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Inflation, downsizing, shrinkflation, skimpflation in Poland – what are they? Commentary by Witold Orłowski

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It turns out that some producers have changed the composition in such a way that there are more vegetables in the package, which are cheaper. For example, some of the peppers in the frozen mixture have been replaced by larger amounts of carrots, explained Witold Orłowski, an economist in an interview with TVN24 Biznes, referring to skimpflation. He noted that producers are testing to what limit the use of more expensive ingredients can be limited so that we do not notice that it is a clearly inferior product. In turn, downsizing, i.e. the fact that the packaging seemingly looks the same, but its content is smaller, he assessed as “a kind of game”. “We all deal with it every day,” he said.

“Chocolate has not been 100g for a long time, many packages with popular biscuits / sweets, the same. Not all milk is 1l anymore”, “The weight of cookies is no longer 320g, but 260g”, “Toothpaste, once 125 ml, now at 75”, “Sometimes companies pretend to rebrand and change the packaging to one that opens better, etc., but in fact it’s about changing the packaging so as to break off a few ml or a gram of the product. I hate such practices, simply cheating the consumer. Instead of letting you know directly: we have raised the price and you will buy a little less now” – these are just a few comments from social media (original spelling) regarding the so-called. downsizing, i.e. a phenomenon in which the packaging seemingly looks the same, but its content is smaller.

Witold Orłowski, an economist, explained in an interview with TVN24 Biznes that “since production costs are rising, producers want to increase prices”.

– Consumers are reluctant to accept price increases. Therefore, an attempt to divert their attention is to keep the price similar, but with a reduced package size. That is, they sell a smaller amount of the product for the same price, which is logically the same as increasing the price. In short: it is a hidden form of price increase, he said.

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Downsizing: Manufacturers are testing the limits of our patience

When asked why consumers are willing to accept such a solution and not an official price increase, he replied that “it’s a kind of game”.

– People who see a slightly smaller package are cheating themselves a bit. They have the impression that after all they buy what they have always bought, they do not give up the purchase. Apparently, most of us prefer not to be shocked by a price increase, but to buy a product for a reasonable price, and only then complain that its packaging has become smaller, he explained.

According to the economist, this is not a scam. – It’s all over the packaging. Sometimes, of course, the consumer will not notice them, he said.

He added that downsizing could be everywhere. – If the number of sales assistants in the store decreases, we will not notice it in the price, but in the fact that the waiting time increases. So, in fact, we get a lower-quality service in order to avoid increasing the price, which would be associated with the fact of paying salaries to subsequent employees of the store. When we stand in a store in a queue longer than before, it is also downsizing and we all deal with it on a daily basis – he gave an example.

According to him, producers are testing the limits of our patience. – Today we accept changing the weight of butter from 250 to 170 grams, then maybe we will accept 120 grams. As long as this phenomenon does not reach caricature proportions, where you can see with the naked eye that the product is too small, consumers will not agree to it. Manufacturers, in turn, will try to look for new solutions – he noted.

Skimpflation: This phenomenon is harder to track down

Witold Orłowski emphasized that skimpflation, i.e. lowering the quality, not the size of a given product, is also an important phenomenon. The Financial Times recently described that for a trip to a Polish supermarket you need to pack not only a wealthy wallet, but also a magnifying glass. It can be indispensable when reading the fine print on labels that contain information about the grammage and composition of products.

– This phenomenon is more difficult to trace, because consumers rarely check on the label whether, for example, the amount of a given raw material in a chocolate bar is the same as before. Manufacturers are testing to what limit the use of more expensive ingredients can be limited so that we do not notice that it is a clearly inferior product – he noted.

He added that “this easily escapes the attention of both consumers and the Central Statistical Office.” – Because if the pollster from the Central Statistical Office notices the reduced packaging of butter, slight changes in the composition of the butter may be more difficult to detect – he explained.

Another example is frozen mixed vegetables. – It turns out that some producers have changed the composition in such a way that there are more vegetables in the package, which are cheaper. For example, some of the peppers in the frozen mix have been replaced by larger amounts of carrots, he noted.

– This is a more dangerous phenomenon insofar as the consumer is clearly deceived, because he receives a different product under the same name – summed up Witold Orłowski.

What do retail chains and manufacturers say?

The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection reminded that “consumers habitually put products they know into the basket. They may not notice that their grammage has changed”.

Małgorzata Cieloch, spokeswoman UOKiK referring to downsizing, she assessed that “this is the type of practice that is legal, but morally unethical.”

– Is it harmful to those consumers who buy based on experience – she emphasized.

What do manufacturers and retail chains say?

We ask retail chains that have their own brands and manufacturers of frequently purchased products whether they use downsizing.

Wedel’s press office, when asked about the changes in weights of products in their offer, replied that “the entire food industry has been facing an increase in the prices of key raw materials, i.e. cocoa, milk, sugar, as well as energy carriers and packaging for a long time. downsizing is now more and more common among manufacturers due to the enormous cost pressure.

They added that they faced the need to look for savings in various forms.

“Among other things, by modifying the grammage of selected products. As a result, we were able to optimize the cost of selected products, which, if the current grammage were maintained, would mean a severe increase in price for the consumer” – they explained.

They reported that the weight information is clearly marked on the packaging. They gave an example that from the beginning of 2023 Ptasie Mleczko appeared in a smaller weight.

In turn, Maciej Bystrzycki, a buyer responsible for the dairy offer in the Biedronka network, told TVN24 Biznes that products from the dairy category are among the most frequently chosen products by customers. So we ask how the prices of these products and their grammage changed.

“In cooperation with suppliers, we reach for capacities or grammages previously unheard of on the market. Therefore, in order to enable customers to choose and adjust the grammages of products to the diverse needs of customers, e.g. in the case of 18% cream of the ‘Mleczna Dolina’ brand, we have also introduced a smaller packaging – 200 ml while maintaining the existing, larger capacity in the offer.

He added that in cooperation with commercial partners, Biedronka is developing its offer, both by developing new products and new packaging.

Previously, there were also changes in Biedronka’s own brand frozen food. A year ago, frozen raspberries were sold in a 450-gram package, this year 300g.

inflation, shopping, shop, basket, high pricesShutterstock

In Lidl, in turn, extra butter 82 percent. sold under the private label Pilos has decreased to 170 grams. The situation was noticed by journalist Katarzyna Bosacka, known, among others, for from the program “I know what I eat”.

The press office of Lidl Polska indicated in response to questions from TVN24 Biznes that “we do not plan to continue selling 170g Pilos butter”.

“We make sure that our offer is attractive and competitive for customers. As part of a temporary action until stocks last, we have extended our butter offer with Pilos 170 g butter” – it was explained and added that “we constantly offer Pilos 200 g butter”.

“We strive to ensure that the presented product offer – e.g. in the advertising newsletter, website and price label – is reliable and legible for our customers. We describe each promotional campaign in detail so that they are understandable for their recipients. Presenting our offer in the advertising newsletter , we post information about the rules of the promotion, its duration, as well as information about the standard price, weight, type of packaging. In the case of Pilos 170 g butter, we have additionally marked information about the weight of this product (in a yellow circle) in the advertising bulletin” – emphasized in answers to TVN24 Biznes questions.

Read more: Prices in stores accelerated. A new growth leader

Main photo source: Stockah/Shutterstock



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