Grocery Store Confidential

Grocery marketers are spending more than ever to entice you to enter their stores, and the profit margins must be good because giant retailers Target and Wal-Mart are expanding existing stores to add food inventory. They are jumping into the food wars with established chains such as Kroger, Safeway and Aldi, all of whom compete by offering lower prices than stores like Whole Foods and Harris Teeter. However, whether you pay $5.00 for a loaf of bread at Whole Foods or $.99 at Wal Mart, you are in the Matrix, my friend. Here’s how to survive: When it comes to packaging, it’s what’s inside that counts. Food manufacturers are experts at packaging and merchandising their products to attract your attention. Companies pay a premium for shelf and endcap placement, which augments the scientifically-designed store layout. (Retailers study your buying habits, how you move through the store, where you linger and what you ignore.) So, high-profit and high volume items are featured throughout the store.

It is not a coincidence that many of these items are packaged in bright, attractive colors with sometimes iconic logos. However, you are buying food to nourish yourself, so ignore the billboard and read the black and white label. Here you will find the ingredients of the product listed in order of net weight. A good guideline for reading the ingredients list? If any type of sugar is listed in the top five ingredients, or if hydrogenated oil is on the list, or if there is a 15-letter word that looks like the name of a central Asian country, you may want to avoid putting that “food” into your mouth.

You can avoid being tempted by these kind of items if you make a grocery list. This list can be compiled throughout the week as items in your pantry run low. On shopping day, pick a couple of recipes to make (freeze for later if you’re cooking for one) and add the ingredients to the shopping list. Sticking to this list can keep you from the impulse purchases the Grocery Man wants you to make.

Once you’ve got your buggy (that’s a cart for you Yankees) do not be hypnotized by the slow, pop music (think that’s an accident?), the bright packaging (but it’s so shiny), the pretty floral section (I am in the dog house) and the smell of something yummy coming from the deli/bakery (cookies!). Focus your attack on the perimeter of the store where you’ll find fruits, vegetables, lean cuts of meat and seafood and other healthy choices. If you have to navigate the inner aisles, your list will help you avoid temptation. And no, don’t look because you’re going to want to touch!

Finally, shop during off-peak hours. When the grocery store is less crowded you naturally feel more relaxed and less likely to indulge in spontaneous purchases, which can add up on your bottom line and your bottom. Of course, you can still park on the far end of the lot and walk.