Food shopping when you’re trying to create new healthy eating behaviours can be a real challenge. If you weren’t already aware, it is no coincidence how supermarkets lay out their items, everything is designed right down to the last detail to ensure that you are tempted to buy more; extra tricky when you’re trying to resist temptation in the first place!
Psychologist Paco Underhill has said that upward of 50% of what we buy in a supermarket we had no intention of buying. So what tricks do supermarkets use to encourage us to enter a shop looking for one item and leave having bought 20, and how can we avoid doing so?
Spreading the essentials
You may or may not have noticed but common essentials such as bread, milk, egg etc are never normally found close to each other or at the shop entrance. This is so that you will wander through the aisles exposing you to other tempting items – not just what you came for.
Once you know where your usual buys are in your local supermarket, it could be easy to do your shop on auto pilot which is why supermarkets will regularly rearrange the store – they want you to get lost as the more you wander around, the more products and offers you come across.
Spoilt for choice
The average supermarket has 64,000 items meaning you would have to eat / use more than 175 different products everyday for a year before you had used them all once.
Because we are overwhelmed with choice we can easily fall into ruts of buying the same unhealthy options just because it is easier than rooting round trying to find new, healthy, good value items. We can easily become seduced by ease and end up ‘eating out at the supermarket’ where we’re attracted to the simplicity of a ready meal despite its high sugar and salt content.
Research has found that our prefrontal cortex; the part of the brain which weighs up choices and makes decisions, can only handle around 7 pieces of information at a time. When you enter a supermarket you are overwhelmed with choices meaning you are more likely to revert to your normal risk-adverse food choices.
Supermarkets know that we are more likely to pick items in our eye-line out of ease. Next time you go food shopping, try to hunt for the cheapest tin of baked beans. They will either be up high or on the bottom shelf as the shop is encouraging us to buy the premium brand products placed in the middle shelves.
One exception to this is children’s products such as sugary cereals which include bright popular characters in their packaging. These are placed at mid-thigh level so that they grab the attention of the child shopping with their parent and in effect the child then does the persuasion.
Offers and deals
You may think that at the end of an aisle is where you’ll find a good offer or deal when in fact it might be that the regular price is just displayed as if it’s a great deal, when you could actually find cheaper if you took the time to go to the correct aisle. We may not necessarily read or notice the particular deal, we are just aware that deal activity is going on.
Marketers have really mastered the art of getting you to buy things that you don’t need through clever deals, in your face offers and bright packaging. It has got to the stage where many of us are buying into a product not due to the fact we need it to give us the correct nutrients and calories, but because we like the packaging and believe we are making a significant saving.
Good first impressions
As you enter a supermarket you will see a bright display of flowers, colourful fruit and vegetables and it is likely the bakery is close to the door so that you can smell freshly baked bread to start the feelings of hunger. Some supermarkets even use wooden crates to make their fruit and vegetables look as if they have arrived directly onto the shelves from the field. This is all part of the ploy to get you in a positive mental state and make you feel hungry so that you buy more things.
At one time or another you may have seen a member of staff stood at the end of an aisle offering tasters of a particular product. The aim isn’t always to get you to buy what you have tasted, but to make you hungry so that you will buy more in general.
Choosing packaged products
You might see a product, for example a cereal bar, that has healthy looking green packaging and a promoted benefit such as gluten free / sugar free. However reaching for these types of products thinking we are making a good food choice is referred to as the health-halo effect. Just because a cereal bar may list one health benefit doesn’t mean that the product is healthy as a whole. Foods that claim to be low fat may replace the missing fat with sugar, so make sure you are wary of such promotions.
Ideal Weight’s 8 top tips for a healthy supermarket trip
Shop online to resist the smells, positioning and feel of the supermarket designed to make you buy more.
Make a list – and stick to it!
Eat before you go so hunger doesn’t impact your choices.
Don’t take your children so you’re not tempted into buying eye-catching sugary products that you may also end up eating.
Try to get in and out quickly whilst still giving yourself time to scan for healthy food at a good price.
Remember to be more focused and aware of your surroundings.
Stick to BOGOF and discounted individual items rather than complicated offers where you probably aren’t saving any money.
Do not fall into the trap of feeling you deserve the chocolate bar placed by the checkout as a reward for getting a big food shop over and done with!