Food companies are swapping ingredients with lower-quality substitutes to cut costs, experts say

Published: 5 September 2023

If you’ve noticed that certain products in the grocery store taste different from how you remember, it’s possible some of their ingredients have been swapped for cheaper alternatives. 

Experts say food producers are increasingly changing the ingredients in products to cut costs amid soaring food prices and labour shortages—a practice known as “skimpflation.” Could our health be at stake?

“We don’t know what (impacts) a cocktail of subpar ingredients could have in the long run on humans,” illustrates McGill University agronomist and economist Pascal Thériault, director of McGill's Farm Management and Technology Program.

He talks about the replacement of whole ingredients by extracts, such as cocoa that becomes cocoa extract, so that a cereal bar no longer contains chocolate.

Skimpflation is the little brother of shrinkflation, which consists in reducing the quantity of a product in the packaging, and which constitutes a price increase. The problem with both is that manufacturers don't have to declare it.

“Ultimately, the consumer gets less for their money — that’s a given,” Thériault told the Star.

We spend an average of 30 minutes in the grocery store, where there are 50,000 products, which means we see 25 per second. "We certainly don't have time to look at or remember the ingredients."

As a result, Thériault advises shoppers to stick with products with a smaller list of ingredients — companies are less likely to change these recipes as alterations will be more noticeable by consumers, he said.

On the flip side, less processed foods like meat, vegetables, dairy and more are usually safe from skimpflation — “the closer you get to the agricultural commodities, the less likely you are to have a product that has gone through skimpflation.”

Read more from The Toronto Star.

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