23 February 2012 ~ Comments Off on How Supermarkets Conspire To Make You Fat

How Supermarkets Conspire To Make You Fat


And if it looks like you're going to make it to Produce, the staff starts a "crapslide." (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

(This is a guest post by Kim Lebb of TorontoFit.com. If you’d like to be a guest author on Pump Up Your Fitness, drop me a line.)

Running a supermarket isn’t easy. Customers are picky, competition is fierce, and margins are extremely tight. Because of this, supermarkets spend a fortune on sophisticated analytics and tracking in order to optimize the layout of their stores for maximum profitability.

One of the ways they do this is by using low-margin items as a means of attracting you to more profitable merchandise.
For a supermarket, the most profitable products are processed foods. These items have a long shelf life, relatively high margins, and manufacturers actually pay the supermarket to rent shelf space for their brands.

On the other hand, fresh produce, meat, and other perishables are very problematic for supermarkets:

  • Because there is no difference between a Michigan apple and a Massachusetts apple, produce items are said to be “commodities.” In other words, there are no brand names or other differentiators which add special value to these items. Because of their commodity status, produce items tend to have lower margins than branded items which are backed by marketing and promotions.
  • Perishable items like produce and meat must be sold quickly, otherwise they’ll expire or become damaged. As a result, there is a lot of waste and the profitability of perishable foods can vary widely depending on customer traffic or buying trends.

The ideal scenario for a supermarket, from a profitability perspective, would be to exclusively stock branded, differentiated, non-perishable food items. However, this would cause customer traffic to drop off because shoppers are primarily attracted to stores with high-quality meat, produce and other fresh goods.

Sneaky Marketing

So supermarkets have a dilemma: how to maximize the sale of processed, non-perishable foods without turning away the customers who are attracted to fresh commodity foods?

The solution to this problem is actually quite sneaky and very effective.

Nearly every supermarket you visit will be laid out in the same manner:

  • In the center, you’ll see shelves full of pop, cookies, snacks, canned foods, cereals, and all sorts of other processed junk. These are the most profitable goods for the supermarket to sell.
  • These shelves will be surrounded by a ring of healthy, fresh foods. Dairy, fruits, vegetables, bulk dry goods, meats, etc.

What you end up with is a large body of unhealthy food you must navigate around to get to the healthy food. Since the shortest route from one point to another is a straight line, this layout ensures that you’ll need to criss-cross through the processed food aisles many times during your trip.

This is no accident. Supermarket chains have spent millions in research to ensure that this layout is the most effective way to get unhealthy high-profit foods into the kitchens of consumers. In fact, many supermarkets also track their shopping carts using RFID tags to further improve this layout by gaining better insight into traffic patterns.

Healthy Shopping

If you want to eat healthy, the route you take through the supermarket will have a major impact on your nutritional buying decisions.

The best and simplest healthy-eating shopping advice you can follow is to walk around the exterior walls of the supermarket, and avoid the shelves in the center. This will maximize your chances of avoiding unhealthy processed foods.

For even better results, you should carefully plan your shopping list in advance and have a large meal before shopping. This will help keep you focused, and prevent you from being tempted by impulse purchases.

Remember, you can’t eat unhealthy foods at home if you don’t buy them in the first place. The decisions you make on your weekend supermarket visit will have a major impact on your eating habits for the rest of the week.

Kim Lebb is a fitness writer for TorontoFit.com, Toronto’s leading at-home fitness training and nutritional consulting company.

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23 February 2011 ~ Comments Off on Oatmeal: McDonald’s vs. Starbucks vs. You

Oatmeal: McDonald’s vs. Starbucks vs. You

Even the cartons are over-the-top.

Call them the “oatmeal wars.” Two major corporate titans, spending vast amounts of money to convince you the healthy, convenient answer to your breakfast problems is to stop in and buy a cup of oatmeal.

I’m currently sitting on a stack of free coupons McDonald’s and Starbucks have sent me in order to have me sample their new oatmeal offerings. Are they really healthy? Do they make it convenient to have a good breakfast?

Scratch “Healthy”

The first problem is that the oatmeal you’re getting from these food giants isn’t necessarily healthy. In fact, according to this NY Times piece, if you use the “healthy” fruit and “cream,” the McDonald’s oatmeal contains more calories than their regular hamburger! The article also points out that the “cream” has seven ingredients.

As for that fruit, it should be pointed out that dried fruit is essentially a fruit-flavored sugar lump, almost free of the fiber and nutrients that exist in non-dried fruit. All in all, this is “oatmeal” created in a lab.

The Starbucks oatmeal, on the other hand, can be had completely plain (although the “oatmeal” itself contains 13 ingredients), but who does that? To top it with the included accoutrements makes it even more carb-laden than the Mickey D’s version, despite a smaller size.

Scratch “Convenient”

Since we know these “healthy options” aren’t so healthy when fully dressed, surely the make-or-break selling point must be the incredible convenience. I mean, who has time to make a healthy breakfast at home?

Not so fast. (Pun intended.)

The time it takes to wait in line, order, pay and have it made probably total, what, 5 minutes when it’s not busy, more like 10 when it is. And if you have to drive to the joint, add a few more.

Just like the illusion of a healthy food product, these multinational corporations are selling the illusion of convenience. Here, let me show you how to get truly healthy oatmeal in a much shorter time.

Make Your Own Damn Oatmeal

Did you know that old-fashioned oatmeal cooks up in just 2 minutes in a microvave? “Quick” oats take even less time. Two minutes or less. Ronald and his peeps can’t beat that. Neither can Dr. Evil’s cash cow.

Instructions, should you need them:

  • Pour about a half-cup of oatmeal into a large microwave-safe bowl.
  • Cover the oatmeal completely with water. (You can adjust the ratio after the first time or two.)
  • Microwave it on high for 2 minutes or less. During this time you can continue getting ready for work, or just relax for a moment.
  • Remove (bowl will be hot!) and add anything you like. I recommend plain greek-style yogurt (protein!) and some water-packed fruit cocktail.

No time to actually consume it? Put it in a container to take with you, or just bring the ingredients to work and make it there. (If I really have to help you figure this out, McDonald’s might be for you after all.)

Using common sense, you can avoid unhealthy “healthy” foods and actually free up some time instead of waiting on line for “convenience.”

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18 November 2010 ~ Comments Off on The Healthiest Foods: Salmon

The Healthiest Foods: Salmon

The healthiest catch?

Let’s kick off our series on the foods you should be eating with the “king” of meats: wild-caught salmon. I can’t get enough of this “fatty” fish with its tender texture—and the raft full of nutrients in each serving doesn’t hurt either.

What is Salmon?

Salmon is a large fish with a unique lifecycle: born in fresh water streams, young salmon swim downstream to the sea, where they live most of their lives. after between one and four years, the mature fish return to the streams to spawn and ultimately die. Salmon live in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but the most sustainable wild salmon habitat is in the Gulf of Alaska.

Salmon Nutrition Facts

Salmon are packed with protein (18g in a 3oz serving), vitamin D (up to 90% of daily recommended value) and omega-3 fatty acids that can greatly reduce the risk of disease and boost immunity and brain function. In its wild-caught form it’s about the healthiest animal protein you can consume. Other nutrients in salmon include potassium, selenium and vitamin B12. However, farmed salmon is prone to a much higher mercury and PCB content, as well as diminished nutrients and flavor. Look for wild-caught Alaska salmon such as sockeye, king or chinook.

How to Eat Salmon

With a lighter taste than other fatty fishes, even my picky friends who can’t stand anchovy or mackerel love salmon. Grill it and serve with lemon and peppercorns for a natural flavor, bake and serve it with a sauce, or use it with pico de gallo in spicy tacos. Blackened, cooked with rosemary or fennel (use many of the same spices you would with chicken) or mashed and mixed into a sandwich filling, salmon is versatile.

Although salmon is more expensive than other fish, you get great bang for your buck: just a 3-ounce serving is enough to offer its nutrient benefits. You can buy it in bulk and freeze it until you need it—some stores even carry frozen salmon in individual portions, ready to thaw and use.

Other fatty, healthy fish you might try include mackerel, trout, herring, anchovy and tuna, but salmon leads the pack.

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