The rip-off of shrinkflation

on 08 June, 2018

There’s no doubt that enforced product reformulation is the weapon of choice for so-called public health” in its campaign to make us all as slim as racing snakes.

This has an impact far beyond the reformulation of sugary drinks, where artificial sweeteners have replaced sugar to avoid the government’s sugar levy. This is already affecting many of the food and confectionery products that are sold from convenience stores and off-licences and is set to affect alcohol products too.

Public Health England (PHE) has just released its first report reviewing its sugar reduction scheme. The aim was to reduce by 20% the sugar content in most foods by 2020, with a first target of 5% reduction by 2017. It turns out that a 2% reduction across biscuits, breakfast cereals, chocolate confectionery, ice cream, puddings, sweet spreads and sauces, sweet confectionery and yoghurts is all that was achieved. There was no sugar content reduction for three of these categories and in some cases sugar reduction has been accompanied by calorie increases.

There is a limit to how much you can reduce the sugar content of foods designed to taste sweet without consumers kicking-off - look at the protests on Twitter about the sugar levy on soft drinks. Sales of some reformulated products are plummeting. So, if you can’t reduce the content, reduce the size. This is known as shrinkflation”, and the PHE report gives various examples of its success in this regard. Here are just three of them:

In 2013 portion sizes of four standard chocolate bars were reduced by Mars UK: Mars from 58g to 51g, Snickers from 58g to 48g, and Milky Way from 21.9g to 21.5g.

In October 2016, Lidl’s Jelly Beans pack size was reduced from 250g to 200g.

Benugo reduced the portion size of eight products from between 70g and 170g per serving to between 60g and 150g.

Hard on the heels of the PHE report come two studies published in the journal Addiction, conducted by researchers from the Universities of Liverpool and Sheffield, highlighting the potential benefits of reducing the standard serving size of alcoholic beverages. The studies show that participants who were given relatively smaller servings drank less in a single session than those who were served standard servings. In a one-hour drinking session this led to a reduction of around 21% and in a three-hour session to between 32% and 39%.

So, the logic of this is to only allow smaller serving sizes in pubs and to reduce the pint (56.8cl) to a 50cl serving, which is common in many European countries. Given that most alcohol consumption takes place at home, then smaller bottles and cans and reduced alcohol content would be the next steps if the recommendations of these researchers are followed by government.

When did we get asked whether we wanted to see state-sponsored food and drink product reformulation, or the rip-off of shrinkflation? I don’t recall it being part of any political party’s manifesto. 

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