The changes are subtle and may throw off less discerning buyers. But retail industry experts say we could see more consumer products begin to shrink in size or quantity — or both — due to rising costs.

Record levels of inflation mean households are paying more for everyday purchases and it’s costing companies more to produce packaged items such as paper products, shampoo, as well as food and drink products.

Companies can raise prices, and many do. Others charge customers the same price while offering less.

Product downsizing, also known as “shrinkflation,” is happening with toilet paper, said Edgar Dworsky, a former assistant attorney general in Massachusetts who is a consumer advocate and editor of the website ConsumerWorld.org.

“The reduction occurs during times of high inflation because companies that make everyday products are also paying more for raw materials, production and shipping costs,” said Dworsky, who is tracking how periods of high inflation affect products. of consumption for three decades.

Dworsky said product downsizing is becoming more and more common, and recently he has uncovered several cases of brands subtly reducing the size of their products.

For example, Procter & Gamble’s (PG) The 18-count Charmin Ultra Soft Toilet Paper Mega Pack now contains 244 double-ply sheets, down from the previous 264 double-ply sheets per roll. And the brand’s super mega rolls now feature 366 sheets versus the previous 396 sheets per roll.

“This amounts to the loss of the equivalent of about one and a half rolls in the new 18-number package,” he said.

Dworsky noted that oversized packages of toilet paper are more commonly stocked in stores now. “It’s almost impossible to find a four-pack,” he said.

Although he doesn’t track product prices, Dworsky said that when downsizing occurs, consumers end up either paying more for less of the product or the same price but for less of it.

“That doesn’t mean every toilet paper product from Procter & Gamble will see a change. But my guess is that changes to more products are coming,” he said, adding that there will be an upcoming report on other brands of toilet paper.

In its most recent earnings call, Procter & Gamble executives acknowledged that the company was facing a “challenging cost environment” due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic on supply chains, a tight labor market and as “availability of materials remains stretched”.

As a result, P&G said it was raising prices for its retail customers on 10 product categories, including detergents, dryer sheets, baby and feminine care products.

In an email to CNNBusiness, Procter & Gamble noted various reasons for the changes in its product sizes and that store prices are determined solely by retailers.

“There is a cost element to innovation — adjusting the number per pack or pack size is a way to reinvest in that innovation while maintaining a competitive price point,” the company said.

P&G said it also tailors product sizes for different retailers. So the rolls may have shrunk in some shops but not in others.

“At the same retailer, the assortment you find in a suburban location may differ from what’s in an urban retail location with a smaller footprint — and versus what’s on a retailer’s website, he said.

Why does “shrinkage” happen?

The phenomenon of “shrinkage” is nothing new. The practice is usually triggered when inflation rises and companies’ costs rise.

When costs rise, manufacturers of consumer goods look for ways to offset the increase they are paying for goods, shipping, labor and other expenses. They either raise prices on existing products or downsize existing goods, thereby increasing the unit price of what you’re getting.

These increases are passed on to shoppers through stores, who buy products from consumer goods companies.

Other recent examples of bite-sized products that Dworsky noticed were Keebler Cookies. He said the package of Deluxe Chips with M&Ms had dropped to 9.75 from the previous 11.3 ounces per package.

Shoppers have alerted him to new Gatorade bottles that hold less drink — 28 fluid ounces down from 32 fluid ounces — and a change in Pantene conditioner packaging to a slimmer squeeze tube that also holds two ounces less of the product. .

“For consumer products companies, raising prices for consumers is a last resort. That’s because price increases in stores are highly visible to shoppers and can affect demand,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies and professor 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 a concern depending on the product we’re talking about,” Cohen said. “I believe inflation is going to be here for a while and we’re going to see these kinds of product adjustments continue to happen.”

— CNN’s Nathaniel Meyersohn contributed to this story

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