Is this the next phenomenon coming to ruin your budget?
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A large package of Keebler Vienna Fingers next to the new smaller package
Credit: Allrecipes

Diving into a package of Vienna Fingers a few months ago, my husband and and I noticed not only a change in the cookie itself, but that we tore through the sweet bites more quickly than usual. Thinking that was odd, I took a closer look at the packaging and noticed it was smaller than it had been in the past. I'd seen the same happen with ice cream brands in the freezers at the grocery stores over the years, but the Vienna Fingers surprised me.

What is Shrinkflation?

The reduced sizing of Vienna Fingers and ice cream, along with plenty of other consumer goods, is a result of shrinkflation, a term coined in 2015 by economist, author, and former economic advisor to the White House Pippa Malmgren, Ph.D.

"Shrinkflation is when you have to pay more for less," Malmgren told Allrecipes. "It's when candy bars, cereal boxes and steaks cost the same but the size is smaller. It's a precursor to outright inflation.

"Then there's sneakflation which is when the price moves around really fast so you can't keep track, or its hidden," she adds.

When Did Shrinkflation Start?

In her book Signals: The Breakdown of the Social Contract and the Rise of Geopolitics, Malmgren wrote, "Shrinking the size of goods is exactly what happened in the 1970s just before inflation proper set in."

Edgar Dworsky, longtime consumer advocate, and founder and editor of Consumer World (launched in 1995), has been tracking products that are smaller in size yet cost the same, or more, on his website Mouse Print. The list is currently 26 pages long, dating back to 2006 when Tide reduced its detergent packaging size by 17 ounces, but charged the same price.

"Downsizing has been going on for decades," Dworsky tells Allrecipes. "It tends to come in waves, and we're in the middle of tidal wave now because of inflation. It will subside when inflation gets lower, but it will never disappear."

Which Products Are Affected By Shrinkflation?

Just last month, Dworsky, through his own research and crowdsourcing from his readers, noted that Sparkle Paper Towels lessened its sheet count by six per roll; Post removed about a bowl's worth of cereal from its family size boxes of Cocoa Pebbles; and Quaker Life style renamed its Giant Size box to Family Size, removing two and a half ounces of cereal at the same time.

Additionally, Charmin's Ultra Soft super mega rolls recently dropped from 396 sheets per roll to 366; Pedigree redesigned its bags of Adult Complete Nutrition dog food, which are now six pounds lighter than before; Utz Pretzels dropped two ounces from its big jars; and bottles of Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion now hold two ounces less.

In nearly all cases, the prices for these products remained the same, and this is just a sampling of shrinkflation. The trend is seen throughout every aspect of consumer goods, from raisins to coffee to bath soap to laundry detergent to plant fertilizer, and so much more.

"There is always one industry or another that faces higher raw materials costs, and those manufacturers have to come up with a way to save or make more money," says Dworsky. "They can raise prices directly or they can make their products a little smaller. Either way, consumers pay the price."

In the end, there doesn't seem to be much we can do as consumers about shrinkflation. But we can be more aware of what we're buying and if it's truly worth the money spent.