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25 Supermarket Tricks You Probably Never Knew About

Food experts, industry analysts, and store employees share their insider strategies on how to save money and stay healthy while shopping at the supermarket.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.

Employee in general store weighing sliced meat in kitchenheshphoto/Getty Images

In my experience, food safety is the biggest priority…

“…especially when it comes to produce. Employees were required to sterilize cutting boards every four hours; they had to fill out a cleaning log each time the boards were washed. Some employees would try to get out of doing the dirty work, so it was my job to pop into the department throughout the day and check the log.” —Linda King, former store and department manager for a Connecticut chain 

Entrance of grocery store.Katrina Wittkamp/Getty Images

We’re very aware of the role that the senses play in marketing

“When you walk in the door, you smell bread baking or rotisserie chicken roasting in the deli area because we know those smells get your salivary glands working. When you’re salivating, you’re a much less disciplined shopper.” —Paco Underhill, consumer expert and author of What Women Want: The Science of Female Shopping 

RELATED: This Is the Grocery Store with the Best Reputation, According to a Poll

Shopping-cartKzenon/Shutterstock

It’s no accident that shopping carts are getting bigger

“We doubled their size as a test, and customers bought 19 percent more.” —Martin Lindstrom, marketing consultant and author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy

RELATED: Here’s the Difference Between Grocery Stores and Supermarkets

soda cans from aboveAndreasWeber/Getty Images

The more people buy, the more they consume

“If you used to buy a six-pack of soda and drink six cans a week but now buy a 12-pack because that’s the current standard size, you’re probably going to start drinking 12 cans a week. Be mindful when buying larger sizes to make sure your habits don’t change as a result.” —Jeff Weidauer, former supermarket executive and vice president of marketing for Vestcom, a retail services company 

woman checking prices in grocery storeGranger Wootz/Getty Images

The average consumer tends to remember the price of only four items

“Milk, bread, bananas, and eggs. Ninety-five percent of shoppers have no idea what all the other items cost and don’t know if they’re getting a good deal when they buy them.” —Martin Lindstrom 

Full Frame Shot Of Vegetables For Sale In MarketAliaksandra Ivanova/Getty Images

The produce department is at the front of the store because…

“…its bright colors put you in a good mood and inspire you to buy more. That’s why I recommend that you start shopping in the middle of the store, with its bland boxes and cans.” —Phil Lempert, grocery industry expert and editor of supermarketguru.com

RELATED: Here’s How Long Your Fresh Produce Will Really Last

woman removing food from grocery check out lineMaskot/Getty Images

Over 60 percent of shoppers off-load products as they check out

“So supermarkets started making checkout lanes narrower, with less shelf space, which means it’s harder to ditch goods at the last minute.” —Martin Lindstrom

RELATED: 11 Stores That Have Grocery Delivery and Pickup

women carrying full shopping basket in grocery storeJackyenjoyphotography/Getty Images

We let you linger…and it’s good for business

“Customers would tell me as they went through the checkout, ‘I just stopped in to get eggs,’ and they would have $250 worth of stuff.” —Jason Swett, former bagger and cashier at a grocery store in Kalamazoo, Michigan

RELATED: 13 Things You Need to Know Before Grocery Shopping Online

At the Supermarket: Stylish African American Guy with Headphones Chooses Products in the Frozen Goods From the Fridge and Puts them into Shopping Basket.gorodenkoff/Getty Images

To save money, wear headphones and listen to upbeat music as you shop

“Many stores play music with a rhythm that’s much slower than the average heartbeat, which makes you spend more time in the store—and buy 29 percent more.” —Martin Lindstrom 

Sales assistant removing dollars from cash registerPeter Dazeley/Getty Images

Kroger uses heat sensors…

“…to track where people are in the store to determine when there’s likely to be a rush of shoppers to the checkout counters so that they can get cashiers to the front in advance.” —Jeff Weidauer

CashierMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Please have your money or credit card ready at checkout

“Some stores time each transaction. If you take too long, we get in trouble.” —Aimee Brittain, former grocery cashier, prettyfrugaldiva.com

RELATED: 20 Supermarket Shopping Secrets from America’s Top Grocery Stores

Generous people helping to poor peoplemixetto/Getty Images

Most grocery stores have a budget for supporting local causes…

“…and are interested in being a part of the community. So if your school is having a fund-raiser, don’t forget to talk to your nearby store.” —Jeff Weidauer

Senior man shopping in supermarketferrantraite/Getty Images

People believe milk is located in the back of the store…

“…so that they have to walk through the aisles to get to it. But the real reason is simple logistics. Milk needs to be refrigerated right away; the trucks unload in the back, so the fridges are there so that we can fill the cases as quickly and easily as possible.” —Jeff Weidauer

asian female buy washing powder in supermarketdowell/Getty Images

About 80 percent of what shoppers buy, they buy every week

“Keep your receipt, which shows the item and the price you last paid, so you can tell when something is on sale. That’s when you should stock up.” —Phil Lempert

RELATED: Here’s Where to Find the Best Deals at Your Grocery Store

ProduceArina P Habich/Shutterstock

We recycle the vegetables and fruits that don’t sell in time…

“…by using them in our prepared foods.” —Bradley McHugh, meat manager and deli clerk for an independent grocery store in Ohio

Canned-tunaTY Lim/Shutterstock

The ten-for-$10 promotion is one of the most effective

“When a store does it, volume takes off, even if the promotion raises the price of something. We’ll take an 89-cent can of tuna and mark it “ten for $10,” and instead of buying six cans for 89 cents, people will buy ten for $10.” —Jeff Weidauer

RELATED: This Is Why You Actually Should Go to the Grocery Store When You’re Hungry

woman looking through coupons in the grocery storeAMR Image/Getty Images

Just because something is advertised in your grocery store circular…

“…doesn’t mean it’s on sale. There’s a whole lot in there that’s full price.” —Teri Gault, grocery savings expert and CEO of thegrocerygame.com

Side view of man walking with cart while looking at breads in supermarketMaskot/Getty Images

If we’re having a sale on a baked item…

“…and you don’t need it until the next month, ask if you can buy it now, during the sale, but not pick it up until your event. We let people do that all the time. They bring back their receipt a month later and get their order.” —A cake decorator in an Ohio grocery store

Bakeryhurricanehank/Shutterstock

If you see something in the bakery…

“…or meat department that will expire the next day, say, “Hey, this is expiring tomorrow. Are you going to mark it down?” A lot of times, they’ll mark it down for you right then. You’re really doing them a favor, since they have to unload it anyway.” —Teri Gault

RELATED: 15 Supermarket Foods That Legitimately Last for Years

Grocery-clerkStokkete/Shutterstock

There’s a lot that grocery store employees will do for you if you just ask

“The butcher will tenderize meat for you, the baker will slice a loaf of bread, and the florist will usually give you free greenery to go with your loose flowers. At some stores owned by Kroger, the seafood department worker will even coat your fish in flour or Cajun seasoning and fry it up for free. I couldn’t believe it the first time they did that for me.” —Teri Gault

Portrait of happy mature employee at wholesaleFG Trade/Getty Images

Is there a product you want that the store doesn’t carry?

“Talk to the manager. A lot of today’s supermarkets will special-order things for you. They’ll even arrange to bring something in for you on a regular basis.” —Jeff Weidauer

RELATED: 14 Things Nutritionists Always Do At the Grocery Store (That You Might Not)

Freezer cases in supermarketMint Images/Getty Images

If you can, shop when the store is not busy

“Studies show that most consumers buy more when the store is crowded because they subconsciously want to be part of the group. Mondays and Tuesdays are the best days to shop. Whatever you do, avoid weekends.” —Phil Lempert

Unrecognizable female butcher cutting a slice of meatHispanolistic/Getty Images

It’s almost always cheaper to buy a large cut and have us trim it for you

“We can cut a chuck roast into stew cubes, a whole boneless strip loin into New York strip steaks, or a flank steak into stir-fry strips. We’ve had people buy one big roast and have us remove the bone for soup, run half of it through the grinder for hamburgers, and cut the rest into a pot roast. That can save you about 30 percent compared with buying everything cut.” —Bradley McHugh 

RELATED: How Long Does Meat Last in the Fridge?

Butcher serving customer meat counter of grocery storeErik Isakson/Getty Images

Find out when your butcher marks down meat

“At most stores, it’s between eight and ten in the morning.” —Teri Gault

raw minced meat on the shelves of a hypermarket close-up. sale of fresh meatАлексей Филатов/Getty Images

If you’re worried about what’s in your ground meat…

“…buy a piece of roast when it’s on sale and have your butcher grind it up for you in-store. A sirloin roast would be so delicious as a hamburger.” —Kari Underly, former grocery store meat cutter and author of The Art of Beef Cutting: A Meat Professional’s Guide to Butchering and Merchandising

Next, read up on these grocery store secrets you may not know about.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest