Nutrition Articles

7 Secrets to Outsmart Your Supermarket

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

532SHARES
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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532SHARES

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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

  • The cheap supermarkets in my neighborhood each give out weekly pamphlets (digitally) for what's on offer, so I can make my lists accordingly. If I can I go shopping early in the morning, when there are no long queues; the waiting always seems to be amidst the tempting sweets, chips or beverages. - 6/27/2015 8:52:10 AM
  • I shop produce, meat, dairy on the edges of the store. I venture into the canned goods rarely these days for coffee, canned chilies (the green peppers for TexMex) and baking supplies for my own bread which I make from scratch to avoid preservatives for my family. Generally, I don't go over budget. - 5/5/2015 11:34:24 AM
  • Oh those enticing aromas from the bakery department really make me want those pastries and rolls! This is why my shopping cart cannot go there--- I avoid that department- period. I steer clear of the bakery zone! - 2/27/2015 3:14:18 PM
  • I don't agree with you Ethel! Of course we put bad food in our carts. It's us not the store doing it. I agree with you on that.

    I don't agree with healthy food not being tasty. I've made just as much delicious and tasty "health food" as I have junk food. I'll tell you what, the healthy stuff tastes a heck of a lot better. Does it taste like the candy and baked goods from the store, of course not. It's also not full of the carbs, calories and fats those have. You are entitled to your opinion but mine if my healthy snacks and foods taste just as good as the store made junk anyday! - 2/13/2015 11:38:05 AM
  • ETHELMERZ
    I'm not going to blame the store, good tasting things fall into my shopping cart because I WANT them there, it isn't the "clever marketing" really. Let's face it, so much of so called "healthy food" isn't that wonderful or extra tasty, that is why we eat the things we eat that are not so healthy. If healthy food tasted great and satisfied, we wouldn't need to be constantly nagged to eat it, as has been done for decades, to no real avail... face the truth of the matter. Do as best as you can, but don't blame the stores. - 1/30/2015 1:04:03 PM
  • I, too, have been doing this for awhile now. We have only one grocery store in my town and it's a big box. They spent five months remodeling the whole place and moved everything totally around. I'm sure they did that because they conducted the study you spoke about! Even though I had my list in hand, it took forever to find everything on that list. It forced me to look at everything they had in the store! Their mission was accomplished, I'm sure! Now that the remodeling is over, I'm still trying to figure out where things are. It's taking less time but it still forces me to look at things not on my list! Good thing I'm not all that tempted by the splashy displays and not into impulsive buying. I started a plan over a year ago to go over my grocery list two or three times before going to the store to make sure it only has what I need. I have found my grocery bill going down and less is going to waste! - 1/25/2015 9:09:27 AM
  • I've been doing this for awhile now and I love it. I hate going in the store, especially the big box. I save more time at a smaller grocery store, in and out quickly, after gathering my list. I stick to it too, because anymore will normally go to waste. If I don't have a plan for it, it most likely won't get used. I definitely see a drop in our the grocery bill weekly. - 1/25/2015 8:49:35 AM
  • Very good read. I hate shopping. Following this advice article will even shorten my time in the store! YEAH!!! - 11/1/2014 9:06:01 AM
  • JICAMA19
    I will never leave home without my shopping list. - 8/13/2014 8:41:14 PM
  • All really good suggestions. - 7/23/2014 6:31:23 AM
  • WBROWN205
    Aldi is where I shop and mostly use their own brands, and with a double your money back guarantee, I feel economically wise shopping here - 7/22/2014 10:55:43 AM
  • My mantras: "Buy what you USE, not what you need". and "A purchase made in anticipation of use is not an impulse purchase." PLUS all the good tips in the article and comments. - 11/21/2013 9:41:25 AM
  • I am always amazed at how Americans can't turn down anything free. Free samples are their weakness. When I'm in the grocery store and someone asks me if I want a free sample, saying "No thank you" makes their brain nearly explode from confusion.

    - 11/21/2013 9:33:00 AM
  • Great article! I use several of these tips, especially DO NOT SHOP WITH AN EMPTY STOMACH! For whatever reason, the few times I do so, I magically go about $20 over budget.

    End caps and the check-outs are a killer for me usually, but I've gotten better. Last week, I was able to say NO to both pumpkin-spice cookies and hot-chocolate cake mix. I felt like a total boss walking out of the store with my budget intact. - 11/21/2013 8:59:14 AM
  • I agree with AZURE-SKY. I go early in the morning and I go in the week. I don't like shopping on the week - 7/3/2013 8:30:27 AM

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