The Consumerist isn’t perfect on every subject, but I think they do a wonderful job with their coverage of the Grocery Shrink Ray – a catchy name for hidden grocery price increases. I caught this example of the shrink ray in action and passed it along to them. Whether they decide to use it or not is up to them, of course.

Here’s the story: Santitas tortilla chips recently went from 13 oz to 12 oz while keeping the price at $2. My math says that’s effectively an 8% price increase.

Santita shrinkage

This is actually very common. Yesterday I noticed that Wal-Mart’s store brand apple juice went from 3 quarts to 1 gallon, and from $2 to $3. That’s 50% higher for 33% more juice. I think that works out to 12.5% more per ounce. The fun part? The new package brags about how it’s 128 oz for the same price as 96 oz. I call that “lying” – unless they’re referring to name brand competitors.

On some level it’s hard to blame the food packagers for playing this game. Their cost of materials is always going up, for too many reasons to get into here. Shoppers are quick to notice (and complain about) obvious price increases.

(There might be government pressure to hide inflation for political reasons, but I can’t prove it. I’m not sure if it’s much of a factor at the manufacturer level anyway. Let’s focus on consumer psychology for now.)

The solution? Be sneaky. Make the package just a little bit smaller. I’d rather see an honest price adjustment, but they didn’t ask me first.

The Grocery Shrink Ray. Spotting it is almost fun when you know what to look for. Check The Consumerist for more examples.