Grocery Stores Exposed: The Secrets Supermarkets Don't Want You to Know
Even though Americans cook 50 percent less than they did in the ‘60s, frequent trips to the grocery store are still a fact of life. Although the trips may seem tedious, there's plenty of cost-cutting secrets and clever tricks in play to get as much of your money as possible — so you better perk up and pay attention.
Supermarkets are as calculating and manipulative as casinos at grabbing your dollars. Don't believe it? Check out these 30 secrets supermarkets don't want you to know before heading out for your next grocery haul.
Shopping Carts Are Filthy
This one should come as no surprise. Shopping carts are available at every grocery store, and almost every shopper uses one on their trip. The really disturbing part is when you stop to think about just how dirty these things really must be. Spoiler alert — they're filthy.
Conveyor Belts on the Checkout Line Are Gross, Too
Most checkout lines have conveyor belts that take your items to the cashier. But the next time you place your items on the belt, you may want to rethink your strategy. Conveyor belts at the checkout line are rarely — if ever — cleaned properly. They're made from petroleum-based PVC, which is porous and almost impossible to clean.
Checkout Aisles Are Tight So You Won’t Return Anything
Ever wonder why checkout aisles are so tight? They're not trying to make room for more lines by using extra small aisles. (All the aisles are never open at the same time, anyway.) Stores design checkout aisles to be tight so you won't have room to browse through your cart and second guess items.
Common Grocery Items May Be “Reconditioned”
Many major food distributors practice what's known as "reconditioning" to cut their losses. Reconditioning occurs when distributors turn imperfect, mislabeled or contaminated foods into edible goods. FDA regulations permit reconditioning as long as the process renders food safe for consumption.
Spraying Water on Produce Doesn’t Keep It Fresh
As you make your way over to the produce section, you probably notice the sprinkler system above the items. It's not to keep the fruits and vegetables in tip-top shape. Store owners simply know customers are more likely to choose produce that appears freshly misted.
Fruits and Vegetables Are Also Filthy
Shopping carts and conveyor belts aren't the only filthy things in grocery stores. If you're picking up any fruits and vegetables to add to your cart, consider wiping them down first. After all, you weren't the only person who touched those items today. Or yesterday. Or the day before.
Produce Is Always Near the Entrance on Purpose
Grocery stores have an interesting set up when you think about it. The entrance is the only area with windows, and the rest of the store is pretty clinical. Did you ever notice that every grocery store has produce displayed right by the entrance?
The Middle Aisles Typically Lack Healthy Options
Fruits and vegetables are the first things you see when you enter a store, but produce doesn't fill up your cart. The produce section accounts for only 10 percent of a supermarket's sales. The middle aisles, which are full of less nutritious items, make up 26 percent of sales.
Dairy Is Always Toward the Back of the Store
Ever wonder why the dairy section always seems to be farthest from the entrance? There are two simple reasons behind this move. Everyday dairy products like milk and cheese are grocery essentials for most shoppers. Store owners know this and deliberately tuck the dairy section in back to get shoppers to walk through the whole store.
Fish Are Regularly Mislabeled
Studies from nutritionists constantly tell people to add more fish to their diets. Although some fish do provide nutritional benefits, it can be a challenge to buy the fish you actually want. Mislabeling fish is a common practice in grocery stores across the country.
Expiration Dates Aren’t Taken Seriously
This is a rough one, but it's true: Expiration dates don't mean much to supermarkets. Potato chips and cheese will eventually go stale, of course, but meat and fish are trickier. These departments in supermarkets label items as they see fit. Expiration dates aren't mandated by federal law, so most states don't regulate labeling.
Coupon Books Don’t Always Offer Deals
A great way to save on groceries is to search for coupon books that offer the latest deals, but be careful when you do. The deals aren't always what they appear to be at first glance. In fact, those newspaper inserts aren't meant to save you money at all.
They Can Stay Open Even If They Fail Inspections
It's common knowledge that a restaurant shuts down immediately if it fails a health inspection, but that's not the case for supermarkets. Grocery stores do get inspected, but they aren’t completely shut down if they fail their health inspection.
Expensive Items Are Always Placed at Eye-Level
So, now you know why produce is by the entrance, but what about the items in the aisles? Here's where things get surprisingly competitive. You're more likely to buy the items you see first, so the most expensive items are usually at eye-level.
Children’s Items Are Also Placed Strategically
Kids items follow the same rule of thumb. They get placed at eye-level for little ones to see immediately. The most expensive regular macaroni will be at your eye-level, but Spongebob macaroni will be a few rows below.
Promotional Displays Can Be Purchased
Did you ever notice those eye-catching displays at the end of grocery aisles? The store manager didn't set them up because the product is amazing. Those big displays are set up in high traffic areas because they're paid for by food brands.
Big-Name Brands Pay for Primo Real Estate
Big food manufacturers aren't only paying for big displays at the ends of aisles. They're also paying for the prime real estate in the aisles at eye-level. That's right. Those name-brand items paid top dollar to be positioned at your eye-level.
Coupons in the Aisles Aren’t Always Deals
A good shopper is always on the hunt for a bargain, but beware. You already know that coupons from newspaper inserts may not offer actual deals. But there are other places where grocery stores offer coupons, like in the aisles. When you walk through the aisles, you may see tons of different "bargains" listed next to items.
Higher-Priced Items Are on the Right Side
Food manufacturers are always paying attention to consumers’ shopping habits. As Americans, we're used to driving on the right side of the road. At the same time, we also tend to give more attention to the right side of the aisle.
Colorful Packaging Makes Consumers Spend More
You already know that big-name brands sometimes pay to have their items placed at eye-level on the right side of the aisle. But they're not done trying to get your attention yet. They also know that you're drawn to bright, colorful packaging that captures your attention.
Background Music Plays a Role in Your Shopping
If you can train your eyes to dodge these tricks, then you can start thinking about your ears. That's right. Grocery stores use background music to alter your shopping habits as well. In a study from the American Marketing Association, down-tempo music makes shoppers move more slowly.
Flower Shops Are Strategically Placed Too
They may not focus on anything edible, but flower departments are common fixtures in grocery stores. Grocery stores are aware of the demand for flowers, so they often place flower departments at the front of the grocery store. This helps encourage more impulse purchases at the start and end of your trip.
A Quarter of Items Purchased Will Get Trashed
Almost 150,000 tons of expired food gets tossed out in U.S. households each day. That's according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture after analyzing eight years of food data. That equals about 24 percent of average weekly grocery purchases.
Fresh Baked Goods Aren’t Baked In-House
One of the most delicious sections of grocery stores is often one big lie. More often than not, those "fresh" baked goods lining the shelves arrived frozen on a delivery truck. There are exceptions to the rule, but if you're at the bakery counter, be sure to ask for the truth about the "freshly baked goods."
The Buffet Section Isn’t Very Fresh
Stay away from the salad bar! Of course, it can be tempting to snack on some items while you're shopping, but you may want to avoid chowing down. It's a common practice for grocery stores to prepare meals for their buffet bars using food that has to be eaten fast because it’s technically expired or about to expire.
The Freshest Items Are Always in the Back
When you're shopping for dairy products, who hasn't reached in the back of the fridge for the newest milk? Well, that same logic translates to almost every other item in the store. Products that are closest to expiration will almost always get put up front so someone will take them home.
Healthier Food Is Reserved for Wealthier Neighborhoods
If you're looking for healthy food options, where you live may determine your odds of finding it. Research suggests stores in economically challenged areas have less access to healthy foods than stores in wealthier areas. The study also found that produce tends to be of poorer quality in low-income areas.
Free Sample Stands Are an Investment
Everyone loves paying a visit to the "free sample" stand. You know who else loves the free sample stand? Grocery stores. Not only do these stands get you interested in the product, but they encourage you to buy more food.
Scanners Can Make Pricing Errors — And They Do
Once you've paid for your items, be sure to check your receipt. Even if everything has a barcode, items may not always ring up correctly. Sometimes a sale isn't honored, or the clerk may have charged you for the wrong produce. Mistakes happen, but uncorrected mistakes can add up!
Grocery Stores Are Just Like Casinos
Think about everything covered in this piece. Grocery stores lack windows, distract you with music and send you through a maze of colorful aisles. It's kind of like a casino, right? That's precisely the point.