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5 Tips to Avoid Grocery Store Manipulation

Aisles are laid out in a way that could make you buy more unhealthy foods

grocery stores play tricks on you

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Nutrition experts advise shopping first at the perimeter of grocery stores, and delaying or avoiding the processed food aisles.

We've all done it. You go to the store with the best of intentions to buy healthy, but end up picking up a few "extras" in the form of processed foods and snacks as you go. But did you realize that the layout of the grocery store may be affecting your choices?

Stores are organized to get people to spend more money, and many of those purchases are for unhealthier food choices, dietician Christy Brissette writes for the Washington Post. Strategies employed by grocery stores include:

Carefully placed produce. Fruits and veggies are usually organized near the entrance of the store, which would seem like a positive. But Brissette says the placement helps you feel healthy about getting your produce, and then you are more likely to give into temptation and buy less-healthy products in other parts of the store. 

Ever-growing shopping carts. Stores are increasing the size of their shopping carts, making you more tempted to fill it up with impulse buys. 

Holiday cheer. While we all complain about seeing Christmas candy go up before the Halloween decorations have even come down, we are still likely succumbing to the ploy. By placing holiday candy out early, the stores are putting the idea in your head to get treats for the holidays. Even if you don't buy them right now, you will be more likely to grab them later. 

Scent marketing. The smell of a free sample of sausage cooking, or even the fake scents of pies or cookies that some stores pump through the air, will draw you to those sections of the store and make you hungry, increasing the likelihood that you will purchase something. 

Checkout aisle temptations. Easy grab and go food is usually placed here and buyers who have been healthy throughout the whole shopping trip may give into last-minute temptation. 

However, there are ways to avoid this marketing manipulation.

  • Never go grocery shopping while hungry; you will be more tempted to buy unhealthy products.
  • Plan your meals for the week, and write out a shopping list of healthy foods. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) offers a sample list to help you choose healthy foods and stay on a budget. 
  • Shop the perimeter of the store and avoid the center aisles that usually contain junk food, or save them for later when your cart is already full of more-nutritious food, nutritionist Lisa Young writes for HuffPost
  • Try filling your tummy and keeping your mouth busy by drinking water or chewing gum, nutritionist Leslie Bonci told the Today show. 
  • Stay away from free samples, which can encourage you to buy something that you normally wouldn't, and may increase your appetite for something salty or sweet while you are shopping, the Atlantic reports.  

Bonus shopping tip: If shopping for healthy foods is difficult where you live due to a lack of large grocery stores, try a Community Supported Agriculture group that allows you to buy in-season fruits and vegetables directly from farmers. The NIA recommends visiting the Local Harvest website to find a local CSA in your area.