Saturday, November 14, 2009

Party Plan

Considering how much I go on about the way supermarkets pull our strings, you may wonder why we ever use them at all. In an ideal world and given enough money, we would shop elsewhere, but as always, beggars can't be choosers. It is up to each of us to become aware of the tricks the supermarkets use to first get us to shop there in the first place, then get us to buy more than we need.

In the October issue of Which magazine there was a very interesting articles titled "How Supermarkets make you buy more". Earlier surveys revealing interesting facts:
Apart from nearly 66% of shoppers saying "special offers at shop entrances were helpful or convenient", there were many tactics disliked. 73% of us are annoyed (I am VERY annoyed) when goods are moved around to a different aisle. 47% annoyed when essentials are placed at the back of the store.
Where staple groceries or favourite brands are placed on the shelves, how much space they occupy is carefully worked out. The most sought-after shelves are the ones at eye-level, and manufacturers often pay a lot for the best spots. Manufacturers can also pay the supermarket for displaying shelf-labels (called 'shelf-talkers') which promote a special product placed behind the labels.

Supermarkets negotiate special offers with manufacturers to highlight leading brands, and manufacturers who fund these offers hope then to see a lot of stock shifted. Once one supermarket has agreed this price, then other stores wish to follow, so manufacturers my have to improve on the offer for a rival market. It is usually the stores that make the most profit doing this, manufacturers making less.

Here are some guidelines to canny shopping, as given in the magazine.
1. Fruit and Veg are placed towards the front of the store to present a healthy, fresh image that supermarkets wish to portray.
2. Most of us look right when we enter the store, so that is where supermarkets put current deals they want us to buy, so placed there to grab our attention immediately.
3. Lunchtime snacks are usually on the shelves near the supermarket entrance, along with other impulse buys such as bunches of flowers, tobacco, and newspapers. Convenient for workers on a lunchtime break, but also reminding us we can pick up lunch when buying other essentials.
4. Themed aisle are often near the front of the store. We have already had Halloween, but remember this for Christmas. These aisles change with the seasons.
5. Groups of foods that go together are often (but not always) found close together to prompt us to buy them at the same time. Tea and coffee next to biscuits, cereals etc.
6. In nearly every store the essentials such as bread and milk are placed at the back of the store to entice us to buy other foods as we walk past them.
7. Alcohol too is almost always towards the back as it contradicts the healthy image the store wishes to maintain.
8. The cheapest lines are never placed on the best shelf spots as supermarkets don't wish us to buy 'value products'. Having different varieties of the same product placed close together may encourage us to switch to an even pricier brand.
9. The row ends are the most profitable part of the store for product manufacturers. They pay to put their products there, and often the special offers that accompany them.
10. At checkout points are placed sweets, reminder buys, and non-food related services such as finance products. It is said that we'd never consider these at any other point in the store - only when we've got some waiting time.

Every storekeeper worth his salt will do his best to sell products that have been hanging around for some time, but thinking about the old days, when all we had to do was make a shopping list of foods we wished to buy, go into the grocers, hand it to the shopkeeper, and sit down while he fetched the good from the shelves and packed them in a box for you (often delivering them to your kitchen door), we should wonder why we need such a large variety of food that faces us every time we enter the larger supermarket doors.
Perhaps the size of a supermarket has more to do with selling everything we need under the one roof. For carrying just about all the foods we need: meat, fish, groceries, dairy foods, fruit and veg, even stationery, magazines, books and newspapers, the supermarkets have to be the main reason why so many local and independent shops have had to close down. It may be more convenient for us to buy everything in one go, but we have lost a lot of quality and control with the purchases we buy.

In a way we ARE very lucky in that we can now buy fresh produce all year round, not just during their 'seasons', for with this we can widen our horizons when it comes to choosing which dishes to serve. We can, to some extent (money permitting) eat exactly what we want, when we want. But by doing so we have lost the pleasure of waiting for different fruits and vegetables to come into season, and enjoying them fully for the often short time they are available. Nothing to stop us still buying 'when in season' but even when we do, somehow it is just not the same anymore, for most fresh produce now seems to lack flavour, as more importance is put on shape, colour and shelf-life. Fruit is never picked when fully ripe when the flavour is at its peak, as by the time it got to the shelves it would have gone rotten. With many foods, it is one step forward, and two steps back.
Even when we 'grow our own', the old and full flavours are missing because the powers that be (the EC or whoever) have removed many traditional varieties of seeds from the market, and we are only allowed to buy what they say. There are organisations that still provide old varities of seeds, and gardeners should seek these out.
Myself wistfully remember that bacon never tastes as good as it did when my mother bought it (Wiltshire back) sliced to her wishes from a great side hanging in the grocers. Tomatoes never taste as sweet as those my father grew in his greenhouse. Strawberries are not as sweet, neither are plums. Large eggs are rarely larger than medium, certainly not the giants our Rhode Island Reds used to lay, and now rarely have rich yellow yolks anymore.
To get anything near the quality of the food we used to eat we have to buy from a recommended local butcher, farmers markets, and possibly have organic boxed vegetables and other foods delivered to our door. But it all costs money, and during the credit crunch, how many of us can afford to pay extra?

It is not all doom and gloom. Those of us old enough to remember what real food tastes like, can still make their own jams, marmalades, preserves and pickles. We can bake our own bread, cakes and biscuits, and grow our own vegetables. Or is it that we are getting too old to do all this, and too many generations have passed that now only remember food of a quality we would spit out? Time for us who are still able to do some cooking, to pass on the old ideas, encourage other younger folk to eat our cooking and maybe hope that one or two will be prompted to have a go themselves.