The Real Reason Your Grocery Store Milk Gets Put in the Back

Getting some exercise is a good excuse, but we found out the real reason they're making you walk to get that gallon.

Woman shopping milk in grocery storeShutterstock / Sergey Ryzhov
Shutterstock / Sergey Ryzhov

Have you ever wondered why one of the most popular grocery item—milk—is in the least convenient location at the store?

Grocery Store Secrets, Revealed

If you’ve ever gone to the store just to pick up a jug of milk and walked out with an entire bag of groceries, you’re certainly not alone. And you can blame this grocery store secret. It turns out that supermarkets always put their milk in the back corner to force shoppers to walk through the whole store to get there. This increases customers’ chances of grabbing other items on the way.

There’s even more strategy involved, according to food writer Michael Pollan. In an interview with NPR’s Planet Money team, he speculated that because milk and bread top a majority of grocery lists, stores separate the dairy and baked goods on purpose, forcing customers to cover even more ground.

Then again, another theory is that the back of the store is more convenient for milk delivery trucks to access, and putting the dairy section in the back cuts the time that products are exposed to warmer temps. But what’s the optimal place to store milk, though? Click here to learn the best ways to store your favorite foods.

Stores Are Set up to Get Consumers to Buy More

According to Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, “Nothing in the store is by accident. Everything is by design.” Think about the check-out aisle—both sides stocked with candy, gum and other goodies. Stores know that people are more likely to snag a couple Kit-Kats or grab a pack of Altoids while they wait for the customer ahead of them to finish up. In fact, 60 percent of shoppers admit to giving in!

This isn’t the only trick you’ll find in Aisle 5—most supermarkets have a method to organizing their shelves, as well. They place the most expensive products at eye level and put the cheaper or less popular ones at the top and bottom. It works, too: Think about the last time you bought something on the very top shelf.

Even more dangerous are the items right below eye level. These are the products in children’s line of sight, and they’re often marketed toward kids. Think high-sugar snacks, cereals with cartoon characters, and colorful cookies.

How Can You Avoid the Traps?

We all want to save money, so how can we avoid all of these grocery store temptations? A good start: Make a grocery list and actually stick to it. As long as your list doesn’t include “10 impulse buys on the way to the milk plus a pack of Mentos at the check-out,” you should be safe.

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