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40 Things You Might Not Know About Supermarkets

Food experts, industry analysts and store employees share their insider knowledge on how to save money on groceries, stay healthy and much more.

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Charred rotisserie chicken over open flames in a barbecue.Flugklick/shutterstock

Senses help 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 ShoppingThese are things that your grocer won’t tell you.

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Person pushing a shopping carthxdyl/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.

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one closed and some opened black canned beerimages72/Shutterstock

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. Try these surprisingly simple ways to save big at the supermarket.

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A smiling mid adult woman holds a grocery list as she shops for produce. She reaches to pick up a yellow pepper.SDI Productions/iStock/Getty Images Plus

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

Milk, bread, bananas and eggs. Ninety-five percent of shoppers don’t know what other items cost and might not know if they’re getting a good deal when they buy them. —Martin Lindstrom

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AndreyCherkasov/Shutterstock

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.

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People waiting in line at the check-outsvershinsky/Shutterstock

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. Learn the secret grocery shopping tips you need to know.

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Man shopping at the supermarket, he is leaning in the shopping cart and connecting with his mobile phone; Shutterstock ID 617768495; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOHStokkete/Shutterstock

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. These are the best sources for online coupons for products you always need.

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Young woman is looking for paprika at green market.Dragan Grkic/Shutterstock

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. Here are some excellent reasons to try grocery delivery this week.

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man holding a wallet with money; Shutterstock ID 532192255; job: Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM)NIKOLAYA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Supermarkets aren’t out to steal from you.

The average supermarket makes about 1.5 percent net profit a year. To give you some idea of how low that is, the profit margin for clothing stores can be several times that. —Phil Lempert. 

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Customer Giving Packet To Cashier At Checkout CounterTyler Olson/Shutterstock

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

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Woman paying money and cashier at store cash registerSyda Productions/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.comWatch out for these grocery shopping mistakes that are wasting your money.

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Washing cutting boardANETLANDA/SHUTTERSTOCK

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

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Fruit salad barKRISTI BLOKHIN/SHUTTERSTOCK

One thing that shocked me…

…is that prepared food in the deli area, like chicken or potatoes, is thrown away at the end of the day. Stores can’t save it. —Aimee Brittain. These are the unhealthiest foods at the supermarket.

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man slices raw meat photographyfirm/Shutterstock

Grocery stores can’t compete with Walmart on price.

So what are they doing? Bringing in people who are passionate about food. They’re hiring butchers who are skilled at cutting up meat, produce managers who are experts on fruits and vegetables and a few dietitians who give seminars on healthy eating habits. —Jeff Weidauer

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Woman distributing family budget; Shutterstock ID 243661255; Job: RDDRAGON IMAGES/SHUTTERSTOCK

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. Here are more food companies that donate to charity.

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milk jugsRON HILTON/SHUTTERSTOCK

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

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Smiling young woman holding a long grocery receipt at supermarket.Stokkete/Shutterstock

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. These are the best supermarkets in every state.

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Pineapple carrot cakeTaste of Home

If you need a cake, don’t buy it the day you need it.

We’ll have to give you one from the display case, and those cakes may have been sitting out for a while. If you order in advance, we’ll make the cake for you that day or the night before, and it will be a lot fresher. —Lindsay Smith, former cake decorator and bakery worker at a grocery store near Birmingham, Alabama

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CheesesADISA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Some of the same cheeses displayed behind the deli counter…

…are available in the dairy case. The packaging isn’t as fancy, but they’re much cheaper. —Phil Lempert

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Fresh tomatoes in drops of dew as a backgroundSERHII YUSHKOV/SHUTTERSTOCK

The mist that’s sprayed on your fruits and veggies…

…may make them look fresh, but it can make them go bad faster. The water also adds to an item’s weight, so make sure you shake off leafy greens. —Martin Lindstrom. This is the difference between a supermarket and a grocery store.

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organic produce on sale at outdoor farmers marketAlison Hancock/Shutterstock

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

…by using them in our prepared foods. —Bradley McHugh. These are the top grocery stores in the US.

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coupon time; Shutterstock ID 540903Carsten Reisinger/Shutterstock

In a supermarket, a good sale is anything that’s half price.

“Buy one, get the second one 50 percent off” discounts are not good sales—that’s only 25 percent off each. Almost everything is reduced to 50 percent at some point. —Teri Gault. You’re better off making these grocery store items at home.

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Supermarket on Sale, a woman is shopping in the Background.; Shutterstock ID 307399514; Job: RDORDINARY CITIZEN/SHUTTERSTOCK

The store I worked at would make some of its sales very specific…

…and, in my opinion, very deceptive. For example, it would offer 50 percent off a ten-ounce package of deli ham and put the sign right between the ten-ounce packages and the 16-ounce ones. Shoppers would wind up grabbing the wrong one and paying full price. —Jason Swett

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Bulgarian pepper in a box on a shelf in a supermarket; Shutterstock ID 551060236GONCHAROV ARTEM/SHUTTERSTOCK

Customers think that when they buy in bulk, they end up with a better deal.

But that’s not always the case. In the produce department, individual peppers are almost always cheaper than those in the multi-packs, and loose avocados are usually cheaper than the ones grouped in mesh bags. —Teri Gault. Ceck out these grocery store secrets you didn’t know about.

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KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - JUNE 16: SOGO Supermarket, June 16, 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. SOGO founded in November 11, 1987, is a comprehensive department store business units; Shutterstock ID 16473659306PHOTO/SHUTTERSTOCK

Do not assume…

…that if something is displayed at the end of an aisle, it is a good deal. Often, it’s not. Those endcaps are sold specifically to companies trying to promote a product. —Paco Underhill

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Woman shopping at the supermarketMinerva Studio/Shutterstock

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. This is what nutritionists always do at the grocery store, so you should too.

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Variety of yummy pizzas under shopping window in pizzeria; Shutterstock ID 676292251ANDREY BURKOV/SHUTTERSTOCK

Do you like the hot pizza from the deli?

It’s likely the same store-brand pizza offered over in the freezer section for almost half the price per slice. —Bradley McHugh, meat manager and deli clerk for an independent grocery store in Ohio. Here’s how to shop healthier at the grocery store.

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Focus on shelves with bread in a supermarket; Shutterstock ID 547958857WAVEBREAKMEDIA/SHUTTERSTOCK

When you buy fresh bread…

…we give it to you in a brown paper bag. Why? Because the bread may go stale faster, sending you back to the store to buy more. A quick fix: Place loaves in airtight plastic bags as soon as you get home. —Lindsay Smith

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Baked treats in a case at supermarketVIPAVLENKOFF/SHUTTERSTOCK

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

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Delicious little cake in refrigerator packed in plastic container.Fresh sweet pastry for coffeebreak.Creamy cakes in freezer.Eat delicious bakery product with cream,sugar.Frozen cup cakes in container; Shutterstock ID 558665518HURRICANEHANK/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. America just named its best-value grocery store.

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nensuria/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

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, grocery savings expert and CEO of thegrocerygame.com.

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Shop assistant in a supermarket at the vegetable shelf checking the stuff for sale; Shutterstock ID 63574951; Job: RDKZENON/SHUTTERSTOCK

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. These are the to p10 grocery shopping apps.

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woman pushing shopping cart in shopping mall;pixfly/Shutterstock

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

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Butcher with knives and cuts of porkCultura/REX/Shutterstock

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. Check out these other tips for getting the best meats and deals from the butcher.

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Packaged steaksVITAHIMA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Just because a cut of meat is labeled Angus doesn’t mean it’s going to be a great steak.

What you really want to check is its USDA quality grade. Prime is the best, then choice (usually the highest grade available in grocery stores), followed by select and finally standard. —Kari Underly, former grocery store meat cutter and author of The Art of Beef Cutting: A Meat Professional’s Guide to Butchering and Merchandising.

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High angle view of male butcher weighing sausages at display cabinet in butchery; Shutterstock ID 242663593TYLER OLSON/SHUTTERSTOCK

Find out when your butcher marks down meat.

At most stores, it’s between eight and ten in the morning. —Teri Gault. These are the 5 steak cuts only your butcher knows about.

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Thick Raw T-Bone Steak with Seasoning and Rosemary; Shutterstock ID 152034248; Job: RDBRENT HOFACKER/SHUTTERSTOCK

One of our best-kept secrets…

…is that you get filet mignon much cheaper by buying whole T-bone steaks. Every T-bone has a small filet mignon on the bone, and a New York strip on the opposite side. The price difference can be $3 to $5 a pound. —Bradley McHugh

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Fresh mincemeat packaged laid out on shelf of supermarket; Shutterstock ID 314839016; Job: RDHACOHOB/SHUTTERSTOCK

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. This grocery store has the worst reputation in America.

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New York NY/USA-January 15, 2019 The produce department of a supermarket in New York; Shutterstock ID 1285396324; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOHrblfmr/Shutterstock

Everyone handles the produce

I’ve seen customers drop something, pick it up and put it back on the shelf. —Aimee Brittain. So, make sure you know how to wash your produce.

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Shopping carts stacked togetherswinner/Shutterstock

The carts might not cleaned.

I’ve seen babies soiling carts and carts with chicken juice leaking on them. That’s why I give them a once-over with my own sanitizing wipes. —Aimee Brittain. Next, read up on the polite habits grocery store workers secretly dislike.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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