Why we're paying more for less

Julien Behal/PA

Supermarkets and manufacturers are duping shoppers by shrinking products while prices remain the same or even increase.

A study by consumer group Which? discovered the sneaky practice in most supermarket aisles, including laundry and dishwasher tablets, chicken, jam, yoghurts and cereals. So how are they getting away with it?

Well, quite simply it is because consumers haven't noticed. Or if we have, we continue to buy the shrinking products regardless, so supermarket giants continue to fill the shelves with them. Retail analysts blame the move on shoppers being quick to spot price hikes but rarely noticing a smaller pack size.

Less for more
Which? trawled through a year's worth of supermarket data at Mysupermarket.com to uncover the unscrupulous practice. It found a raft of products that have shrunk. Jars of Loyd Grossman Balti Curry Sauce have gone from 425g to 350g. Tubs of Dairylea Cheese Spread are 40g lighter. And there are two fewer nappies in a pack of Pampers Baby Dry Maxi. But when prices were checked they were found to be at the same level as before, or more per 100g, at the time of the size change.
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Fairy All-in-One dishwasher tablets have gone from 28 per pack to 26 but the price at Asda has stayed at £5. Packs of Bernard Matthews Turkey Ham have shrunk in size from 340g to 300g but still set you back £2.66 at Asda.

Boxes of Birds Eye Crispy Chicken have gone from 360g to 340g while the price at the checkout has remained £2 at Sainsbury's, £2.68 at Asda and £2.99 at Morrisons.

Fox's Malted Milk Creams packets have slimmed from 200g to 160g while the price at Sainsbury's increased from £1.09 to £1.19. Likewise the content of Branston Smooth Pickle has tumbled from 405g to 360g but the price has soared.

Why the shrink?
When questioned by Which? many manufacturers said they had reduced the size of products to keep prices down in the face of rising costs. Other companies said the product formulation changed at the same time as the size.

When asked why prices hadn't reduced accordingly, many said that supermarkets dictate the final price - but also admitted they had not dropped their recommended retail or wholesale prices.

Of course, supermarkets then blamed the manufacturers – saying that they had reduced the sizes and supermarkets based their own prices on wholesale costs.

Underhand pricing
Which? believes the practice of shrinking products can be an underhand way of raising prices. The consumer champion is campaigning for clear pricing and is calling on supermarkets to improve the way they display unit prices.

It takes a sharp shopper to notice some of these size changes, but it pays to look at pack sizes when comparing value for money across similar products.

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Why we're paying more for less

This takes time, but once you know the cost of a phone call, putting the dryer on, or a bag of potatoes, it enables you to judge far better how much you can afford to consume.

Once you know the base price, you are in a position to keep your eyes open for a better offer. If you see a discount you can judge for yourself whether it actually constitutes a bargain. For bigger things like utilities it enables you to do a proper price comparison and see if you can cut your bills.

Don't just assume that the premium range is better, try the every-day brand, or even the basic version and see if you spot the difference. Likewise, consider trading down your supermarket from one of the big players to local markets or discounters like Aldi.

If you plan what you buy to match what you actually cook and eat then not only will you be able to budget far more effectively, but you'll also waste much less and find your money goes further without you having to try.

If you can't think of a way to get your meat for less, consider a vegetarian day once a week. If you can't find petrol any cheaper, then work on making your driving as efficient as possible. The more you can think of clever alternatives the less you will have to make painful cuts to make ends meet.

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