Supermarket sweep: avoiding the shrinkation phenomenon

Supermarket sweep: avoiding the shrinkation phenomenon
06 May 2013

The other day, my husband came back from the supermarket after doing our monthly shop, and was in a very bad mood.

‘Was it terribly busy?’ I asked sympathetically, thinking I’d get the usual rant about the afternoon weekend crowds in Carrefour.

‘It was fine,’ he replied, ‘but the bill was horrendous! It was at least Dhs400 more expensive for all the same stuff we bought last time.’

Prices on the up

At first, I thought he was over-reacting and had bought a new docking station, a hard drive or some other manly gadget, and had forgotten to add it to the bill. But some internet research later revealed that actually, he was dead right. Prices are on the up – and not just a little bit either.

The price of food internationally has risen by 4.5% in the past year alone while average incomes have either stayed the same, or only risen by a maximum of 1.4%. If you add that rise to the additional import duty charges on food brands in the UAE (between 1-5%) and the average retail mark-up (15%), that makes our grocery bills among the highest in the world today.

Sizes on the down

Not only that, but manufactures of international brands are also taking nips and tucks here and there, and shrinking the products that we are paying more for. Offenders are typically chocolate bar manufacturers (Cadburys, Nestle and Mars), as well as frozen food producers Birds Eye, Walkers (crisps) and Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts, who have shrunk their bags by a stingy 12%. The reason for these reductions have been largely blamed on commodity prices rising, which makes certain staple ingredients, like wheat, rice, coffee, cocoa and sugar more expensive.

The upside

While your shopping bill isn’t likely to get any smaller any time soon, you can at least modify your shopping habits to curtail the effect. One of the good things about these rising prices is that a lot of them are associated with unhealthy, processed foods we can all do without. So if you ditch the junk, your bill should look better immediately.

Buy local produce wherever possible. We are lucky in that the UAE Government is very keen to support local farming initiatives, which means seasonally, there are heaps of fresh vegetables on sale – plus, there’s the added bonus that they are fresher and have not been radiated to preserve them, so as a result, they are better for you too.

Buy in bulk, especially staple items like rice, pasta, quinoa, bread, meat, fish and milk. A chest freezer where you can store a whole month’s worth of shopping, will enable you to make the most of prices when they are low. Instead of buying two salmon steaks when they are Dhs45 per kilo, for example, buy 10 and freeze eight for later.

Plan ahead. It’s not always easy, but try to know in advance, what you’ll be eating each day for the week ahead. That way you’ll find less food goes to waste, and you’ll make the most of your purchases too. It will also mean less impromptu trips to the cornershop or local supermarket, where prices are invariably higher. According to a recent study by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK, the average household throws away around 50% of their grocery purchases due to mismanagement and allowing food to pass its sell-by dates.

Do do discounts and coupons Most supermarkets have discount days either once a month or once a week. Find out when they happen, make a note of them in your diary and try to shop when the best deals are on. If you manage to save yourself just Dhs100 per shop, per week, by the end of one year, you’ll be Dhs5,200 better off!


Got any top tips for smarter shopping? If so, we’d love to hear them.


  • ConsumerWatch

    Thank you for shining light on this important issue Joanna and also for some good tips. cashy previously reported the Minister of Econiomy was concerned and seeking ways to mitigate the impact of "illogical increases in prices of many consumer commodities." 

    The consumer price index may show a nominal level of inflation, but when we look at the impact in our homes it is much more significant. I noticed Ana Elisa Seixas respond to this article on Twitter saying "It is actually cheaper to eat out than cook!" Sad but some truth to it.

    And gosh, "shrinkfaltion."I had no idea sizes were being reduced whilst prices maintained - thanks for raising this. 

  • joanna

    Sad but true - we pay more but get less. However, sensible choices can make the pinch less painful :)

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