The year is 1750BC and you’ve paid full price for copper ingots that were lower quality than you expected. If your name is Nanni and you’re complaining to a merchant called Ea-nasir, congratulations! The clay tablet detailing your problem is preserved in the British Museum.
Receiving an inferior product at the cost of the full monty is literally the oldest consumer complaint. And, judging by this week, the issue has another few millennia in it yet.
Cadbury has cut the size of its 200g Dairy Milk bar to 180g without reducing the price. This comes soon after the brand reduced by seven per cent the size of Wispa bars in multipacks.
This form of product debasement is known as ‘shrinkflation’ and comes in many novel forms. In 2017, the points of a Toblerone became more acute while the price remained the same. Likewise, a tub of Quality Street ain’t what it used to be.
It’s not just chocolate. As inflation bites, restaurants and hotels are among business offering less service for the semblance of value.
The new twist in this latest round of shrinkage has been companies’ purported ESG motives. Mondelez, Cadbury’s owner, apparently wants you to have a smaller Wispa because of its “proactive strategy to help tackle obesity”. Hyatt has already removed complimentary toiletry bottles from its hotel rooms, which – it claims – will help tackle its carbon footprint. It will also help cut the chain’s costs.
As grocery prices rise to a decade-long high of 5.2% in a year, consumers deserve more honesty about what they’re paying for. Shrinkflation is nothing other than a price rise by the back door. It’s beyond manufacturers’ power to avoid price increases but if they must happen, consumers deserve transparency. If, however, the past four millennia are anything to go by, I’m not holding out hope.