Inflation, deflation

Pam Droog Jones


Recently to prepare for an outing on a friend’s boat, I held my breath and tried on my swimsuit. I hadn’t worn it in quite a long time. Looking in the mirror, I thought, this isn’t the absolute worst thing I’ve ever seen. Plus, it’s the same size I’ve worn for years.

Same size? Probably not. According to The Economist Online, I am a victim of size inflation. “Clothes with the same size label have become steadily larger over time. As the average person’s weight has risen over the years, fashion firms have increased the measurements of their garments, partly in the belief that women feel better (and so are more likely to buy) if they can squeeze into their old size.” Well, the fashion firms are right. I did feel better about my swimsuit despite the size inflation trick. 

But, while clothes are getting larger, food is getting smaller. I first noticed food deflation as my chocolate chunk granola bars seemed to be skinny imposters of their former selves and came packaged 8 per box, not 10. A pound of coffee has shrunk to 13 ounces. Sugar comes in 4-pound, not 5-pound, bags. Cereal boxes contain 15 percent less. Fritos bags hold 20 percent fewer chips. And tuna now comes in 5-ounce, not 7-ounce, cans — a 17 percent reduction!

I’m sure you’ve noticed similar shrinkages. Or maybe you haven’t. Food manufacturers have been quite stealthy about the issue. Clever marketing campaigns say the smaller sizes are greener (less packaging), healthier (fewer calories) or more portable. Label and container designs make products appear unchanged–like chips bags filled with air and “cones” in the bottom of peanut butter jars. The only thing not shrinking is the cost.

Of course price hikes—like size hikes—could turn off customers. In the meantime, either we’re fooling ourselves or being fooled. Or both.