Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (Cereal): The Shrinkflation Phenomenon

Phoebe Cohen, Scarlet Staff

A silent menace is currently stalking the commercial realm within the capitalist empire. Beyond the continued coronavirus pandemic and the political corruption seen worldwide, it haunts our everyday lives in ways we cannot even fathom. 

That’s right: shrinkflation. 

Shrinkflation, as coined by NPR, is the phenomenon of products being shrunk down in size due to a price spike in resources, like grain. As prices inflate, many manufacturers may choose to downsize packaging and portion sizes, without the price dropping to match the new look. It’s actually pretty sneaky when you think about it. Remember that orange juice carton you nabbed at the store for $2.99? You would notice if it went up to $4.99, right? Of course, because the price went up 2 whole dollars, it’s a significant difference. But would you notice if the 70 ounces of orange juice in that container went down to 60 ounces? Probably not. But, you’re paying more for less. 

Where shrinkflation is very visible is in cereal boxes. If you compare the packaging of an old Fruit Loops box to a newer Fruit Loops box, you can really see how it differs. The older boxes are taller, and have more bulk to them in general, versus boxes being put out today, which are fatter, squatter, and all around smaller. Compare your cereal boxes next time you go shopping, and you may see the difference. That’s not to say that taller means more; some boxes have gotten taller and thinner, which means less bang for your buck and less Coco for your Puff. 

Inflation in general causes a lot of issues in the cereal industry and of course, beyond. Recently, a statement was put out by General Mills that discusses the recent inflation surge. According to the public statement, this past year saw a spike in costs for transport, packaging, ingredients, and a shortage of workers (probably due to conditions and underpayment). The company thus has set goals to grapple with inflation through approaching pricing of products. A spokesperson from General Mills has detailed that they are trying to focus on standardization, so distinguishing sizes between cereal boxes will be easier, and the larger boxes of cereal will be discernible from the rest. 

Which probably means you will have to pay more for them.

Cereals aren’t the only casualty of shrinkflation. You can look at candy bars and find the same thing. Over the years, they’ve been shrinking in size as well. According to This Is Money, a UK financial site, Mars candy bars have shrunk 28 percent since the 1990s, going from around 65 grams to 51 grams. A similar story to Yorkies, a candy by Nestle: in the 1970s, the candy was around 58 grams, and in 2015, was only 46 grams. Not even paper goods are exempt. Have you investigated your toilet paper roll lately? Yes, even toilet paper is a victim of shrinking size and inflated price. In the late 1920s, when Charmin toilet paper first hit the shelves, it had about 650 sheets. Now, Charmin’s largest product, the Super Mega Rolls, has about 396 sheets per roll, which is a little over a 50 percent drop in product for what you’re paying. Now that’s crappy. 

What can be done about shrinkflation? Well, that’s a conversation that has been repeated over and over again in the conversation about inflation as a whole in the United States. As prices surge and companies start downsizing products more and more, how long will it be until they’re selling one square of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for 10 dollars a piece? Hopefully we will never know. Regardless, keep your eyes on the shelves at Big Y, and maybe look in the back of the store for the older, larger cereal boxes if you aim to save a penny or two.