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Cartons containing nine eggs each.
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Russian egg producers responded to high food prices by selling one fewer egg per carton. Let the memes begin!

Source: Meduza
Cartons containing nine eggs each.
Cartons containing nine eggs each.
@chtozaimya on Twitter

On January 8, a photograph of a carton with nine eggs was published on the Russian social portal Pikabu. Russian eggs are usually sold in groups of 10; selling nine eggs at a time would be like selling a carton of 11 in the United States. The photo’s title deadpanned, “A nine of eggs, please.”

In the caption, the author listed several more products that come in strange volumes: “Milk 867 milliliters, mayonnaise 220 milliliters, Coca-Cola not one liter but only 900 milliliters. Now in the New Year it’s the eggs’ turn.” Many have linked the appearance of the nine-egg cartons to rising food prices.

Meduza: Now you can buy nine eggs in Russian stores. No, this isn’t a mistake, it’s our new reality – along with 900-milliliter bottles of Coke and 873-milliliter bottles of milk. How else are they trying to rip you off? Send us your examples, ideally with photos.
Ya Ne MaSiK: Here you go. Milk 867 mL, mayo 220 mL, Coke not one liter but just 900 mL. In the New Year, it’s the eggs’ turn.

Fact-checking the meme

The creator of the meme correctly captured the essence of the economic phenomenon that has given rise to the nine-egg carton. The producer of this non-standard packaging, the Varaksino factory in Udmurtia, calls the innovation a “marketing stunt for the New Year.” However, from an economic point of view, this is evidence of “shrinkflation.”

What is this? Where did this practice come from?

Shrinkflation is a term for the tricks producers use when they don’t want to raise prices directly (which consumers usually notice quite easily) but instead reduce the quantity of a standard portion.

In Great Britain, Ireland, and the United States, this form of hidden inflation has become commonplace over the past five years. In Great Britain, 2,500 goods have been identified as shrinkflated since 2012. The biggest chocolate producers in the West have engaged in shrink wars – for example, Toblerone increased the distance between each chocolate triangle in its candy bars sold in England.

Economists believe that widespread shrinkflation makes it harder to measure inflation accurately.

Why eggs?

Eggs were the most expensive produce item in Russia last December. They go up in price before each New Year – demand goes through the roof as Russians rush to make a million bowls of salat Olivier (a classic Russian salad made with potatoes, boiled eggs, chicken or ham, and mayonnaise). But in 2017, for example, egg prices rose in December by six percent, while in December 2018, they rose by 15.4 percent (plus a third since the beginning of the year.) As a result, nine eggs today cost more than ten eggs just a month ago.

Olivier isn’t the only factor. Feed prices for poultry have been rising since the spring of 2018; in the fall, fuel producers, who were forbidden from raising prices at gas stations, decided to take it out on entrepreneurs and cancelled gasoline discounts for them; at the same time, several large poultry farms closed because of the avian flu epidemic. But all these problems for producers wouldn’t be so fearsome if they hadn’t just survived an entire year of falling prices for their produce. In 2017, many factories overproduced, sold the eggs at cost, and then started to slow production. Finally, in the fall and winter of 2018, they did a 180 and returned to the production levels of two years ago. According to data from Rosstat, ten eggs today (Rosstat doesn’t know how to count by nines) cost just a bit more than they did in January of 2017.

More memes!

DW in Russian: The egg scandal gets hotter. Cartoonist Sergey Elkin on the DW site. “And where's the tenth egg?” “Koschei’s death is in the tenth egg!” (The cartoon refers to a folk tale in which the evil Koschei the Deathless can only die if a needle containing his death is removed from inside an egg, which is itself typically inside a duck that is inside several other objects.)
Spartak Moscow: Now we’ll only publish the game lineup this way. (Hockey usually features five skaters in a lineup, plus the goalie.)
RIP Novosti: Nine eggs – that’s inconvenient, of course. But now a Russian gigabyte won't be 1024 megabytes; it’ll be exactly 1000. (A gigabyte is indeed actually 1024 megabytes even though most people think it is 1000.)
Znak.com: This is the crisis in Russia: nine eggs in a pack of ten, 800 mL of milk in a liter bottle, 26 deputies in a pack of 36. (This refers to a video of the Russian parliament where the deputies claimed 36 deputies had voted on a measure when there were just 26 in the room.)
Aleksey Akimovich: As statistics show, there’s 10 girls for every nine eggs. (Refers to a line in a Soviet song about how hard it is to find a partner at a dance because there are 10 girls for every nine guys. “Egg” is also slang for testicle, although if there’s an odd number of eggs then that really spells trouble for at least one guy at the dance.) 
Mysli Perzidenta:In the store.“Give me ten eggs.”“We only have them in groups of nine.”“But I need ten.”“Take two cartons.”“Then I'll have 18, I just need 10.”“You can crush the extra eight with a tractor. There's a tractor driver right behind the store, he's cheap.”“Thanks.”“No problem.”
Pavel Pryanikov: To avoid increasing the price of eggs, they started selling them in cartons of nine instead of 10. The same can happen with the dollar. If you exchanged 30 rubles for a dollar, you can change it back to 30 rubles again with 50 cents.
Byaka bl: If Russia doesn’t take to the streets because of these eggs, then our people have no future!
Shchuka FSO: It's not important whether there's nine or 10 eggs in your carton; the main thing is to be a good person.
Chas-Pik: As if this all weren’t enough, now eggs are sold individually.

Meme collection by Maksim Ivanov. Fact-check by Dmitry Kuznets.

Translation by Sharon Lurye