According to the Food Marketing Institute, the average supermarket carries close to 40,000 different items. More often than not, the average shopper’s reaction to this wealth of choices is to feel overwhelmed, not enriched.
The focus of planners who design the layout of supermarkets is not on the general comfort of the consumer—it’s limited to the consumer’s pocketbook. The prime focus is on making us spend a lot more time in the supermarket than seems reasonable to buy 10 or 12 items. And if we walk out with 15 or 20 items, that’s a homerun for the planners.
The single item that many people shop for is milk, but the dairy case is usually at the back of the store. This placement forces consumers to walk the gauntlet of the entire length of the store and be tempted by impulse buying or tempted to surrender to their children’s whiney demands for whatever’s hot on TV that week.
Manufacturers pay “slotting fees” to get their items placed at eye level and to have extra “facings,” aka shelf space.
Some stores with in-house bakeries schedule baking for hours of highest traffic. Really clever stores waft artificial “freshly baked” scents through their stores around the clock.
The poor signage in the supermarket is another ploy to make consumers wander up and down aisles. Sometimes sale signs block the aisle signs. Sometimes they list obscure items rather than the popular ones consumers generally buy.
Bulk sale prices, 4 for $5, often mislead consumers to think they must buy 4 to get the sale price. Not so. If you buy one or two items at 4 for $5, you pay only $1.25 each.
Superstores may or may not have lower prices, but trudging up and down the aisles is a great temptation for impulse buying.
The consumer’s best defense is to get in and out as quickly as possible.
Make a list and stick to it.
If you’re uncertain about the location of items infrequently bought, either call the store before you leave home and jot down the location on your shopping list or ask for the locations as soon as you enter the store.
The most healthful, least processed foods are generally around the perimeter of the store–with the exception of dried beans, canned fish and whole grain cereals, pastas, and breads which are found in the interior aisles. But many stores place their bakeries in between the produce and the meat department.
Scan the lower and higher sections of shelves. That’s where you’ll find the bigger bargains and more healthful foods.
Avoid the busiest times of stores—weeknights between 4 PM and 7 PM and weekends. Mondays and Tuesdays are least busy, allowing you to get in and out without having to waste time standing in checkout lines, gazing at impulse temptations.
Consider paying with cash rather than a credit card. A Cornell University study found that shoppers who paid with credit or debit cards bought more unhealthful foods compared to shoppers paying cash.
Source: University of CA, Berkeley Special Summer Issue, Wellness Letter, 2013