Lunchables shrinkflation frustrates father of autistic son
Kraft says ‘cracker shortage’ forces cutting from six to five
Dan Zielinski’s autistic son eats three “Lunchables Ham & Cheddar Cheese Cracker Stackers” every day -- one for breakfast and two for lunch. The boy used to enjoy putting together the six crackers, cheese and ham into a perfectly even sandwich.
That changed in recent weeks. “He asks for an extra cracker at breakfast because he says one is missing,” said Dan. The family buys 21 boxes a week for their son, and all contained just five crackers.
Dan is frustrated that the manufacturer, Kraft Heinz, “shrunk” what is included in the packaging without a warning on the box. The company told me the change is due to a “national shortage on the crackers.”
“Given my son's autism, flexibility is not his strong suit. So when a change like this happens, his mother and I have a mini-anxiety attack, then see how we can address it,” Dan said.
KRAFT RESPONDS TO MISSING CRACKER
A spokesman for Kraft foods asked me in a private message on Twitter to get the UPC code from Dan. Then I got this response from the company about the change:
We have seen unprecedented demand for Lunchables over the last two years, and as a result, have had challenges procuring select ingredients.
Currently, there is a national shortage on the crackers we use in our Lunchables and for the short term, we have reduced the number of crackers in select packages by 1.
To offset this, we've increased the thickness of the meat slices in these packages.
“I’m less outraged by it as I am disappointed,” Dan replied when I sent him the statement from Kraft.
“Downsized packaging is a normal occurrence -- and more so when there are supply chain issues and rising inflation/business costs. Lucky for us, my son stores unused crackers that he doesn't eat at lunch to use the next day for breakfast.”
The Kraft company also told me this:
We appreciate you taking the time to reach out to us and apologize for any disappointment this may have caused. We continue to find solutions to make sure we’re able to supply all the great Lunchables components you and your family love and welcome ongoing feedback from consumers like you.
Dan responded, “If nothing else, I hope companies think carefully about what seemingly minor product changes mean to families.”
The Lunchable investigation
I found out about the Lunchables change during our subscriber thread discussion on whether we are buying the same food with inflation. Dan told us that in addition to higher grocery costs, he and his wife were dealing with how the Oscar Mayer Lunchables had “shrunk.”
The boxes cost anywhere from $1.99 at Target to $3.09 at Instacart. Each box contains Oscar Mayer Lean Ham Slices, Kraft cheddar pasteurized prepared cheese product, crackers and vanilla creme cookies.
We weren’t sure if Dan was getting a bad lot, or it was a bigger issue.
Greg. R wrote in our thread: “I happened to be doing my weekly shopping just a few hours after reading the comments about the change in Lunchables, so I made a quick stop to give them a look. The containers are transparent enough that you can see (and count) the items.”
Greg reported to us that the Ham & Cheddar he found only had five crackers. He took a photo of it to confirm for us. “The missing cracker is ‘a thing’ in south-central PA as well.”
I told Dan in the thread that I would contact the company to find out what happened and see if it can be fixed. Unfortunately, it will not be any time soon.
Peter Nayland Kust who writes a brilliant Substack newsletter "All Facts Matter” joined the conversation to inform us that the Lunchables issue was broader than one cracker.
“There's even a word for the phenomenon: ‘shrinkflation’ And it is a very real phenomenon, Kust wrote. “It's one of the few topics virtually all aspects of media tend to agree about. That says a lot about how pervasive an issue it is.”
A cracker shortage?
Dan said that the company’s reason for shrinking the package makes sense to him since this particular Lunchable was hard to find about two months ago.
“The fact that they've added a bit more ham is likely not so much to be fair, but I'm going to be cynical and guess that they need to maintain a certain calorie level in the unit,” he said.
Lunchables are advertised as SNAP and EBT eligible…
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