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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