Retail Word of the Year: Shrinkflation

When brands quietly downsize their products, consumers reach for this portmanteau.
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Grant Thomas

· 3 min read

Mark 2022 as the year that the word that got big was about things getting small: shrinkflation.

The term, for manufacturers’ practice of making products smaller rather than raising prices, was first used in this context by British economist Pippa Malmgren in 2013, according to Merriam-Webster.

But this was the year it truly caught on:

  • In June, web searches for shrinkflation hit a five-year high, according to Google Trends.
  • In September, Merriam-Webster added shrinkflation to its dictionary.

We’ve been doing our best impressions of lexicographers when it comes to the term, too, from noting how brands are deploying shrinkflation when it comes to what they refer to as “family size,” to a related term, “skimpflation,” which describes not shrinking a product, but rather reformulating it with cheaper ingredients and charging the same.

Upgrading “downsizing”: Edward Dworsky, a consumer advocate and lawyer who publishes Consumer World, has been writing about shrinkflation for decades, but he only started using that term in 2021.

“I’ve been covering this for over 30 years, and it’s always been called ‘downsizing,’” Dworsky told us. But he started calling it “shrinkflation” because the term “has caught the attention of the media.”

It’s no wonder why the term is gaining currency. Examples abound of brands quietly shrinking their products, from Gatorade to Charmin to Crest. And while in previous eras brands may have expected consumers not to notice, today they’re noticing…and agitating.

  • On TikTok, #shrinkflation videos have garnered more than 296 million views.
  • A shrinkflation subreddit has more than 44,900 members.

An August report by Morning Consult found that almost half (48%) of consumers choose a different brand when they notice a product has been shrinkflated.

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But Emily Moquin, a food and beverage analyst at Morning Consult who authored the report, told us in September that brands often are in a real bind before they go the shrinkflation route.

“They’re walking that fine line of either taking a price increase or keeping the price the same but giving people less product,” Moquin said. “And so oftentimes, the idea of giving less product but you can keep that overall price the same is…the best of two not-great options for manufacturers.”

Word Olympics: While Merriam-Webster added “shrinkflation” to its dictionary this year, for its word of the year, it chose “gaslighting,” defined as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.”

But in a column that appeared in North Carolina’s Independent Tribune, Scott Hollifield argued that Merriam-Webster should have chosen shrinkflation—and noted a connection between the terms.

“I would argue for ‘shrinkflation,’” Hollifield wrote, “which I define as the act or practice of corporate America gaslighting the heck out of consumers.”

Shrinknations: The shrinkflation phenomenon knows no borders.

In the Philippines, for instance, the government announced in August that the Philippine Statistics Authority would investigate whether businesses, including restaurants and cafeterias, were shrinking portions but charging the same.

And in Norway, shrinkflation is so rife that the Norwegian Language Council made it the word of the year—sort of.

They chose the Norwegian word for the phenomenon: Krympflasjon.

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