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"Skimpflation" may be slipping by grocery shoppers. Here's how to spot it

How to spot "skimpflation"
How to spot "skimpflation" 02:02

SOMERVILLE - Have you ever had a favorite product you've been buying for years, that suddenly seemed a little worse than usual?

"I have with toilet paper. It used to flush more easily, it used to not clog anything and now it's clogging very frequently," said shopper Ashley Howe.

Consumers are being warned they're getting shortchanged on some of the most popular products at the grocery store. The reason may be something consumer advocates call "skimpflation."

"Skimpflation very simply is when a manufacturer reformulates a product with cheaper ingredients. He may actually, literally, water it down," said Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Skimpflation is a side effect of inflation. As some companies pay more for ingredients, they cut back but charge you the same price.

Last year, Smart Balance spread changed its formula from 64% vegetable oil to 39%. The company said it was in order to make it easier to spread. When customers complained, they changed the formula back.

Skimpflation can show up at the grocery store, in cleaning products, and even in over-the-counter medications. Too often, consumers don't even notice it's happening.

"The trouble is, it's very hard to detect. If a manufacturer of beef stew, let's say, used to put four ounces of beef in the package, and now all of a sudden it has 3 ounces, you're not going to see that on the label," Dworsky said.

"It's disappointing to know that you're getting the short end of the stick as the consumer, paying the same amount for an inferior quality product," said shopper Jordan Cobb.

Dworsky says to spot "skimpflation" you'll need to be a savvy shopper.

"If your dishwasher detergent doesn't clean as well, if your stew doesn't taste as good as it used to, if your paper towels are thinner than they were, you're getting less for your money," he said.

While products often list the ingredients on the packaging, many don't include the quantities of each ingredient, making this trend even more difficult to spot.

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