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The Association of Retail and Consumer Professionals

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Shrinkflation, where food products decrease in size or quantity while their prices remain the same or increase, has become a notable trend in the retail sector, affecting consumers’ perceptions and their wallets, and has become a signature issue for the White House. On March 7, during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address, he directly took on corporations that, in his words, “engage in price gouging or deceptive pricing from food to health care to housing.” He urged Congress to pass U.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s bill, the Shrinkflation Prevention Act of 2024, to put an end to what Casey calls “greedflation” — corporations using inflation as a cover for price increases, inflating their own profits in the process. Casey points out that while overall inflation rose by 14% from July 2020 to July 2022, corporate profits grew by 74% over the same period and that the Federal Reserve shows that 41% of inflation during this period was due solely to larger corporate profit-making.   

Shrinkflation can be particularly challenging for your shoppers who are trying to maintain a healthy diet on a budget. Retail dietitians and health and wellness professionals can play a crucial role in guiding consumers through this landscape, offering strategies to navigate shrinkflation without compromising on nutrition and value. It’s yet another opportunity to reinforce your relationship with your shoppers and internal teams, and take the lead in transparency, which is becoming increasingly important to earn trust in this era of food inflation. 

Retail dietitians need to work closely with their category managers to identify those products that are changing their package sizes or contents. GS1, the global standards organization that is responsible for issuing UPC bar codes, has detailed standards about packaging changes which trigger brands to change their existing bar codes, which is an easy way for you to identify product changes. Requesting UPC change reports from your internal data team can simplify the process and keep you up-to-date on any product changes before your shoppers ask you about them. 

Retail dietitians should start by educating your consumers about what shrinkflation is and how it manifests in the products they regularly purchase. This awareness empowers consumers to make informed choices and scrutinize product labels and sizes more carefully. By understanding that shrinkflation is a widespread practice, that will likely continue and become more widespread, your shoppers can adjust their expectations and shopping habits accordingly and understand that you the retailer are not to blame. 

One of the key strategies retail dietitians can recommend is the emphasis on unit pricing. Many shoppers overlook unit prices, which are often displayed on shelf tags in smaller print. These prices, usually given per ounce, pound or kilogram, allow consumers to compare the real cost of similar products, taking into account any changes in quantity. Retail dietitians can demonstrate how to use unit pricing to find the best deals, potentially leading to significant savings and smarter choices. Some retailers, like Carrefour in Europe, have gone so far as to identify changes and shame brands through on shelf “shrinkflation” signage. 

Retail dietitians should also encourage consumers to be more flexible with their brand choices. Brand loyalty can sometimes lead to paying more for less, especially when favorite brands undergo shrinkflation. By considering alternative brands, especially store brands, which often provide similar or better quality at a lower price, consumers can stretch their food budgets further. This approach can also introduce consumers to new products that might offer better value or nutritional profiles. 

Bulk purchasing is another strategy that can be beneficial, particularly for non-perishable items or products that can be frozen for later use. Retail dietitians can guide consumers on how to effectively buy in bulk, ensuring they’re not only getting a better price per unit, but also managing their cupboards and refrigerators to prevent waste. This can be especially useful for staples like grains, legumes and frozen vegetables, which are essential components of a healthy diet. 

Another key strategy to help shoppers is to teach them to focus on whole, minimally processed foods that can offer a dual advantage. These foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, are not only vital for a nutritious diet, but are also less susceptible to shrinkflation compared to heavily-processed foods with more elaborate packaging. Most products that are riding the shrinkflation change are found center store — not in the perimeter or fresh foods departments. Retail dietitians can also offer tips on seasonal shopping and local sourcing to optimize both nutrition and cost. 

Teaching consumers to plan their meals and shopping lists can minimize the impact of shrinkflation. By planning meals based on the week’s best deals and what’s already in their home pantry, your consumers can make more efficient purchases. Retail dietitians should provide meal planning resources, such as templates and budget-friendly, nutritious recipes, to help shoppers make the most of their food budgets. 

Retail dietitians and all health and wellness professionals are invaluable resources for consumers grappling with the challenges of shrinkflation in the food sector. Through education on unit pricing, brand flexibility, bulk purchasing, focusing on whole foods and effective meal planning, you can help consumers maintain a healthy diet without overspending. By adopting these strategies, consumers can navigate the retail landscape more confidently, ensuring that their nutritional needs are balanced with budgetary constraints. 

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