Here’s a shocker. The National Resource Defense Council estimates that we throw away 25 percent of the groceries we buy.
By eliminating wastage, a family spending $1,000 a month on groceries could save $3,000 a year.
So, how do you win the game at the grocery store?
Mr. Grocery Store bamboozles you all the time. He gets your money by appealing to your five senses and dawdling you all over the store. So here’s your sixth sense — your ESP for wise shopping.
Why big carts? Well, so you can buy more stuff. But if you buy less, the empty carts look like you didn’t spend much. Also, Mr. GS wants to slow you down because you will buy more. And which is slower, dodging other shoppers with a big cart or using an arm basket?
Have you noticed where the balloons, fresh flowers, bakery goods and produce are located in the store? Typically by the entrance. The pretty colors you see, the fruit you touch, the sweet blooms you smell and the samples you taste all suck you right in. Aaah, the aroma of baking bread.
To herd you around, Mr. GS often blocks the entrance which forces you over through the plants, the produce and the bakery goods. This blocking display is usually related to a special occasion — like chips and salsa for the Super Bowl. Well, hey, balloons, flowers, and fiesta food — looks like a party to me.
What’s that waxy stuff on vegetables? Mr. GS rubs goop on produce to prevent spoilage and to kill salmonella. But very important, he wants the produce to be shiny. Shiny things attract attention.
End caps can offer serious bargains. Sometimes, however, Mr. GS displays something here that is way too costly hoping that you won’t notice.
Other tactics: Mr. GS tries to keep you in the store longer with slow music. None of that Lone Ranger music to gallop you along. Also, grocery rows are long, pinpointing on the horizon. An interminable aisle chutes you past all kinds of tempting stuff. Can you guess where Mr. GS puts the most popular and most profitable items? Typically in the center section of the lengthy aisle. These items will be at eye level while cheaper brands, generics and store brands are typically on the top or bottom shelf.
The average grocery store offers 15,000 items. GS wants you to see them ALL. Now you know why the store does not provide you with a map showing where everything is. Since the No. 1 item purchased is milk, you can bet the diary case will never be near an entrance. My nearest store moved snack foods so far to the back corner that I needed binoculars to see them. No dashing in and out of the store to get a quick munchy.
Are free-sample foods offered solely to prompt the purchase of those specific foods? Not always. When you eat free samples at Costco, look at the time you waste going all over to find them. Studies show that tasting food increases what you spend by 15 percent.
Have you watched a blender demo at a big-box store? It costs too much. But, hey, you wasted time watching, and by golly you want to taste that fruit smoothie which disguises spinach. Hmmm, maybe you’d better buy a blender so the Child Protective Services won’t take your vegetable-starved kids away. And Costco laughs, too, because the demo slowed you down to a LONG stop.
What about 10 items for $10? No bargain. The price is the same for only one. The store prompts you to buy MORE. How many ears of corn have desiccated in my fridge because I fell for the 6 for $1.00 play? Ever been to the meat counter for a two-for-one sale? Look closely; the price for the first package is typically hiked way up. Have you noticed that a half gallon of ice cream is now only 1.5 quarts? Most yogurts are smaller than the original 8 ounces. GS sells the new smaller quantities for the same prices as the former larger amounts — and hope you won’t notice.
And look at the narrow checkout lanes. Candy, gum, and magazines are shoved in your face. Ever seen all the checkouts open at once? Nah. Slowing you down here promotes buying high-profit items. If the kids muck the goodies up enough, you’ll buy the candy out of shame. (Caveat: Don’t grocery shop with the kids.)
So now what? Have a good game plan. Inventory grocery store stuff you already have at home, plan your meals, shop with a list, know the layout of your grocery store — then get in and get out fast.
The saying is apt: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
You now have the ESP of grocery-store gamesmanship: Exploitation-Sensing Perception. So, Mr. Grocery Store, knowing your game plan makes for a level playing field. Score one for the shopper!
Linda Hutchings is a Gilbert resident and life-long frugal consumer — uh, cheap skate. Send her your penny-pinching ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.