Food processors are adding more air in potato chip bags and shrinking their packages in a bid to maintain grocery store prices while offsetting rising costs, according to a leading industry observer.

The sneaky strategy to appease cost-conscious consumers has been in play for decades, but Dalhousie University food distribution and policy professor Sylvain Charlebois warns the tactic to save a few pennies per package by offering less food at the same price is becoming a lot more prevalent. It even has a name: shrinkflation.

“It’s everywhere,” Charlebois told on Friday. “The pace of shrinkflation is much more rapid now over the last seven to ten years.”

A recent study by Britain’s Office for National Statistics found nearly 3,000 food products have shrunk in size since 2012. Other estimates based on U.S. and European markets suggest between 15 and 20 per cent of all packaged food items have become smaller over the past five years.

Comparable data is not yet available for Canada, but Charlebois is confident the downsizing is happening here too. For many companies, he said it has become the only viable option to combat higher ingredient, wage and energy costs while surviving in the increasingly competitive global food business.

According to Charlebois, chips, crackers and pretty much anything typically eaten in handfuls out of a bag or box are the worst shrinkflation offenders. While a rising air-to-chip ratio is relatively easy to spot, other tricks are less obvious to shoppers. Ever wonder why the bottom of many jars have an inward bubble?

“You may actually see that the jar itself is the same size, but underneath the bottom is lifted. So they actually put less of the product in the bottle,” Charlebois said. “Packaging is designed such that people wouldn’t notice.”

The only clue is the volume measurement printed on the package.

Consumer Price Index (CPI) data from Statistics Canada shows the cost of food purchased from stores has remained relatively flat across Canada in 2018, although the measure has risen nearly 42 per cent since 2002.

Charlebois said it is unclear how shrinkflation factors into Statistics Canada’s CPI figure. He hopes to arrange a meeting with the agency in Ottawa to better understand how changing food package quantities are impacting Canadian shoppers.

“At the end of the day, it is really about affordability,” he said. “If you are getting less for the price you are paying, it does impact food security for many families.”