Nutrition Articles

7 Secrets to Outsmart Your Supermarket

Look Past the Super Marketing to Protect Your Wallet and Your Waistline

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Conniving. Manipulative. Scheming. I’m not talking about your ex; I’m talking about your grocery store. On your next trip, be prepared to fight back against the tactics most supermarket chains use to get you to spend more money on "extras" that you don't really need—tactics that affect your wallet and your health.

You’re on your weekly grocery trip. You’ve got your list in hand, and you're ready to purchase the items you need for your healthy, preplanned meals. You walk through the supermarket doors and…oh! Look at the Fourth of July decorations! Visions of cookouts, party favors and kids with sparklers are now dancing through your head. You hang around the display, pick up a "two-for" deal on red, white and blue wrapped chocolates, and grab streamers and balloons because your sister-in-law might have forgotten supplies to jazz up the kids table for the party next week. 2,549 calories and at least $10 unplanned dollars later, you’ve been the victim of a grocery store plot.

Distractions at the grocery store happen, and that's no accident. Strategic product placements purposely distract you from your well-intended list and entice you to purchase those little extras. Supermarket chains spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to know exactly how, where, when, and why you shop. They use this information to get you to linger longer, fill your basket—make that your cart—to the brim, and spend more of your hard-earned cash than you intended to spend. But your grocer may be hurting more than just your wallet with these marketing maneuvers.

Let’s put on our spy gear and take a mental tour through the supermarket to investigate the nooks and crannies where stores hide their tricks. Take note so the next time you head to the grocery, you’ll have a plan of attack.

End the End Cap Enticement
Conveniently placed on the end of every aisle, "end caps" are home to sale items and seasonal kits that may not have been on your list but look oh-so-inviting when you see them. Items for s’mores, pumpkin pie, or green bean casserole are often creativity combined on these aisle ends. Foods on end caps are generally low in nutrients and high in added fat and sugar. Battle plan: If it’s on your list for greater health, you just saved a trip down the aisle. If it’s not, smile, but keep walking past the pretty display and find your next listed item.

Shelve Your Impulses
Major brands pay grocers to shelve their top-selling items at eye level. They even go so far as to place products geared toward children right within their little paws’ reach—cartoon characters, bright colors and all are low to the ground or cart-level for wee ones who sit in the seat of your shopping cart. Battle plan: Make an educated decision. Glance up and down before choosing an item (less inexpensive generic items, often the same nutritionally, might be lower or higher on the shelf than more expensive brand named products). And always check out the nutrition facts label. Also, if you are shopping with the kiddies, ask them to help you find healthful foods in the store. Turn your grocery list into a scavenger hunt checklist to play as you shop.
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About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

Member Comments

  • I love the 'Boycott the Bakery' line. I normally can smell the fresh baked bread or donuts if I go grocery shopping in the morning.
    I now know how to avoid those temptations. - 5/23/2016 1:28:39 PM
  • I find sometimes you have to shop with metaphorical blinders on - for me that's a well thought out and clearly written grocery list and an absolute limit on how much I can spend. - 5/17/2016 11:28:34 AM
  • I like all the Battle plans . . - 5/17/2016 10:16:30 AM
  • I'd use those seasonal, holiday pushes to an advantage. Time to fill the freezer! :-)

    Thanksgiving usually has the best prices all year on sweet potatoes, winter squash & cranberries. I've found 29 cent a lb yams & they'll store in a cool room for weeks.
    Cinco de Mayo just let me stock up on black beans & some awesome deals on tomatoes & avocados. Summer BBQ holidays can yield good sales on chicken. Christmas often has lower prices on oranges & Cuties.

    Now Superbowl snack sales aren't such a good idea, but... :-)

    - 5/14/2016 9:49:26 AM
    I'm on a strict budget so there is no room for extras. - 3/8/2016 7:08:17 PM
  • I'm on a strict financial budget as well as a caloric budget so I go grocery shopping for what is essential, not what catches the eye. Moving is costly and moving across the country 3000km is even more costly! I have to save for what matters and what I might want, if not necessary, is not going to be purchased! I find I stick to my plan better if I don't have a list but carry it in my head because then I am focused on what I'm looking for rather than other things. I've switched from chips to nuts for snack food and bought lots of fresh veggies and fruits on my last shopping trip so I can make my own soups instead of using canned soups. - 3/7/2016 9:21:48 AM
  • I always tell myself if I want cookies, I have to put it on the list. If it's not on the list before I enter the store, I'm not getting it. Then as I pass by the cookies, I tell myself you can have them next week if you put them on the list. I never remember to. As long as I go to the store ALONE, I get only what's on the list. People in my house have been hunting for junk food that's not there. LOL! - 2/25/2016 8:57:30 AM
  • It helps that we plan our meals on a weekly basis so I know what I NEED to buy. I don't pass up bargains but don't get tempted by foods that are not healthy and might sit on the shelf at home - 2/20/2016 10:41:37 AM
  • I have learned to shop the outside shelves, when shopping. I do down to check out items, usually the outside shelves work for me. Today I needed to go shop just for meat, proud of myself, I just bought meat and nothing else. - 1/11/2016 4:46:35 PM
  • I quit clipping coupons when I realized the best ones were for the worst foods, and they started requiring multiple items. - 1/10/2016 1:49:07 PM
    My first principle in shopping: you can't eat it if you do not buy it. We managed 95% of the time not to buy it.
    My BIL sold to grocery stores chains for years. He taught me all the tricks of the trade years ago. We now go with a list and almost always stick to it. The only normal exception is when I find a bargain on good foods that I was not planning on getting. I do not ever go down the snack aisles.
    I do allow myself also to experiment with a new salad oil or vinegar right now or maybe a tasty sauce for meat.
    I have learned to read the labels and look for my :no-nos" like high fructuous corn syrup. It takes practice but it works. - 1/8/2016 10:07:57 AM
    I've been blessed with a great amount of will power (for the most part), but if I have to stop at the store on my way home from work, I usually have to do battle against the smell of fried chicken! But at least I'm prepared for it - which I think is a big part of winning the war! Then I can just run in for what I came for and head out again. No wandering around the aisles tempting myself. - 1/7/2016 10:28:59 AM
  • When you live a 30 miles from the major grocery stores you usually never leave home without a list and an idea of what you are going to make for the week. When a trip to the store includes an hour of driving time planning is important. Once a week is plenty for me.
    Also the tip to stay on the outside perimeter of the store keeps you in the fresh items area and less likely to buy premade items. - 1/7/2016 9:57:33 AM
  • It's no accident that, in my supermarket, the closest route to the produce leads through the bakery. Last time I went with a list, stuck to it, and was amazed to notice that about 90% of the displays were high calorie, low nutrient foods. - 1/7/2016 9:45:20 AM
  • I plan and use a list, but I also know what's healthy and what's not, I also know a good deal when I see it.
    If the green bean casserole ingredients are on the end cap I pick up a couple of cans of green beans cheap. They'll last a year.
    This week after the holidays, canned pumpkin was half price.. that is a great healthy food for soups, or pancakes. If you're smart about it and have room you can save money in the long run and have healthy meals.

    - 1/4/2016 11:46:44 PM

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