Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tips & Tricks in the Grocery Store

It's no secret that food marketing is big business.Big grocery chains (including Wal-Mart and Costco) make the list as well as food and beverage companies such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

You can scarcely open a magazine, turn on the tv, or read a facebook feed without coming across at least one reference to health, food and nutrition. Eat more this, less this, avoid this at all costs, you've never lived if you haven't eaten this... It can all be a bit much.

Last week, we looked at some new research that's being done to determine if there's an effective way to use marketing strategies to increase the amount of fruits and veggies found in the grocery cart. As promised, this week we are going to look at what the Big Companies are doing to market their goods, and how their items end up in your cart, even if they aren't first showing up on your grocery list.

1) We rarely venture to the center A pretty cool study hooked up GPS units to grocery shoppers to track their movements through the store. While we may think of grocery shopping as an up-and-down type pattern, the truth is, we rarely do this. Most often, people will move along the perimeter of the store, venturing into aisles, and often, only to what they need and straight out again.
Why does this matter? Products placed at the center of the aisle will receive less foot traffic, so this isn't a high-priority area for popular items. Instead, retailers will often utilize the end-space to feature profitable items.
Wouldn't it be cool if oatmeal toppings, such as bananas, raisins or nuts were featured on the ends of the cereal aisle? (I referred to this last week, Publix does this on occasion)

2) Fresh stuff is on the outside! The perimeter of the store usually houses the fresher, less processed items, such as bakery, deli, butcher, produce and dairy. Packaged foods, such as crackers, cereals, snacks and canned goods tend to be on the center aisles.
This makes sense especially if you consider that the fresh-areas require more space and personnel, especially in the deli, bakery and butcher shop!

3) Look high, look low. Eye level is key to getting you to notice things. Think about this when you take a kid to the store with you -- younger kids have a lower eye level, and often products marketed to them will be placed lower on the shelves. This is also important for pricing -- higher profit margin items will often be right where you see them, and are likely to go for them first.
Seriously, though, look all over the shelves, and not just at the items staring straight at you! Often you'll be able to find comparable items with a friendly price tag if you look across the shelves.

4) I meant it when I said don't shop hungry! Get your ideas together, make a list, and stick with it! Humans are not happy when they are hungry, and research shows people are more likely to purchase more energy dense foods when hungry. For a June 2013 article published by JAMA,  go here.

5) Primates respond to Red, and we are the only mammals that can even see it. As it happens, not only do we see red, we have a pretty interesting response to it. Why? This article can tell you more, but a large piece of this amounts to our ability to spot ripened fruit on a tree. The red shines out like a shining beacon. The Publix sale tags are a great (if blurry) example.

6) Bulk isn't always cheaper. If you are buying flour and you opt for the bigger bag to help save a few bucks, be sure to double check the "unit price" on the aisle price marker. Generally, it's true that a bigger bag will shave off a couple cents per ounce (which can add up to big bucks), but to be sure, check and compare. Some items are the same price regardless of the size of the container (I'm looking at you, Brummel & Brown), others can actually go up in price for a larger container, such as some brands of chocolate sauce.

7) There's an app for that. Publix now lets you digitally clip coupons and attach them to your phone number. At the check out, you can enter your digits to submit your coupons. There are other coupon apps you can use and scan at the store -- not only to build your grocery list but to clip coupons and aid in on-sale-meal-planning for the week.

Is there another thing you've noticed influences the way you shop? Let us know!

-- Les, MS RD LD

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Marketing Produce

How many ways are there to grocery shop? You can check what you have at home, make a menu, make a list, and then go. You can peruse cookbooks for ideas and see what strikes you when you get there, or you can go in without a list and see what looks good.

You can follow your list to the letter, or you can deviate slightly, depending on the mood. Or you can even make a list with genres "some kind of pasta or rice" and grab what you feel like when you get there.

I'm sure we've all heard some of the general rules about the grocery store and how to be successful -- don't go when you're hungry, make a list and stick to it -- but this can be easier said than done, especially if you didn't have time to make a list, or left the list at home, or if you arrive at the store with kids or family members that didn't help write the list.

Grocery stores can be a good learning experience for kids, and it can be a great way to get them involved in food preparation at an early age. Especially as children grow into adolescents and adults, teaching them to grocery shop and how to build cohesive, balanced meals is important.

But what happens at the cereal aisle when you don't see eye-to-eye, or you're waiting in line staring at the perfectly-eye-level candy bars engaging in the conversation about whether or not candy was on the list. Or, just walking through the aisle to get to the deli case or produce department when the giant cereal/cookie/whatever display distracts you from your original task?

More and more, researchers are recognizing some of the grocery-store tactics used by companies to market their products and wondering if similar techniques can be used to market produce.

Every day, I come across at least one reference (often more like 5 or 10) to the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables and how our actual intake. Are there ways to market produce when you're already in the store? Can you make bananas an impulse buy?

Well, we don't really know, but there are a few good ways to find out! Some techniques that are being used and studied include the use of arrows on the floor to point people in the direction of the produce department. Other tactics (which I see frequently at Publix stores here in Florida) involve placing produce strategically around the store -- such as bananas at the endcaps of the cereal aisle, or onions and peppers at the meat counter with recipe cards for fajitas.

What would help you balance your grocery cart? In El Paso, it certainly wasn't the arrows on the floor -- they actually caused produce sales to fall.

Next week, we'll give you insight into ways companies effectively market to you when you're already at the store.

For more on this topic, look no further.

-- Les, MS RD LD

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dietitian's Lunchbox - Holly's

Holly Pudwill is a busy dietitian. She sees clients individually, serves as nutrition coordinator for Blue Horizon, facilitates groups, meal experiences and nutrition education, and goes home each day to play with puppy Duke to make sure he gets the exercise and play time he needs each day.

How does she do it?

"Private Practice can get hectic! Two days each week I'm here for both lunch and dinner -- I need to make sure I'm packing complete meals... balance is key when I'm getting so much of my nutrition at work!"

A favorite of Holly's is pita with spiced chicken, cheese, lettuce, tomato and dressing. It's quick and easy to make, especially if chicken and rice is on the menu the evening before. And added bonus -- this meal keeps fine in a cooler-pack and is delicious hot or cold! And to round out her meal? Carrots and pita chips with a side of hummus lends a nutriitonal boost and enhances both the visual and textural appeal of her lunch.

"It's such a breeze to pack, too. That's so important, because honestly, I'd rather be playing with Duke than stressing over my lunchbox each morning!"

-- Les, MS RD LD with Holly Pudwill, MS RD LD

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Culture of Picky Eating

Recently, I came across an article about the origins of the children's menu. I was intrigued, probably because I'd never really thought of this as being a thing that "started", more like it was always there.

Naturally, I started thinking about my own dining experiences, in particular the children's menus. From what I understand about them (which is very little), there are certain universal truths about the children's menu, at least here in the US. 

1) They come with activities. Usually a few crayons, a word find, maybe coloring pictures. Sometimes these activities are food centered, though I would venture to say usually they are not.
2) They are kid friendly foods, meaning typically there's not much cutlery required, and I don't recall having ever seen an octagon-style cage fight over peas between parents and kid at a restaurant.*
3) The menu includes hamburger, chicken fingers, hot dog and/or macaroni and cheese, even in restaurants that do not serve these items for adults. Or, even more interesting, that serve a gourmet mac-and-cheese for adults and the powdered box variety for kids.

All kid's menus are not created equal. That's not to say that there aren't ever any options available for the 12-and-under with a more refined palate. Certainly, there are Italian places that offer spaghetti, seafood restaurants with a fish finger or shrimp of some kind and steak places that... you get the picture. However, I will tell you I have never, in all my years of menu perusing come across vichyssois or steamed mussels over arugula on a kid's menu.

My point is this - there seems to be a universal understanding that kids eat different foods, and people tend to go along with it (even if, in my earlier research, I learned this was not a customary practice until the early 1900s). At the same time, we recognize there is a growing need to introduce foods to fruits and veggies at a young age, to incorporate healthy, balanced eating practices regularly. There's also a bounty of cookbooks and recipes available about everything from hiding veggies in sauces and pasta, to featuring veggies in a way that your kid might actually like to try.

Still in other ways, we've moved beyond the idea of "kid-friendly" to the idea that children can participate in the more mature culinary experiences of their parents. We are merging these ideas to send conflicting expectations -- you must eat your peas at home, but as soon as you walk through the door...all bets are off.

That's not to say some kids won't be picky, or that loading asparagus onto a kid's plate is a sure-fire way to get the kid to love asparagus (it doesn't work, by the way), but there are ways to make fruits and veggies approachable without side-stepping the issue all together by providing baby carrots at every meal. Kids will meet your expectations. If you expect for a child to love chicken fingers and hamburgers, he will probably eat a lot of chicken fingers and hamburgers. If you expect your child to try new things (even just once), he probably will -- provided you give him the opportunity.

*There is never any need for an octagon-style cage fight over veggies. There are much more civil ways to engage a child in balanced eating.

For an actual historical account of the origins of the children's menu, check this out.

-- Les, MS RD LD