I entered the kitchen today to find my husband staring intently at his favorite snack food (while consuming the snack, of course). When I inquired as to his laser focus, he pointed me to the package, which touted the fact that, by using less packaging material for this product than it used to, the company was reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and producing less waste. Huzzah! Except, as my husband pointed out, the package contained less of his favorite snack than it used to. In other words, the company is now selling this snack in smaller packages, with less product inside.
We've all heard of shrinkflation: when a company, in an effort to avoid raising prices, simply shrinks the package and diminishes the quantity of product. Consumers spend what they have always spent for the product, but they get less of it. Here, the company seems to have used shrinkflation to also make a green claim.
Let's parse this as an advertising law matter. First, assuming the statements about the reduction of emissions (etc) are factually accurate and can be appropriately substantiated, the claims are literally true. Indeed, they're as true as a (hypothetical but self-evident) factual statement that a consumer is eating fewer calories and less fat by consuming a smaller package worth of the product.
But, as we know as advertising lawyers, literal truthfulness is just the starting place: we also have to consider what claims may be implied. What else might reasonable consumers take away from a claim that the company has shrunk its package and, therefore, has reduced its environmental footprint? Might they assume that they're still getting the same amount of product but in a smaller package designed to produce less waste? Many companies have, in fact, taken steps to minimize the amount of material used in their packaging. Perhaps this company did likewise, reducing not just the size of its packages to sell smaller amounts of product, but also reducing the material used in the smaller packages.
What we do know is that there’s a big impactful environmental claim on the package. And it’s certainly possible that consumers will think something more than shrinkflation is the basis for it. Perhaps the company conducted consumer research to determine that consumers do not take away such a claim, and that consumers understand that the environmental benefit provided by the smaller package comes from their getting less of the product. If so, again huzzah!
As with all impactful environmental benefit claims, it is important for advertisers to consider what consumers will likely understand and take away beyond the statements' literal meaning. As we know, advertisers are responsible for the truthfulness of all their claims, if reasonable, even those they may not have intended to make. Companies certainly can tout their green bona fides, but they should do so mindful not only of the express claims they're communicating, but any potential implied claims.