‘Now even smaller’ and ‘Brand new, worst recipe’: These are the labels you won’t see on food – but you should | Hilary Osborne

” NOTnew and improved recipe! “Now with more cheese.” Manufacturers and retailers have been quick to announce some changes to their products with great fanfare, but there are others they’d prefer you didn’t notice. Smaller packaging and changes in ingredients aimed at reducing production costs – both little known – are confronting the consumer, but unless they look closely they may not know it. That’s the intention.

There are the packets of butter which went from 250g to 200g without the change being announced, catch the bakers In the process; the decline in pet food pouches that left cat owners wondering why their dogs were meowing for more; the olive oil spread which bears the same name despite reducing the main ingredient by half.

On supermarket shelves there are examples of retailers and manufacturers reducing content and cutting back on expensive ingredients and, it seems, hoping we don’t notice. Shrinkflation – where package sizes are reduced and prices stay the same or even increase, and skimpflation – where recipes are reformulated and expensive ingredients are reduced – are common and as a result people spend money for items they think they have purchased before and then I find out they are not the same.

I’ve written about this phenomenon several times over the past year and when I’ve reached out to manufacturers and retailers for feedback, they’ve usually talked about trying to keep their products affordable in an era increase in production costs. The reformulations and quantity reductions were “difficult decisions”, presented as an attempt to protect the consumer.

But the way it’s usually done doesn’t protect them. Instead, it makes it harder for shoppers to make an informed decision about what to buy.

It’s up to consumers to play and spot the difference with the packaging. Finding out whether a product has really changed can take time. How is a customer who is in a store supposed to check out? Barclay Card And Which? You’ve found that customers suspect some products are going bad, but unless you’re collecting old boxes and boxes, how are you supposed to compare the version you bought last year with the one sitting in your kitchen?

Worse still, official inflation figures only reflect part of it. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) takes into account changes in package size. So, when it is said that the price of butter has fallen, it is not because we now get 200 g instead of 250 g: the price has really fallen.

A sign on the shelves of a Carrefour supermarket near Paris warns: “Shrinkflation, this product has seen its liter decrease and the price charged by our supplier increase.” Photograph: Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters

But lesinflation goes unnoticed. And that could mean rising costs are hidden. For example, the price of a box of tissues is recorded, but not the fact that they are smaller and you may now need twice as many to blow your nose.

When the UK Competition and Markets Authority considered food price inflation last year, this raised concerns about consumers’ ability to compare prices if package sizes changed. She said a clear and consistent unit price – where, for example, a price per gram is displayed – could make comparisons easier, as the unit price would increase with contraction and inflation. However, he acknowledged that “this may not be sufficient as (the) consumer will generally not know what the previous unit price was.” Regarding what she calls “scrimpflation,” she suggests that consumers would vote with their feet if quality was reduced too much.

“Manufacturers are unlikely to announce a reduction in quality, and so customers will not be aware of the change, unless they detect a notable reduction in quality, in which case they might consider upgrading to a product “alternative,” he said – although noting that this might be more difficult with animal feed than with other products.

When a large manufacturer moves, others tend to follow. Budget supermarkets, in particular, are following the lead of the rest of the market, so if higher quality ingredients are being cut by the biggest name in the industry, you can be sure you’ll see that filter drop. And so you have worse products across the board and nowhere to switch to.

Take olive oil spread for example: previously Bertolli’s version contained 21% olive oil, just like the supermarket versions. It now appears that most contain 10% (Asda seems to be the exception). The packaging design may have changed, but there’s no warning that the contents have changed, so customers only discover they’ve bought something different once it’s spread on their toast.

It doesn’t have to be like that. In France, Carrefour has installed signs warning customers of instances of shrinkage and ministers in France and Germany are reportedly examining ways to tackle the problem. In South Korea, new laws will require manufacturers to clearly indicate when the size of a product has been reduced.

In the UK, packaging rules require that information is accurate and that consumers are not misled. This means that manufacturers must modify the package when they make any of these changes. So why not force them to emphasize the difference when they make this change?

Ideally, they should indicate exactly what has changed, but just having them use the words “New Recipe” or “New Pack Size” in a certain font size would alert consumers that they are not buying exactly the same. same thing as last time. and encourage them to examine the packaging more. Maybe some will be honest enough to say “New recipe worse” or “Now even smaller”.

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