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SOMERVILLE, Mass. — A few weeks ago, Edgar Dworsky got a promising tip by email. “Diluted cough syrup,” read the message, accompanied by a photo of two packages of syrup with a curious difference: The new one appeared to be half the strength of the old one.

Mr. Dworsky gets emails like this frequently, alerting him to things like a bag of dog food that discreetly shrank from 50 pounds to 44 pounds. A cereal box that switched from “giant” to “family” size and grew about an inch taller — but a few ounces lighter. Bottles of detergent that look the same, but the newer ones come with less detergent.

The cough syrup message looked intriguing. Mr. Dworsky made plans to investigate.

He has dedicated much of his life to exposing what is one of the sneakier tricks in the modern consumer economy: “shrinkflation,” when products or packaging are subtly manipulated so that

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