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Democrats' 'Shrinkflation' Bill Would Crack Down On Practice At Grocery Stores

Have you recently noticed fewer potato chips in your bag, or a little less toilet paper on your roll? Democrats in Congress have noticed, too.

A handful of senators introduced a new bill Wednesday meant to crack down on “shrinkflation.” That’s when companies reduce the amount of product in a package but keep the price the same as a way to juice profit margins. 

Although it’s an age-old practice, this downsizing has gotten a lot of attention recently amid a period of higher-than-usual grocery prices. Democrats, including President Joe Biden, say that shrinkflation has gotten out of hand and the companies are ripping people off.

“While you were Super Bowl shopping, did you notice smaller-than-usual products where the price stays the same?” the president asked earlier this month on X, formerly Twitter. “I’m calling on the big consumer brands to put a stop to it.”

With voters tired of elevated grocery prices, shrinkflation looked like something Democrats might just yell and pound their fists about in an election year. After all, there is a subreddit page with more than 100,000 members who angrily post before-and-after photos of dwindling cereal boxes and toilet paper rolls. 

Corporations are trying to pull the wool over our eyes by shrinking their products without reducing their prices — anyone on a tight budget sees it.Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.)

But Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.) and other lawmakers say they now want to target the practice through the Federal Trade Commission, the independent agency that enforces civil antitrust law.

The legislation would direct the FTC to develop regulations classifying shrinkflation as an unfair or deceptive trade practice. It would also give the FTC and state attorneys general the green light to pursue civil actions and fines against companies that engage in it.

Casey said in a statement that families are “sick and tired” of the practice.

“Corporations are trying to pull the wool over our eyes by shrinking their products without reducing their prices — anyone on a tight budget sees it every time they go to the grocery store,” Casey said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the legislation would ensure shoppers “get every ounce they pay for.”

Democrats say shrinkflation at grocery stores has gotten out of hand.
Democrats say shrinkflation at grocery stores has gotten out of hand. OLIVIER DOULIERY via Getty Images

An FTC spokesperson declined to comment on the legislation. 

Although there have been other bills introduced targeting corporate price gouging and collusion, this one is the first centered on shrinkflation. Casey and Brown were joined by five Democratic co-sponsors Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Jacky Rosen (Nev.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).

The most common product categories that companies downsize are household goods, such as paper towels, followed by snacks, such as chips and candy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency says manufacturers prefer to reduce the amount of product rather than raise prices, since market research shows buyers are more sensitive to the price hikes.

Some people even think there’s less filling in Oreos these days, though Nabisco parent company Mondelez denies it’s playing games with the cookie formula.

Democrats only have a threadbare majority in the Senate, so it’s highly unlikely there would be enough bipartisan support for the bill to surmount a GOP filibuster. The legislation has virtually no path through the Republican-led House, making it little more than a Democratic talking point for the time being.

Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, said he didn’t find much merit in the issue.

“These arguments are political spin and not serious explanations,” he said on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.