Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why Shouldn't We Shop EVERY Aisle of the Supermarket?

One of the favorite rules of thumb for avoiding temptation at the grocery store is shopping around the perimeter; you know, sticking to the fresh produce and newly baked bread on the outer edges, and staying out of those aisles right in the middle where they keep the Oreos and Hamburger Helper.

Except that they're onto us. I'm not the first one to note that salad dressings heavy in fats, sweeteners, and all-around grossness have migrated to the edges of the supermarket where they live in harmony with the lettuce they accompany on your plate. There's no doubt that this is convenient. If you're looking to make a salad, you only need to shop in one aisle and you're done. No chance of forgetting anything.

This isn't a new technique, either. We see salsa and tortilla chips in the same aisle, even though they have few if any common ingredients. Spaghetti and tomato sauce, flour and chocolate chips.

How about lemons and seltzer water?

I get a lot of raised eyebrows when I assert that seltzer water is delicious. People think it's everything from boring to too bubbly to I don't even know what else. Personally, I think it's a great soda alternative. It's got that carbonated bite to stop regular water from being boring, without tasting too sweet or leaving that fuzzy coating on your teeth. And it comes in so many different flavors!

But if you want to get a little more nutrition out of sparkling water, and some real richness and authenticity to your flavoring, slice up some real fruit in there.

Not that that's something anyone's going to think to do in the grocery store. It's maddening enough to remember to get milk to go with your mac and cheese, and those non-food items that still have to be taken into account, like toothpaste.

But what if there were one of those darling little wooden boxes full of limes next to the seltzer water?

At my local grocery store, a twelve-pack of twelve-ounce cans of Coke goes for $5.69, and the same amount of Polar Seltzer is available for only $4.39. You can get three limes for a dollar. If each lime slices into four pieces, that's twelve lime seltzers with maybe even some naturally occurring Vitamin C thrown in for a few cents less than twelve Cokes.

What if supermarkets featured a recipe of the week in this way? It would have to start with local and/or health focused grocery stores of course, but what if they featured a recipe from a local restaurant, say, and grouped those ingredients together, along with recipe itself? Trader Joe's does something like this with its Fearless Flyer, a pamphlet every shopper can pick up on their way into the store that introduces some of their featured products and how to cook them in conjunction with each other. Trader Joe's also has a guacamole kit consisting of a pre-packaged grouping of all the ingredients you need to make the dip.

We've proven that in addition to lack of money and time, one of the big thing standing between the average American and healthy, home-cooked meals is a lack of knowledge. What if these subtle suggestions and shortcuts inspired people to try new recipes while making it more convenient for them to buy all the necessary ingredients? And tricking us into buying healthier food at the same time without even thinking about it? It would certainly keep sales high for the stores, just maybe not on the thing brand-name items that typically get the most marketing.  What do you think? Could this work? Do you frequent a grocery store that does something like this? What do you like about it?


  1. I looooove Polar Seltzer, but I didn't before I moved to Worcester. Now its probably what I drink the most (and I get that same look from people when I tell them how good it is haha).

  2. The sign should read Welcome to Worcester, birthplace of Dr. Robert Goddard, father of modern rocketry AND ALSO THIS AWESOME INFLATABLE POLAR BEAR!