Cat-astrophe? Whiskas pet food criticised over shrinking servings

Published on The Guardian, 24th March 2023

The mercurial nature of cats means owners spend a lot of time trying to understand “cat speak”. However, the chances that loud miaowing is about food have increased after Whiskas not only slashed the size of its cat food pouches but changed the recipe .

The price of Whiskas has risen sharply in the past year and pet owners have taken to the brand’s Facebook page to vent their outrage over the smaller packets, which are 85g rather than 100g, but cost the same. Others complain their cat does not like the “new taste” and, in extreme cases, that it disagrees with them.

The practice of reducing product sizes but keeping the price the same effectively increases their cost per gram and is known as “shrinkflation”. Smaller Whiskas packs started arriving in stores last month but many owners did not spot the change until their pets started making a racket.

Cat owner David Reid said he was shocked by the price of Whiskas, with the pack size reduction the final straw. “It’s taken a couple of weeks to dawn on me why the pets were still hungry after being fed. I will now move to a different brand … it is now too expensive to feed them Whiskas pouches, as much as I love my cats dearly.”

Other recent casualties of shrinkflation include Magnum ice-creams, which these days are being sold in three- rather than four-packs, and Mini Cheddars, where a new bag size is “mini” too.

In her post on Whiskas’ Facebook page, Mauri Ann Beardshaw said she had been left wondering why her cats were asking for extra food“Shrinkflation is probably fine for human snacks but it’s just not fair on the cats to reduce fixed meals. If they weren’t fussy I would be changing brand.”

The upshot of the smaller size meant you were getting just under two pouches fewer per box, commented Stephen La Velle. “The texture and taste has also changed significantly enough for both my cats to turn their noses up at it,” he wrote.

A 12-pack of Whiskas costs £4.50, which is almost £1 more than a year ago (when the Whiskas pouches were bigger), according to the average price across Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons. The price is up almost 40% over two years as in 2021 these packs cost £3.25, according to the price analysts Assosia.

Britons spend £2.7bn a year on pet food in a market dominated by big companies such as Whiskas owner Mars Petcare, as well as Nestlé and Colgate-Palmolive, and other brands have gone up in price too. An eight-pack of Nestlé’s Purina One now costs £4.50, which is 10% more than a year ago and 20%, or 75p more, over two years.

Dog owners are also having to dig deeper. The price of a 12-pack of Cesar Senior 10+ costs £6.75 today which is £2.08 more than a year ago, an increase of 45%. The same size pack of Pedigree Pouch Favourites is now £5, up £1.18 or 31% on a year ago, according to the Assosia figures. Both brands are owned by Mars Petcare.

The higher pet food costs come at a time when Britons are struggling to make ends meet during the cost of living crisis, with animal charities reporting a sharp increase in the number of animals being surrendered by their owners who cannot afford to care for them.

In a statement, Mars Petcare said it was “not immune” to inflationary pressures being felt around the world. “While we continue to absorb substantial cost increases coming from raw materials, and retail pricing remains at the sole discretion of the retailer, regrettably we have made the difficult decision to maintain the list price of our Whiskas pouches.”

In response to criticism of the new recipe it added: “Our recipes are carefully selected to be nutritious and tasty, but we know that some cats can be a little more sensitive, or eat more quickly, when trying new food.”

Published on The Guardian, 24th March 2023