What You Need To Know About Grocery Store Marketing, Nutrition Labels and More

Nutrition Label

Grocery shopping is a chore almost everyone has to do. Whether you go to the store weekly, every day, or once a month, it can be tricky navigating the stores to make purchases that are healthy and cost effective. Below are tips for an educated grocery shopping experience.

If It Says It’s Healthy, It’s Probably Not

When walking down the aisles at your supermarket, you are bombarded with marketing tricks from all angles and products. Before buying something based on the claims the label makes, ask yourself if the claims seem plausible. For example, do you really think that a sugary cereal is good for you, or that the soda is really “natural?” Ask yourself why a manufacturer would put these claims on their labels. The answer is always the same: They want to make money.

Food manufacturers know that most people want to eat bad food because it tastes good, but they also want to eat healthy. Because of this, they’ve come up with a solution that solves your problem: They lie. They make claims that your favorite foods are good for you in some way so that you won’t feel guilty about buying them. Think about it. Would you buy something if the label said “filled with chemicals that will cause disease?” You’d definitely think twice. So, instead, they’ve come up with ways to make you think you’re buying something healthy, even though you’re not.

The solution? Buy food without labels. You’ll never see claims that an apple is healthy, or that carrots are high in fiber. Fish isn’t labeled as heart healthy, and greens aren’t labeled as one of the most nutritious foods you can eat, but they are. If you care about nutritious foods, do your research and make your own decisions; don’t let a company with a moneymaking agenda do it for you.

Everything is Designed to Get You to Spend More Money

Everything a grocery store does is because they want you to spend more money.  Nothing is overlooked, from where food is placed to the lighting, to the smells, and even the width of the aisles. Think about that the next time you grab a candy bar from the checkout line. Would you buy that candy bar if you had to walk to the other end of the store to get it? If not, you probably shouldn’t buy it.

The solution? You can’t change what the grocery store does, but you can be very aware of what you’re spending. Spend the time to make a detailed list before you head to the store, and then stick to it.

Zero Grams of Fat Doesn’t Mean Zero Grams of Fat

Due to labeling laws, food manufacturers are allowed some leeway when labeling foods. This means that if you’re trying to avoid certain ingredients, like say, trans fats, you’ll need to do more than simply look at how much the label says is really in it. Depending on the ingredient, if something has less than one gram of fat, sugar, or salt, the company may be able to label it as zero. While this may not seem significant, it can add up if every product you buy has trace amounts of things you don’t want to eat, especially if you eat more than one serving at a time.

The solution? Always read more than just the nutrition label. Read the ingredients list and learn the names of common ingredients. For example, if an ingredients list has the words “partially hydrogenated” in it, it contains trans fats, even if the label says zero. Don’t trust anyone else with you and your family’s health.

The Longer You Stay in the Store, The More Money You’ll Spend

Think your grocery store just put in a full service Starbucks because they want you to have a nice place to sit and relax before a stressful shopping session?  Not a chance. They know that statistically, the longer you’re in the store, for any reason, the more money you’ll spend. Even if it’s just for a few minutes while you walk to the back of the store to grab a gallon of milk, they know that most people will pick up something on the way.

The solution? Make a plan to get in and out as quickly as possible. You might think you’re just getting coffee from Starbucks, but while you’re there you may see or think of something you think you need. Make a list before you go, and don’t go down aisles that you know you don’t need anything from.

Damaged Goods Are a Reality

Food comes into the grocery store looking perfect and pretty, but they get damaged as they sit on grocery store shelves. Eggs crack, fruit rots, and bread gets squished. Part of this is from other customers; some of it is just time taking its toll. Stockers do their best to remove damaged items when they see them, but with so many items, they are bound to miss some.

The solution? Check your items before you go to the checkout. Open your egg cartons, look carefully at your produce to check for squishy or discolored spots. Bagged fruits like lemons or onions may contain mold, so feel around and look for spots that may spread. Watch your groceries being bagged to make sure items like bread or chips aren’t packed at the bottom only to end up damaged when you get home.

Bulk Purchases May Not Always Save You Money

Bulk purchases are a great way to save money on dried goods like grains, nuts, or dried fruit if they come from bulk bins, but larger packages of foods don’t necessarily mean savings.

The solution? Price tags always have the per ounce price on every product that has a label or packaging. This is the best way to understand if something is cheaper. Don’t limit this to just food products; look at items like toothpaste, medicine, and shampoo as well.

Those Scanners Aren’t Always Accurate

Grocery stores stock hundreds of thousands of items at a time, and products are constantly being added or discontinued. Prices also change a lot due to sales or seasons. This means a lot of scanning, tagging, and scanning again, and you can end up paying more for a product than you think.

The solution? Pay attention carefully to prices as your groceries are being scanned. If you notice anything you don’t think is right, notify the cashier before paying the bill. You might not know the prices of every item you buy, but if something comes up significantly different than what you thought, ask for it to be checked.

Convenience Comes at a Price

Walk through the produce section of your grocery store and you’ll see everything from sliced apples, to peeled onions, to foil wrapped baked potatoes, all with part of the prep work done for you. Before you start picking up those convenience items, you should understand that you will pay a premium for such conveniences. In some cases, it can be very high. A foil wrapped potato can cost you almost $2 per potato compared to that same price per pound. It should also be considered that that pre-prepped produce may have been prepped because it’s about to go bad, which means you’re paying a premium for product that’s not as fresh.

The solution? Compare prices for what products cost whole compared to chopped, wrapped, peeled, or diced. If it’s insignificant or something you absolutely hate doing, it may be worth the cost. Cubing a butternut squash for example is much more difficult than slicing an apple and may be worth the cost. Of course, if buying already chopped and prepared produce is the only way you’ll eat more vegetables, then by all means, buy them. Make decisions based on your preferences, but be aware that you definitely are paying more.


Grocery shopping is a fact of life for most people, and it can be difficult to figure out the best buys in terms of both health and budget. By understanding why grocery stores do some of the things they do, you’ll not only eat better, but save money as well.

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