The biggest hurdle that the new government faces? Shrinkflation

Of all the challenges faced by the new government, could shrinkflation be added to the list? Not inflation you understand, in which companies charge more for the same product, but the alternative technique: shrinking the size of the product while leaving the price unchanged.

A new survey by Choice has identified multiple examples, particularly in product lines such as breakfast cereals, chocolates and pet food. What’s most galling is the notion that the manufacturers think we won’t notice. We always do.

If nothing else, that family recipe involving the can of condensed milk no longer works. And the can of salmon for lunch now leaves you hungry.

All sorts of surreptitious methods are used to disguise the shrinkage. Next time you are in the supermarket, check out the packaging.

There are cans of tuna with tapered sides, so they look unchanged when viewed from above, but hold less tuna. There are chocolate bars shaped like a series of mountains, in which the valleys have become a little wider.

Or there are jam jars designed with the sort of punt you might find in a champagne bottle. Is the jam really under that much pressure that the jar needs this sort of reinforcing? Could it be, rather, they’ve decided that selling air is more fun than selling jam?

Speaking of which, many products are already pretty much nothing but air. You might recall the trick once performed on television by Graham Kennedy in the glory days of In Melbourne Tonight. He was supposedly advertising a local brand called Colvan Chips but instead used a rubber mallet to pulverise a packet – proving the large bag consisted, mostly, of air.

So little was left once Kennedy had finished, you could have fitted the powered contents into a matchbox. Strangely enough, sales rose.

Chips are not the only product that offers such airy delights.

Popular breakfast cereals are currently reducing the quantities in each box, and that’s off a low base. Open the towering and impressive cardboard box, and the tide line of cereal has rarely gone much higher than the halfway point.

Contents, they explain on the packet, may settle during transit.

Yeah, sure. They’d settle even more, if Graham Kennedy style, you approached them with a rubber mallet.

Then there are the chocolate biscuits, each cradled in its own slot in a plastic tray. So, how come there are now only nine biscuits in some varieties, but the packet is the same size?

Ah, they’ve increased the space between the slots. This selling air idea is becoming very popular.

Very clever and all that, but for those who don’t notice the subterfuge, this can lead to declining self-esteem. A packet of Tim Tams normally lasts longer, they might think, labelling themselves a sad greedy gut who should know better.

Well arise, fine person, you’ve merely fallen foul of shrinkflation.

Most of the time, though, people do notice. My favourite example is when the brewers of VB thought they’d reduce the alcohol content from 4. 8 per cent to 4. 6 per cent, having already got away with a shift from 4. 9 to 4. 8. No one would notice the further change, they reasoned, and the company would again pocket millions in saved government taxes.

This time around everyone noticed and the brewer was eventually forced to backtrack. As the company put it: The Vic Bitter drinkers have spoken and told us we should not have tinkered with their beer.

Of course, you do wonder how people noticed. I’ve had three beers and I still don’t find myself funny. Something must be wrong.

They’d then check the label and instantly identify the problem.

Weirdest of all, some brands of soap are now offering a scooped-out base for added grip – no doubt in response to the thousands of flying soap injuries caused by conventionally shaped bars.

Again the compelling logic for manufacturers: who wants to sell soap, when it’s so much more lucrative to be selling air.

When quantities go down by, say, 20 per cent, it’s equivalent to a price rise of 25 per cent. So, paper towels are narrower; toilet paper has fewer squares, and even baby wipes are shorter. Reach for what you imagine is a pack of a dozen eggs, and occasionally, you’ll find it’s a pack of 10.

To be fair to the manufacturers, it’s all disclosed in the tiny print on the side of the packet: the diminishing weight of the tuna; the nine biscuits to the pack; the redefinition of dozen to mean ten.

Consumers understand that input costs are rising. We’re across the invasion of Ukraine and the COVID-19 shutdown in China. We have personal knowledge about the rising price of fuel. We understand that, per kilo, things will cost more.

We just want the manufacturers to know that we’ve noticed their subterfuge. The products might be shrinking, but not, as yet, the brains of their consumers.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the chocolate biscuits, maybe I should accept this kindly assistance with my diet.

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