In response, 49% of consumers say they bought a different brand, while 48% say they opted for a generic brand over a well-known brand, and 33% chose to buy in bulk over smaller packages. Some shoppers stopped buying certain brands altogether, looked for alternatives that are not affected by markdown inflation, or returned a “shrunk” product.

Of those who noted reduced inflation, only 19% took no action, Morning Consult found.

Admittedly, spotting shrinkage inflation can sometimes be difficult because of the subtle ways products are changed, according to Dworsky.

For example, a cereal box may appear the same size, but be thinner when viewed from the side. A jar of peanut butter can range from 18 to 16.3 ounces, after the manufacturer indents the bottom of the container.

What you can do to avoid shrinkage inflation

Even when inflation and supply chain problems subside, the changes from reducing inflation are likely to be here to stay, according to Dworsky.

“It’s very rare to see a product go back to its previous larger size,” he said.

For now, it’s up to consumers to pay close attention to products on store shelves.

“It’s really up to buyers to be more conscious of net weight,” Dworsky said. When it comes to paper products, net count is the metric consumers should watch, he said.

That way, you’ll be more likely to spot a change when you repurchase the product.

To try to avoid falling for markdown inflation, you can look to generic or competitor brands, as Morning Consult survey respondents say they have done.

Plus, you can complain to the manufacturer, Dworsky said. While that probably won’t be enough to stop low inflation, it may generate some coupons for your next purchase, he said.

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