How to beat the supermarkets for a healthy food shop

Most of us are aware that supermarkets have their tricks to get us to spend more; yet we also have a certain trust in them to provide us with our essentials and offer the best bargains. 


Supermarkets are businesses like any other, so they have a vested interest in us spending as much as possible each visit. This can be an issue if you’re trying to stick to a budget and is often detrimental to your health too, as most offers and promotions are for less nutritious foods like biscuits and chocolate.

10 ways supermarkets tempt us

As you enter

1. Ever walked into a supermarket and suddenly fancied a loaf of fresh bread, or a pastry? It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book - making sure you can smell the bakery as you enter. It makes you more likely to want comfort food and pick up some extras in the bakery section.

2. Similarly, bright colours as you enter (think: fresh flowers) can lift your mood. A happy shopper takes longer to browse and buys more!

3. The fresh fruit and veg is nearly always at the entrance for a reason too. The idea is that once you’ve put healthy items in your basket, you won’t feel as guilty about picking up some sweet treats later on.

4. Whether you pick up a basket or trolley also matters, as you’re likely to spend more with a trolley that has space for unplanned items.


5. All the other essential products will be hidden towards the back so you have to walk further and see more. There’s an optimum amount of time to keep you in the supermarket - long enough to see more products and be tempted, but not so long that you get frustrated and leave.

6. The ‘end-of-aisle’ promotions, found on the narrow, outer parts of the aisle, are nearly always for unhealthy products. They’re more visible, and promotions always seem like a good idea, because who doesn’t like grabbing a bargain?

7. You’ll notice that there is nothing too tempting in the freezer aisle though because you’ll be cold, so you won’t be hanging around for long!

8. Supermarkets also change up their layouts so you have to go looking for your usual items. The aim is for you to lose focus and are more likely to pick up something mindlessly. Again, a mindless purchase is much more likely to be for something we consider a ‘treat’.

9. Another trick is to keep the more expensive products at eye level, as well as the less nutritious ones. Eye level is ‘buy level’! The more we see treats, the more likely we are to buy a few by the end of the shop. Worryingly, they have products marketed at kids at their lower eye level too.

10. How fast we go through the aisles is not only controlled by where the products are, but also the music playing (slow or classical seem to work best to slow us down) and even the width of the aisles themselves, which are purposefully narrow for trolleys to pass each other so that you go more slowly!

Five tips to beat the supermarket tricks

If you’re trying to shop more healthily, here are my top tips for navigating the supermarket:

1. Have a list of what you want to buy and ignore the end-of-aisle promotions unless they are for items on your list.

2. Look down low for the healthier and cheaper products.

3. Go for a basket for smaller shops, or divide your trolley with your coat or scarf. Devote  one half to fresh products (fruit, veg, meat, dairy) and grains: a study from Cornell University showed that doing this meant people spent more than twice as much on fruit and veg.

4. Don’t shop when you’re hungry, as temptation is a lot more powerful if you’re already feeling snacky.

5. Consider shopping online where it’s easier to follow your list and not be tempted by less nutritious options. It’s also a lot faster, less hassle, and you’re much less likely to have your kids pestering you for sweets or yoghurts with a Disney princess on!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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