Downgrading the Ingredients in our Food Items: ‘Skimpflation’ Hits Grocery Stores in Canada [Op-Ed]


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Amid the escalating tide of food prices, the practice of coining novel terms to elucidate the surge in these costs has become widespread. In addition to contending with the dual challenges of escalating expenses and diminishing product sizes—commonly known as “shrinkflation”—consumers have also found themselves grappling with the concept of “shelflation.” This pertains to the reduction in the shelf life of grocery products due to disruptions in the supply chain, particularly affecting perishables like produce. If you’ve noticed a decline in product quality, this phenomenon can be attributed to “shelflation.”

However, it is imperative for consumers to remain vigilant about the emergence of yet another term, “skimpflation,” which signifies a subtle alteration in the nutritional composition of certain products. While the term may be unfamiliar to many, the practice itself has a decades-long history.

Food manufacturers have quietly adjusted the formulations of various food items, often resulting in discernible disparities in taste and texture. Indeed, numerous food products have undergone discreet modifications. For instance, a recent CBC report highlighted changes in E.D. Smith’s pumpkin pie filling recipe, with vegetable oil shifting from its previous third position to sixth place, and water taking on a more prominent role as the third primary ingredient. Even familiar items like Cheez Whiz spread have undergone transformations over the years, wherein cheese has been overtaken as the primary component by an entity known as “modified dairy substances.” This trend extends across a spectrum of products, including granola bars, chips, chocolate, pasta, and crackers.

Cheez Whiz at City Market (Image: Craig Patterson)

The motivations driving these adjustments are multifaceted. While the term “skimpflation” might insinuate a deliberate downgrade in quality and nutritional value to cut costs—partially accurate—there is a more intricate narrative at play. As the costs of food ingredients surge, companies often reformulate and rigorously test new recipes to ensure that consumers remain unaware of any changes. Many research and development initiatives are centered on providing the market with competitively priced food items, resulting in subtle modifications. Admittedly, the nutritional integrity of products can be compromised in the process. Nevertheless, the pursuit of cost savings is merely one facet of a broader tale.

Companies undertake reformulation efforts to render products more appealing to specific demographics. This might involve intentional alterations in flavours, calorie counts, sodium levels, fat content, or even sugar content. Some changes are driven by strategic considerations, while others are motivated by regulatory factors. For example, the impending front-of-packaging labeling regulations set to take effect in January 2026 will mandate the inclusion of a new symbol on packages containing elevated levels of saturated fat, sugars, and/or sodium. To avert having such an indicator on their products, manufacturers are already engaged in reformulation, resulting in revised ingredient lists for numerous food items.

In essence, “skimpflation” transcends mere cost-saving measures. It is equally a response to regulatory requirements. While these practices are entirely legal, consumers can gauge the implications of “skimpflation” by consistently monitoring food labels, even scrutinizing a few products each week. Regrettably, there is a limited scope for consumer action in this regard.

However, the impact of “skimpflation” on our food economy extends beyond products to encompass customer service. Over the past year, a report from Field Agent Canada has illuminated a host of unsatisfactory service-related experiences in grocery stores, indicative of a shift in service quality and labour issues. As a collective, 79 percent of Canadians have observed instances of product unavailability, 55 percent have encountered longer queues, 48 percent have noted a shortage of checkout clerks, 47 percent have struggled to locate store employees, and 39 percent have identified an insufficient number of checkout lanes. The proliferation of self-checkout lanes in recent years has further exacerbated consumer dissatisfaction. All these instances underscore a trend of cutbacks and cost-saving measures.

The landscape of grocery shopping has undergone a transformation. Not only have products evolved, but the service provided has also undergone alterations. It is imperative for consumers to remain vigilant, adapting to these changes as they navigate the evolving food economy.

Sylvain Charlebois
Sylvain Charlebois
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is Senior Director of the Agri-Foods Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Also at Dalhousie, he is Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculty of Agriculture. His current research interest lies in the broad area of food distribution, security and safety, and has published four books and many peer-reviewed journal articles in several publications. His research has been featured in a number of newspapers, including The Economist, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, the Globe & Mail, the National Post and the Toronto Star.


  1. I had noticed at Sobeys lately , where I shop for
    no name Peanut Butter ( Compliments)2 klio gram
    and pop , some bakery products, but mainly. recently , I am buying more fruit than usual, due too the sales at the time, but still when you add it is
    an eye opener !
    But what I notice lately is there seem to be fewer
    staff around to be had, but what staff, too be had
    at this store Sobeys in Kitchener Ontario, they
    seem to give me at lease to me, great Customer Service.
    That’s why in spite of their high prices generally, I always seem to go back them !
    The other store, that I also go too from time to time
    is Freshco also located in Kitchener On.
    The products there aren’t to bad, but where they
    excell in is in two areas , one produces and the
    soft drinks sections, they seem to have a quite a few sales, for some reason?
    Otherwise, I am pleased with these two, can tolerate the other stores in Kitchener.
    Peter Heutzenroeder

  2. To be honest none of those products mentioned can be considered food. Any product affected by this is a fake food product, real food can’t be downgraded in this way.

  3. These changes in my opinion are done not for compliance issues or cost cutting measures but for maintaining the bottom line, profits to the shareholders. Less staff means poorer services. It is noticeable in both smaller local stores and the larger Walmart type retailers.
    Quality and quantity are definitely affected also. Lower weight in packaging such as but not limited to bacon for an example without a price reduction. Definitely not in the consumers favour.

  4. None of the changes are for customer satisfaction. Every change is for corporate greed. Prices have sky rocketed so the lowly purchaser can barely afford to eat. Meanwhile thefts, break and enters etc continue to increase. Makes me wonder why. I see a lot of nearly empty cards when I shop including my own.

  5. Anyone notice also, that Mountain Dew no longer has real Orange Juice in Canada?
    It’s sad to see that happen. Sure, it was only a low percentage (around 10%) but it’s the thought that counts.
    Now I no longer buy Mountain Dew.


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