CARVILLE: Grocery store secrets |

CARVILLE: Grocery store secrets

Phil Carville
Fitness Columnist

You’re about to enter the grocery store to grab a few things for dinner. Your decision is ‘how to grab a few things’ when there are 35,000–50,000 distinct items in the store.

There are too many choices. Where are the healthy items and where is the junk?

There are some clever secrets involved in grocery store layout. Let’s dig into the mystery.

Guiding Principle

The merchandising principle is to get you to buy (and therefore eat) more food, not less – which is one of the reasons that our nation is so overweight. Two-thirds of what we buy, we had no intention of buying when we entered the store, according to numerous consumer studies.

Supermarkets encourage such behavior. But how do they do it? The secret is in the location of the departments.


Flowers are just inside the entrance because flowers enhance the image of a store. You pass by the flowers… pretty… smell great. They build the notion of “freshness” and promote the impression that the food is also fresh.


Usually the produce is immediately beyond the flowers. Stores need to communicate to shoppers that the produce is fresh… or people won’t buy it. You felt good about the fresh flowers and now the carryover effect is that the “produce is fresh.”


Usually in a corner beyond the entrance. The baked goods are glistening and tempting… they get the salivary glands going and that makes you feel hungry. The hungrier you are the more food you will buy.

Dairy, Eggs and Meat

Usually these essentials are in the back of the store. The ‘layout’ wants to draw you to the farthest reaches of the store and expose you to the maximum number of products along the way. The ‘layout’ walks you through the aisles of processed and junk foods, hoping that you are tempted to buy something that you had no intention of buying when you entered the store.


Usually deep in the store or on the perimeter near the exit. The ‘layout’ knows that you are filling a prescription and will need to wait. While waiting you may wander the store and may put more items in your basket.

Shelf Location

The placement of items on store shelves is not random. Let me explain.

The top shelf (6-feet or higher) contains small brands, regional items and gourmet brands. These give “tone and texture” to the shelf layout. They usually do not have large budgets to pay for more favorable placement.

The “Bull’s-Eye Zone” are the second and third shelves from the Top. Brands that sell the best are right in your line of sight and the manufacturers’ pay for this favorable placement. The store places the higher-priced or higher markup items in the “Bull’s-Eye Zone.” Secondary brands often purchase placement here hoping to benefit from proximity to premium brands.

The “Kids’ Zone” is the shelf level where kids can grab products. Studies have shown the adults shopping with kids spend 10–40 percent more that was intended. Kids grab balloons, candy, fructose-laced juice, et cetera.

The bottom shelf is for store and other private-label brands, oversize and bulk items – easy to see because of large labels and easy to store because bulk items are awkward to place anywhere except on the bottom shelf.

Be Smart

We could go on and on with other departments: impulse items, ATM, deli and coffee bar, endcap displays, et cetera. But you get the picture by now – it is a carefully constructed ‘shopping maze.’

The American grocery store is a marvel of food production, logistics, presentation and efficiency. You can buy healthy or unhealthy foods there. The choice is yours.

Remember, the healthiest foods are located on the perimeter aisles of the store. The ‘layout’ wants you to walk to the far reaches while exposing you to the temptations (candies, processed foods) in the interior aisles.

Remember what Michael Pollan said, “Don’t eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

Phil Carville is a co-owner of the South Yuba Club. He is happy to answer questions or respond to comments. He can be reached at

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