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21 Things Grocery Stores Don’t Want You to Know

You're in a grocery store almost every week: How much do you know about what goes on in those aisles? These are the things your grocer would prefer to keep secret.

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They can be filthy

Your preferred market may appear well maintained—and it probably is. But considering how many shoppers shuffle through each department daily and handling the merchandise, the store is also a breeding ground for germs. "There is more than one reason why we're all taught to wash off our fruits and veggies before eating them," says Sam Morrison, a health and wellness expert for Glacier Wellness. "For starters, fresh produce is often handled by hopeful consumers to test for freshness. Besides removing pesticides, washing these items is a necessary step to clear the produce of countless microbes transferred from the hands of shoppers."

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Placement can be purchased

Eye-catching displays or prominent placement in stores may look like a store is really behind a particular product, but those spots have been paid for by food manufacturers. "As someone who helped get products into grocery stores," says health and wellness expert Elaine Wilkes, "a secret is that spaces and marketing dollars are paid for. For instance, end cap displays are purchased. Marketing dollars and demos are greatly encouraged. So, it may not be the product with the most taste or health, but the product with the most money." Check out how you can save money at the grocery store.

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Coupons don't always deliver deals

Thrifty shoppers love a coupon but read the fine print. "When you walk the aisles, you'll likely notice the brightly colored store coupons affixed to the shelves," says Kristin McGrath, editor and savings expert for "Scrutinize these carefully. Buy-one, get-one-half-off (or some other discount) coupons are often just a ploy to get you to buy something you weren't even shopping for. Automatic-discount coupons are a better bet. Getting a discount on a pricey name-brand item may still cost you more than a comparable off-brand item hidden a few shelves below."

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Floral departments are strategically placed

"The floral section is often placed at the front of the store to encourage impulse buys of fragrant bouquets, adorable potted succulents, and other gifts," says McGrath. "If the store can get you to place one of these items in your cart first—before you even start ticking items off your shopping list—chances are you'll end up buying it. So tune out the entire section, unless you are shopping specifically for flowers." These grocery shopping mistakes are wasting your money.

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Price matching can pay off

Stores don't often shout their price matching policies from the rooftops, so it pays to inquire with the market you most frequently shop. "If you buy groceries at Walmart or Target, take advantage of this little-advertised benefit," says McGrath. "Both stores will match prices listed on their websites if the online price is lower. Just note that the brand, quantity, and other details must match perfectly. It's easy to prove that the online price is lower. Just show the cashier the online price on your phone and ask for a price match."

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A quarter of what's in your cart may go to waste

Try as you might to eat everything in your fridge, a 2018 study by the European moving company Movinga shows that Americans have the highest level of food waste in the world. They estimate that 24 percent of our weekly grocery purchases end up in the trash. In a business with low-profit margins to begin with, grocery stores count on shoppers to purchase more than they will actually use. Find out which non-food grocery store items you should be buying.

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Background music plays a role in your shopping

Depending on the store you shop, music is used to play a subliminal role in your purchase choices. According to a study from the University of South Florida, loud music played in groceries leads to unhealthier food choices. The idea is that louder tunes stimulate stress, and that can drive impulse buys.

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Their sales cycle is predictable

The sales you find in your weekly grocery store flyer are no accident. Items are put on sale at scheduled times based on seasons, holidays, and other annual benchmarks. "If a consumer is looking to stock up on vegan plant-based milk, they would want to wait until Earth Day in April when all things organic and vegan are marked down to $1.99 or less as opposed to $3.99 or higher," says shopping expert Joy Hearn of Cards and Clips. Read about these smart ways to save at the grocery.

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Hold on to expired coupons

If you're a newspaper coupon-clipper, you may discard the expired ones. Hang on to them, instead, says Hearn: "Many grocery stores will accept expired coupons."

Empty shelves in store in Humble, Texas USA. Supermarket with empty shelves for goods.Trong Nguyen/Shutterstock

Learn your store's rain check policies

It's frustrating to find a bare shelf during your weekly bargain hunting at the grocery store, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're out of luck. "Nine times out of ten, grocery stores will offer consumers rain checks," says Hearn. "What the stores won't do is volunteer the number of rain checks you can get. While most of the time it is at the manager's discretion, many grocery stores will allow consumers up to five rain checks for a specific sale item."

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