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29 Things Your Grocer Won’t Tell You

Get smarter about grocery shopping. These tips could change your family shopping—and eating—habits.

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 What your grocer isn’t telling you

Whether you know them by name, or it’s your first time in a new grocery store, those workers with colorful smocks and name tags aren’t about to spill all their best kept, on-the-job secrets. Luckily, Reader’s Digest was able to convince a few experts to fill us in on what the people behind the scenes know about grocery shopping.

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If you hate crowds and lines…

…shop at dinnertime (5 to 9 p.m.) or even later. Only 4 percent of shoppers hit the aisles between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. The least crowded day of the week? Wednesday.

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 Get it while it’s fresh

Go ahead and reach way back for the fresh milk. Everybody does. Here’s the real reason grocery stores put the milk all the way in the back of the store.


 Save time…and money

Coupons with a bar code are easy to scan. The other ones take an eternity. But if you’re willing to wait, be our guest.


 Wacky produce lovers, be warned

That star fruit has been here a lot longer than the broccoli. Familiar produce turns over more quickly than exotic things. Here’s the truth about why your grocery store sprays the produce.


 The more products you see…

…the more you are likely to buy. That’s why the aisles are so long and the milk is usually in the far corner. Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat.  Here are some more supermarket tricks you probably fall for.

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 Like employees with a good attitude?

Shop at chains that are employee-owned, suggest customer-satisfaction surveys. When employees have a stake in the profits, it shows in their attitude. These are the 10 jobs that have the happiest workers.

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 Don’t be a “grazer”

The “grazers” order food at the deli, eat it as they’re shopping, and get rid of the wrappers before they check out. We also call that stealing.

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 I’m not just selling groceries…

…I’m selling real estate. Look high and low—literally—for good values from smaller manufacturers who can’t afford to stock their products in the eye-level sweet spot. Plus, consider just making these 14 overpriced grocery store foods at home.


 Pint-sized consumers

We’re marketing to your kids too. That’s why we put the rainbow-colored cereals and other kiddie catnip at their eye level.

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Be wary of “specials”

When people see signs with numbers—8 for $10!” or “Limit: 5 per customer”—they buy 30 to 100 percent more than they otherwise might have. Here are some secrets that’ll help you save money the next time you grocery shop.

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The baby formula is locked up because…

…thieves resell it on the black market. Ditto for the cough and cold medications, smoking-cessation products, razor blades, and batteries. Here’s what you should know if you grocery shop online.

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What not to buy

Don’t buy anything with more than five ingredients (too processed), with ingredients you can’t pronounce (too processed), with anything artificial (tastes bad), with a cartoon on it (direct marketing to children), or with a health claim (misleading). Marion Nestle.

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 Watch your wheels

Driving your Ferrari to the Piggly Wiggly and want to avoid shopping-cart dents? Park far, far away. Here are some more driving etiquette rules you should definitely be following.


Card conundrum

Very few people really like the “loyalty card” program, and it’s expensive for us to run.

Rotten-fruitGabor Tinz/Shutterstock

 How much goes to waste

You’ll end up tossing 12 percent of what you buy. Yikes! Here are some tips to cut back on food waste (and save money, too).


Attention, shoppers

Don’t start your shopping just as we’re closing. We just want to leave. It’s been a long day.

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The truth about bags

Paper? Plastic? We don’t really care. But asking us to double-bag…that’s just wasteful. Here are some more super simple ways to live a little greener.

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Supermarket supervisors

The person who supervises it all has a tough job; they’re just a big babysitter.

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How to find the fresh fruit

Dig and reach for the freshest produce. Older merchandise gets pushed to the front of the bin and spread across the top to encourage customers to take it first. Speaking of older merchandise, here’s the gross truth about the apples you’re buying at the supermarket.

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Sticky bottles? No, thank you

Bring back your recyclable cans and bottles, but please rinse them out first.  Leaving soda inside is unsanitary, and we find it disgusting.


This isn’t a social service agency

The purpose of grocery stores is to get you to buy more food, not less. Marion Nestle   Only 14 percent of consumers overall stick to just the items on their shopping list. Can you guess how men and women handle grocery lists (and five other aspects of grocery shopping) differently?


Know the signs of a store in trouble

They include: stocking fewer perishable items, storing non-perishables in refrigerated cases to make them look full, and “dummying up” shelves with empty boxes. If we were offering the best prices and highest quality, wouldn’t there be more people shopping here?

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Don’t get sucked in

Watch out for gimmicks. They are intended to get you into a store more frequently and to keep you away from competitors. These are the grocery items that you’re definitely better off not buying in bulk.


Eyeing the express lane? Use common sense

If you get in the 10 items or less line with 25 items, don’t be surprised if you are asked to leave. If you have 12 items, not many people will care.

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Not feeling so thankful

Thanksgiving is our least favorite holiday. This is the worst day of the year to do your Thanksgiving grocery shopping (it’s not what you’re expecting).

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That cart’s not so clean

Watch those shopping-cart handles. They’re covered in bacteria, says food-safety consultant Jeff Nelken. Use a sanitary wipe if the store provides them. Finicky shoppers can even patronize supermarkets that send their carts through a cart wash.


I’m not getting rich here

After-tax net profit for the grocery industry is less than 2 percent, and by the end of 2013, the Food Marketing Institute, an industry group, predicts annual average wages will be just $18,000. Here’s the truth about what the 15 most common jobs in America pay.


Skip the center aisles…

…that’s where you’ll find the junk food, like sodas and snack foods.

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Check sizes

Manufacturers are constantly trying to repackage things to make them sound like a better deal,” says David Livingston, a supermarket industry consultant. “Some new peanut butter containers may look the same, but look closely and you’ll see they actually have less peanut butter inside. Ninety-five percent of customers don’t watch this kind of stuff.” For more food secrets, learn the ones your fast food worker won’t tell you.

Sources: Maurice Nizzardo, former supermarket executive in Connecticut; David J. Livingston, an industry consultant; Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating; and others.

Adam Bluestein
Adam Bluestein writes about people and companies at the forefront of innovation in business and technology, health care, life sciences, sustainability, food, and the arts. His works have appeared in Reader's Digest, Fast Company, Inc., Men's Journal, and Proto, among other publications.