Business

Many Canadians are fed up with shrinkflation. So what's being done about it?

An increasing number of countries are adopting regulations to ensure consumers are informed when a manufacturer shrinks its product. Some consumer advocates and shoppers would like the Canadian government to get on board.

Several countries are introducing regulations. Canada isn't yet among them

Consumers should be told when they're hit with shrinkflation, advocates say

3 months ago
Duration 2:24
Consumers and advocates upset about shrinkflation — when companies shrink the size of packaging instead of increasing the price — say Canada should follow a growing number of countries that are forcing companies to tell consumers when it happens.

PepperBrooks was getting ready to wash her dishes when she noticed something didn't add up.

The new bottle of Dawn Platinum she'd bought contained 431 millilitres of dish soap, 10 per cent less than an older bottle of the same product that she had in her cupboard. 

Despite the difference, both bottles had cost the same. 

"I'm not happy about it," said the Mississauga, Ont., marketing strategist who goes by the mononym PepperBrooks. "There was no notification. They didn't let me know as a consumer that I'm going to be getting less for the same [price]."

As Canadians struggle with rising prices for food and other household necessities, many are fed up with shrinkflation, a tactic where companies reduce the volume or weight of a product but not the price. 

In many cases, few changes are made to the packaging, which makes the shrinkage harder to detect. 

Dawn lists the millilitres on each bottle in small print. But PepperBrooks said if she didn't happen to have an older bottle of the dish soap, she never would have noticed that the new bottle contains less.

"I just felt a little bit like they were being dishonest," she said. "It's an ethical issue."

Two bottle of Dawn dishsoap sitting side by side.
This Dawn Platinum 4X dish soap recently shrank from 479 to 431 millilitres. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

It's not just Canadians who are frustrated with shrinkflation. A recent Ipsos poll found that out of almost 25,000 adults surveyed in 33 countries, 48 per cent said the practice is unacceptable. In Canada, 64 per cent of respondents held that view. Only Turkey and France scored higher, at 66 and 67 per cent respectively.

That widespread disdain for shrinkflation has prompted some countries to take action.

Hungary and South Korea will soon join Brazil in mandating companies note on packaging when they shrink a product. France is aiming to follow suit. 

Some Canadians say it's time for the federal government to also get involved.

 "It needs to be regulated and it needs to be regulated now," said Janet Dermody of Sydney, N.S.

Janet Dermody holding up a bag of 1.5 kg Redpath sugar.
Janet Dermody of Sydney, N.S., was upset when she discovered last month that the Redpath sugar she regularly buys had shrunk from 2 kilograms to 1.5. (Robert Dermody)

Dermody, an avid baker, said her frustration with shrinkflation boiled over last month when she discovered packages of Redpath sugar at her local Walmart had shrunk by 25 per cent, from two to 1.5 kilograms. Even so, it was still selling for the same price. 

"Why did you take away half a kilo of sugar?" she said. "I felt that was such a shady, sneaky thing for them to do."

Walmart told CBC News that, due to rising supplier costs, it was testing the smaller 1.5-kilogram bag at stores in Atlantic Canada. 

Following CBC's inquiry, Walmart reduced the price of the smaller bag by 17 per cent. 

Company spokesperson Stephanie Fusco said in an email that "based on recent customer feedback," Walmart plans to transition back to the original two-kilogram bag for all stores. 

Katelyn Cornelius holding up two bags of chips
Katelyn Cornelius of the Oneida Nation of the Thames discovered last month that these Doritos Nacho chips have shrunk from 80 grams to 72. (submmitted by Katelyn Cornelius)

Katelyn Cornelius of the Oneida Nation of the Thames, just outside London, Ont., hopes Canada will adopt shrinkflation legislation that forces companies to be more transparent.

Last month, she discovered her guilty-pleasure, snack-sized Doritos Nacho chips, shrank 10 per cent, from 80 to 72 grams. The price and bag size remained the same; Cornelius only detected the shrinkage because she noticed the new bag listed fewer calories.

"It's crazy that they — overnight — can just make that switch," she said. "I would love to be informed about these decisions because then I can vote with my dollar if I still want to support that company or not." Now that she knows she's getting fewer Doritos for her dollar, Cornelius said she plans to buy the chips less often. 

Frito-Lay, which makes Doritos, and Procter & Gamble, which makes Dawn, did not respond to requests for comment. 

Two bags of Doritos Nacho chips
Snack-sized Doritos Nacho chips, have shrunk 10 per cent, from 80 to 72 grams. The company that makes the product, Frito-Lay did not respond to a request for comment. (submitted by Katelyn Cornelius)

Shrinkflation legislation

Since 2022, Brazil has mandated that manufacturers declare volume or weight reductions on product labels for a period of six months. Starting on March 1, Hungary will mandate that large companies do the same for two months. 

"The Hungarian government …  is taking the strongest possible action to prevent consumers from being deceived," the government's International Communications Office said in an email to CBC News. 

South Korea will soon introduce similar rules, according to a recent statement by the country's Deputy Prime Minister Kyungho Choo.

France has asked the European Union to approve its plan to make large retailers inform shoppers for a period of three months when a product has been reduced. Meanwhile, major French grocer Carrefour has already started posting signs in its stores to help customers identify downsized products. 

Watch: All the ways you pay more for less: 

All the ways you pay more for less | About That

4 months ago
Duration 12:30
From cereal to produce to meat, many people are feeling the financial strain of food inflation. Meanwhile, Canada’s three biggest grocers – Loblaws, Sobeys and Metro – made $3.6 billion in profit combined in 2022. Andrew Chang breaks down four reasons your grocery bill might be rising – all for less product.

Jordan LeBel, a food marketing professor at Concordia University in Montreal, says Canada should consider adopting similar rules. 

"Why can't they put a little asterisk, a little window — box on the packaging at the front of the pack and just indicate it has been changed?" he said. 

But such a plan could backfire, according to industry group, Food, Health and Consumer Products of Canada (FHCP). 

Spokesperson Anthony Fuchs told CBC News in an email that when production costs go up, manufacturers may opt to shrink a product instead of raising prices. "This approach helps to keep prices steady, which aligns with what customers want," he said.

Fuchs added that "additional legislation, without evidence that it would lead to a positive outcome for consumers ... would have the unintended impact of further increasing costs for businesses."

However, manufacturers appear to have no issue making changes to labels when they want to promote a new or improved product, said LeBel. "They will happily find a way to put that on the product."

He also said Ottawa could opt for regulations that don't involve product labels.

Some alternatives suggested by LeBel include mandating supermarkets use a colour coding system in stores to flag shrinkflation, or a government-sanctioned public list online of recently shrunken products. 

What's Ottawa doing about shrinkflation?

In an email to CBC News, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada said it's currently funding several research projects into retail practices, including shrinkflation, that are harmful to Canadians. 

That's not good enough for Walmart shopper, Dermody who wants immediate action. 

"The people of Canada have seen it. We know that there's a problem," she said. "Get after the companies … the end."

Watch: Consumers want more transparency when products shrink: 

Transparency needed on shrinkflation, consumer advocates say

7 months ago
Duration 2:34
Consumers and advocates are calling for more transparency around the practice of shrinking packaging rather than increasing prices, known as 'shrinkflation.' Other countries make companies display weight changes on product labels.

But PepperBrooks believes regulations aren't the best approach. Instead, she feels the onus should be on manufacturers to fess up when they shrink a product — or risk losing customers.

"It's more on the company, as like a social responsibility, to let them, the consumer, know that they are getting less," she said. "I think it builds brand loyalty."

After her experience with Dawn dish soap, PepperBrooks said she's still using the product but now feels less loyal to the brand and is keeping her eye out for alternatives. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Based in Toronto, Sophia Harris covers consumer and business for CBC News web, radio and TV. She previously worked as a CBC videojournalist in the Maritimes where she won an Atlantic Journalism Award for her work. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca