When my sons were teenagers, my wife worked an early morning shift for a period of time, so I was responsible for getting them ready for school. This included breakfast duty, so I prepared a nutritious daily feast of Graham crackers, covered with peanut butter and chocolate chips. (That’s me, Mr. Health Food.)
The boys visited on Thanksgiving last week, so I thought it would be fun to re-create their beloved breakfast snack. For the first time in about fifteen years, I bought a box of Nabisco Graham crackers. Much to my surprise, something was very different this time. The cracker, which long ago was wide and sturdy, was now thin and brittle. It used to be about the size of my hand, but now seemed to be about two-thirds of its former width, and unless handled with care, would crack into pieces.
As any man in the kitchen would do, I immediately complained to my wife. “Is it just me, or has someone shrunk my Graham crackers?”
“Oh, don’t get me started,” she replied. She went on to detail a litany of recipe measurement nightmares. Boxes of cake and brownie mixes no longer fill the pans. Many canned products now contain less ingredients than the recipe requires.
Pop Tarts are a shadow of their former selves. Cereal boxes have been narrowed. Vanilla wafers are tiny. Ice cream sandwiches, once a substantial dessert, are now “3 bites and done.” Shouldn’t they rename Brown Cows to Brown Calves? If the downsizing continues, that smiling little girl on the snack cake boxes may have to change her name from Debbie to Deb just to fit on the label. We are now apparently paying for extra air in the potato chip bags.
The 21st-century retail practice is, “Reduce the size, retain the price.” Everything you buy appears to be thinner and smaller. Remember those big bars of soap? Look at them now. Check out the hollowed-out bottoms of juice bottles and peanut butter jars. They still stand tall on the shelves, but there is ten% less product inside.
This sneaky downsizing practice started several years ago. The first product I noticed was the traditional half-gallon of ice cream. Suddenly, and without warning, the packaging was reduced from 64 ounces to 56 ounces, and is currently 48 ounces. The price stayed the same, and the ice cream company probably figured no one could tell the difference. Are you kidding me? It’s ice cream, for goodness sake. It reminded me of fourth-grade lunch in the cafeteria. You know, when one kid would distract you, and the other kid would take a bite out of your fudge brownie, as if you wouldn’t notice. Oh yes, I noticed.
I later observed five-pound bags of sugar had become four-pound bags, again with no price drop. But I wanted FIVE pounds. Stop the trickery, just raise the price. At the rate things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if the local gas station put up a big sign saying “Regular gas $2.49,” followed by “¾ of a gallon” in small print.
One sharp-eyed Facebook friend even showed proof that toilet paper rolls are not as wide as they used to be. I find this fascinating, because from my observations, Americans ARE wider than they used to be. Just saying.
Everything is shrinking. Big Macs are now, well... Mid-size Macs. Whoppers are more like Whippersnappers. The candy bars of my youth now look more like the Tootsie Rolls of my youth. And between you and me, some items don’t taste as good as they once did, making me think they’re shorting us on sugar, flour and other ingredients too. Nutter Butters are becoming Nada Butters. I struggle to find the crème inside the Oreos, which now taste like wood chips. Animal crackers appear to be based on the critters in a petting zoo.
What’s going on? Do these manufacturers think we are this gullible? Do they read our Facebook posts, and assume we are ignorant? Wait, maybe that’s not my best argument.
There’s even a name for this: Shrinkflation. It has swiftly become a double whammy in 2021. As package and product sizes get smaller, companies are no longer shy about raising the price at the same time. In some cases, this is due to the pandemic and our supply chain issues. But in others, it is simply because they can. Their attitude is, “Everyone else is raising prices, so we will too. Customers are expecting it, and tolerating it.”
Their public relations teams are working overtime to create doublespeak. General Mills, responding to cereal box shrinkflation, admitted it had taken “pricing actions.” Charmin calls their toilet paper narrowing an “innovation.”
I have a better word for all this: “rip-off.”
David Carroll is a Chattanooga TV news anchor and radio host. His new book “Hello Chattanooga: Famous People Who Have Visited the Tennessee Valley” is available at his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at RadioTV2020@yahoo.com or 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405.