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London - Doing the weekly grocery shopping used to be uncomplicated. You’d go to the supermarket, stock up with ingredients to produce nourishing meals for the family and, maybe, as a special treat for the children, pop a bar of chocolate into the trolley.
Then the retailers got clever. You began to notice sweets and cakes were appearing at the checkouts. Things you might once have ignored, or avoided altogether, were right there, practically shouting “Hello! Buy me”. You were particularly vulnerable if you had children with you.
We have now learnt that it’s all part of a plot designed to make us spend more money.
Instead of helping us avoid unhealthy products loaded with sugar, fat and salt, supermarkets are deliberately setting out “guilty checkouts”.
I toured my local supermarkets to see how tempting those “guilty checkouts” might be and, sure enough, I found myself surrounded by sugary temptation while waiting to pay for my groceries.
At one supermarket, every checkout had sugary sweets or cakes on display. Others forced every shopper down a “walk-through queue” towards the checkout, loaded with sweets and chocolate.
No wonder we’re facing an obesity epidemic.
As someone who finds it hard to resist temptation, I know from bitter personal experience how nefarious these supermarket tactics are.
I’m a bit of a serial dieter. I start out with gritty determination. I buy and eat healthy food. I lose a couple of kilograms. I feel great.
I move more easily and begin to enjoy my dog walks rather than see them as a struggle and a chore – and then I go food shopping, and like the ex-smoker who thinks just one won’t do any harm, I meet the chocolate bar en route to the checkout, it finds its way into my trolley and ba-boom! All the good work of the preceding weeks and months is undone.
It’s even worse if you have children with you. I can’t count how many times I have watched the harassed mother I used to be trying to deal with pester power.
How well I remember those days of having a tot in the seat of a loaded trolley, a toddler hanging on to my skirt, and carefully steering us past the biscuits, cakes and big bars of chocolate you find in the aisles.
All fine until the checkout when the wailing begins. “Mo-om, can I have... ?”
You’re struggling with the packing, the paying and making sure your precious offspring don’t get abducted while your attention wavers for a second. You give in.
And that whole cycle of another generation seeing sweets as a regular part of their diet begins again.
It’s infuriating, whatever the circumstances, when you realise how easily manipulated we are by the tricks of the retail trade. And they play dirty because the competition between the big stores is fierce.
Shops employ the most sophisticated psychology to persuade us to patronise one famous name rather than another and, once inside, to spend, spend, spend.
As we enter, there’s a display of fresh fruit and vegetables, lulling us into that false sense of security that whatever we find in the store will do us good.
But if we want a bottle of milk we have to pass the bakery and, if it’s a bottle of wine you’re after, you probably have to trail through the cereals, crisps, cakes and biscuits.
The checkout areas – the guilty ones – are, apparently, known as grab zones.
You’re exhausted from the hour you’ve spent traipsing around the shop, you grab yourself a little treat as a reward for your efforts and bingo! A bit more money goes in the shop’s coffers and another centimetre on your hips.
It’s not a new idea. Psychologists have known for a long time that a “guilty” pleasure is often irresistible. We fall for it every time.
I wish I could shop the way my grandmother did. She walked for 15 minutes to the village. In the butcher she bought her meat, her fish from the fishmonger. A small shop sold cheese, ham, coffee, tea, porridge oats, flour and fats over the counter.
She never bought too much because she had to carry it all home and she never went to the bakery because she made her own bread and cakes.
But these things don’t exist any more. We get no exercise in the shopping process because we go by car. We buy more than we need because it’s easy to transport. And those “guilty” checkouts are terribly seductive.
So, I have made a resolution. I will never again shop without a list. I will buy nothing that is not on the list. I will mutter “Get thee behind me, Satan” as I see the sweets.
And I will not walk around the supermarket like a lab rat in the expected order. I shall go in reverse, starting at the back with the milk and the wine, dashing to the pet food and ending up in the fruit and vegetables.
That way the soft foods won’t get squashed at the bottom of the trolley and the retail psychologists will be stymied. – Daily Mail