Skimpflation: Brands May Be Changing Their Recipes to Cut Costs – But It's Hard to Tell

Increasing prices and changing products and packaging can be hard to navigate when you’re trying to keep costs down

NBC Universal, Inc.

A trip to the grocery store is an expensive endeavor these days and with food prices surging, everyone is on the lookout for deals and ways to save. But there’s something else you should be looking for--  changes to your favorite products.

You’ve probably heard of Shrinkflation,  that’s when manufacturers downsize products, so you’re getting less but paying the same price. But have you heard about Skimpflation? 

Longtime consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky has kept a watchful eye on grocery store products for three decades.  He’s spotlighted shrinking products for years on his website and is now sounding the alarm about changing recipes and formulas.

"This is now called Skimpflation, which means a manufacturer has reformulated one of its products, usually with cheaper ingredients,," says Dworsky, a former Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General in consumer protection. "It's a relatively new term. It was coined just a couple of years ago, and it's really hard to detect."

Dworsky says a recent change made to Smart Balance margarine, which now lists water as the first ingredient, is a good example of it.

"This one is 64% oil," he says holding up two margarine containers.  “This one, the new one, is 39% oil. The packages look almost identical. The manufacturer, Conagra, decided to save a little money because substituting water for oil is cheap, so they literally watered down the margarine. Trouble is, consumers noticed and complained a lot.”

The company’s website has hundreds of one-star reviews posted about the change.  Customers called it a “disgusting new recipe”,  a “big, terrible mistake”, and that they “ruined a good thing!”

We reached out to Conagra about the reformulation.  They tell us:

"We made changes to some Smart Balance products to make them easier to spread. We have heard the feedback from consumers and have decided to return to the previous recipes in the coming months."

Dworsky says he’s seeing this outside of the margarine aisle too.

"Some people have complained that some brands of toilet paper feel thinner.  I did a test where I kind of weighed the old and the new, and I found the new one was 20% lighter, meaning there's 20% less paper in the product,” says Dworsky.  "Then there was a TV dinner brand that reduced the amount of protein...the trouble with this stuff is it's very hard to detect. We don't know the proprietary recipes that manufacturers use for their products. If you're pouring detergent into a cup, you know it's blue, you know it's thick. Do you know if they've added more water to the formula? It's very, very difficult to detect."

Increasing prices and changing products and packaging can be hard to navigate when you’re trying to keep costs down.

"It’s a real challenge to try to get the best deal in the store,” says Dworsky.   “You just really have to be as alert as you possibly can. Look for great deals where possible. Still use coupons if you can find them.”

If you suspect a favorite product has changed and you’re not happy about it, post a review on the company website, or reach out to them and ask if they have made a change and share your thoughts.   Consumers were heard by Conagra and they will have their old Smart Balance spread back.  You can make a difference.

Contact Us