Grocery Store Marketing Tour

Entering the store

  • Question: Why is it a bad idea to go to the store hungry?
    • Answer: You’re likely to buy more items if you are hungry while grocery shopping.
  • Grab an advertisement for the store, show the items, especially the meat, on the front page.
    • These are called “loss leaders” which means the stores discount these items so much that they make very little money or actually lose money on them.
    • Q: Why would the stores do this?
    • A: Because they think it will cause more people to come to the store and, while they are there, they will buy more items and the store will make enough profit on the other items they buy to make up for the profits they are losing by having a “loss leader.”



  • Q: Why do you think the bakery is always in the front of the store?
    • A: Because the smell of fresh bread baking is an enticing smell and it also makes people hungry, which encourages people to buy more.
  • Q: Why do you think the cakes are so prominently displayed in glass cases and good lighting?
    • A: Because they very visually appealing and people are willing to stay longer (and thus buy more) and buy at higher prices at a store that’s very visually appealing.


Produce section

  • Find a produce item that is priced per piece i.e. bell peppers at $1.25 per pepper.
    • Q: Since these items are per piece, if you were going to buy one of them, which one would you choose? Why did you choose that one?
      • A: After considering freshness, pricing items per piece encourages you to pick the largest piece of produce.
      • Q: What does pricing items like this in the grocery store encourage farmers to do who grow these?
        • A: If they know people want large ones, they are likely to try to find ways to grow large ones.
  • Find a produce item that is priced by weight i.e. potatoes per lb.
    • Q: Since these items are per weight vs. per piece, which one would you choose?
      • A: You’re likely to choose one closest to the weight you need vs. the biggest one. Although you may be in the habit of buying bigger ones because you do that with the per piece items.
  • Find a prepared food, compare that to an unprepared version. Example pre-chopped onions to whole onions and show how the unprepared version is cheaper.
    • Q: Why do you think the unprepared version is cheaper?
      • A: More labor (and often more packaging) goes into the prepared versions. But also, people are willing to pay a premium (a higher price) if something is easier for them to use.



  • Find a high-end cheese in the fancy cheese area. Then go find another version of that cheese near the shredded cheese area (ricotta cheese and parmesan cheeses are usually easy picks).
    • Q: Why do you think this version of the cheese is more expensive than this version?
      • A: Could be quality, and/or just brand and/or just where it’s placed in the store. For example, people who go to the fancy cheese area are likely willing to pay more than people who head to the shredded cheese area.
      • A: It makes people feel like they are higher-status or asserts their high status if they buy fancier versions of the same foods.
      • A: There are lots of examples of where the same item or very similar items will be in two parts of a store and have very different prices. Cheese is just one of them.
    • Q: Do you think you’d be able to taste a big difference?
      • A: Likely not unless you are really, really into cheese.


Pasta aisle

  • Q: How many pasta sauces do you see?
    • A: (“a lot” is an ok answer, it’d take too long to count them)
  • Q: Stores regularly have over 100+ choices of pasta sauces. Do you think more choices increases or decreases sales?
    • A:  A small number of choices is good, but too many choices, such as this many pasta sauces, decreases sales because it becomes overwhelming for people to make a choice. So they will either just not buy pasta sauce or, if they really need pasta sauce, just grab one off the shelf. This is called the Paradox of Choice. We want choice, but we actually don’t want to have to choose between too many things.


Condiments aisle

  • Pick-up two sizes of the same product (Peanut butter, ketchup, something like that) and show the sizes and prices.
  • Q: How would you pick which one to buy?
    • A: You could look at the expiration date and think about how much you’d realistically use before that date. You could think about how much room you have in your house to store the item. You can also consider the price compared to how much you get (show them how the grocery store labels have the per .oz or per weight on the labels).
    • Q: Knowing all of that, which would you choose and why?


Health foods aisle

  • Q: Some of the items in this aisle have very similar versions of the same products in other aisles in the store, but they will usually be more expensive here. Why do you think that is?
    • A: There’s a concept in marketing called a “Health Halo.” This refers to the idea that anything that is marketed as healthy is good for you. The halo is a way of expressing that because in our culture we think of angels as good and they have halos. It’s not true that food items marketed are healthy are good for you; they often have a lot of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients in them. But most people don’t take the time to look and think that through. Also, most people are willing to pay more for items that they think are healthy.


Bulk foods aisle (do right before the baking aisle)

  • Q: (if they have spices). Here, you measure-out the amount of the spices you want from a generic jar, put them in the baggies, and weight them yourself. How do you think this impacts the price?
    • A: The cost of these spices is significantly lower because you aren’t paying for the brand name, you have to do the work yourself, and you aren’t getting a container for them to go in. This is very similar to the pre-prepared produce.
  • Show the bulk nuts, candies, etc.
    • Q: How you think being in bulk bins affects their prices compared to the nuts in the nuts aisle and the candy in the candy aisle?
      • A: (pretty much same answer as the spices above).
      • A: Remember how I said cheeses have different prices depending on where they are located in the store? This is also true for these bulk items.
      • Did you know the majority of food items in a grocery store were once sold this way? It wasn’t until the advent of food marketing that we say packaging and branding take off. For example, did you know crackers used to be sold in actual barrels? That’s where the restaurant name “Cracker Barrel” comes from.


Baking aisle (do after bulk spice section if they have one)

  • Q: Here are a couple of types of baking cocoa (Hershey’s, Nestle, and maybe one more) used to make brownies, chocolate cakes and so much more. Here are their prices and their sizes. Which one would you choose and why?
    • Q: Do you think the product is different? Would you be able to taste the difference?
      • A: Likely, the product is not very different and you especially wouldn’t taste the difference if you were mixing it with a lot of other ingredients.
    • Q: How well do you know each of these names? How does that impact your decision?
      • A: I worked for Nestle for a very short amount of time, so even though at my home grocery store they are a little more expensive, I have an emotional connection to Nestle and so I am willing to pay a little more to support the company. That’s not a rational decision right? I should just pick the cheapest. It’s an emotional one. The majority of our decisions are made based on our emotions, not our logic.
      • A: Nestle also puts theirs in a re-usable container that I often use to store other foods, so I’m also considering packaging when I choose which to buy.
  • (If they had a bulk spices section)
    • Now let’s compare prices. Why do you think the spices in the bulk aisle were so much cheaper than the ones here?
      • A: These spices have name brands on them and other distinctions, such as “organic” which may be important to you and that you’d be willing to pay more for. They also come with the container. Remember what I said in the produce aisle about paying more for convenience? This is more convenient. I wash and save our old spice bottles at home so that I can refill them with the cheaper bulk spices, but a lot of people don’t want to go through that hassle.



  • Q: This is called an “endcap” because it caps the end of the aisle. What types of items do you think grocery stores put on end caps?
    • A: Grocery stores put items on end caps that they want customers to pay special attention to and hopefully impulsively buy. It might be items on sale, it might be items they have a lot of, or it might be an item that’s only available for a limited time (such as foods that they only stock during different times of year, such as Halloween candy). A lot of consumers assume that anything on an end cap is a good deal, but that may or may not be true; you still have to look at the prices.



  • Q: This section of the store is called the “seasonal” area. Why do you think they call it that?
    • A: Because they rotate the stock with items for the season such as Halloween candy at Easter, pool toys for summer, holiday decorations in winter.
  • Q: Why do you think grocery stores carry this type of thing?
    • A: Customers would have to go to another store to buy these things, so it’s a way for a grocery store to increase their sales and make more money off of these items because people are willing to pay more to not have to go to another store.


Cereal aisle

  • Pull out a box/bag of generic cereal and a box of name-brand cereal. Show the prices and sizes.  
  • Q: Do you think they are the same or are they different?
    • A: This one is tricky. Sometimes they are the same and sometimes they are different and there’s no good way to tell.
    • Tell the story of my dad working at a generic cereal factory and how sometimes a major brand would call and buy cereal off of them. But also share how I’ve bought generic cereal and how it’s tasted different.
  • Point out how all of the kid cereals are at the same level on the grocery store shelves.
    • Q: Why do you think all of the kids cereals are all on those particular shelves?
      • A: That shelf is at the height of the shopping cart height, where especially little kids ride in the shopping cart. So they are at eye-level with the cereals and will ask their parents for them.
      • A: Similarly lower shelves are at your height so you’ll see the cereals they want you to ask your parents to buy.



  • Pull out various cartons of eggs that have different claims on them, especially looking for “cage free” “farmhouse” “without antibiotics” and “organic.”
  • Q: What do you think each of these claims means?
    • A:
      • Eggs marked with the USDA’s National Organic Program label come from uncaged hens that are free to roam in their houses and have access to the outdoors. The hens are fed an organic diet of feed produced without conventional pesticides or fertilizers.” ( source for quote).
        • If it doesn’t say it is USDA organic and instead says “organic” or some other close term, they may be using another definition of organic, which may or may not be what you think it is.
      • Farmhouse doesn’t have any standard definition, so this could mean anything that the egg producer decides.
      • “Eggs labeled “cage-free” or “from free-roaming hens” are laid by hens that are allowed to roam in a room or open area, which is typically a barn or poultry house.”  ( source for quote). Even though it sounds like from these words that they are able to roam outside, that isn’t the case; these chickens can be kept indoors their whole life just as long as they aren’t in a cage, so some people find the term misleading.
      • Without antibiotics means the chickens were raised without antibiotics. This one is tricky because it makes you think that the other eggs that don’t have this claim HAVE antibiotics, right? But that isn’t true (according to the US Poultry association anyway). While the chickens may have gotten antibiotics, the drugs don’t pass through to the eggs, so all of the eggs are antibiotic-free.
      • So terms like these can be very misleading. This is true for a lot of products that aren’t eggs.



  • Q: Why do you think milk is in the very back of the store?
    • A: Milk is usually the most-purchased item in any grocery store. So they put it in the very back of the store.
    • Q: Why would they put it in the very back of the store, if it’s the most-purchased item?
      • A: Because it makes people walk past a lot of other items, which hopefully they will decide to buy.
  • Pull down a Greek yogurt, an Icelandic yogurt, a regular Yoplait yogurt, and an Oui by Yoplait yogurt.
    • So Yoplait had a problem. Their research of people buying yogurt, consumers, showed that consumers were more likely to buy yogurt with the country of origin in the name (show the Greek and Icelandic yogurts). To be fair, this somewhat makes sense, as Greek yogurt does have higher protein than regular yogurt, but all things being equal, people still preferred to buy yogurt with a country’s name in it. Yoplait is French, but people didn’t associate it with France. So they came out with this newer version of the yogurt called Oui that they marked with the wording “French Style Yogurt.” They also put it in these glass containers to make it seem fancier and higher-end.
    • Yogurt is another item that has a health halo. It seems healthy, but it can be full of unhealthy add-ins like sugar that make it almost as bad for you as a Snickers candy bar.



  • Q: Do you remember what I said about the number of pasta sauce choices? How do you think the variety of options of ice cream could impact sales?
    • A: Possibly another example of Paradox of Choice (number of pasta sauces) although there are a lot more shapes, sizes, and varieties of ice cream. But one way people chose is..(go to next question about local brands).
  • Q: Here is a local ice cream brand. Why do you think someone would choose a local brand vs. a national brand?
    • A: This is primarily an emotional decision. People feel like they are supporting their home and people living and working in their home area, and will pay more to do so. They may also think they can trust a local brand more because they assume local people will be more invested in making a quality product. This may or may not be true, but again, people don’t usually buy on logic, they buy on emotions.


Body wash aisle

  • Find an Old Spice body wash, another body wash that has “men” on the label, and body wash that has a generic label, and a body wash that is likely marketed toward women. Point out these differences in the label.
    • Q: What do you think are the big differences between the body washes made for men and those made for women?
      • A: While there might be slight differences in the formula, they are almost the same. The big differences are the scent and the bottle/label (marketing).
      • A: (Show the generic body wash and the women’s body wash) When something is specially marketed toward women, it’s called “pinkwashing” and usually costs more than a product that is a gender-neutral version, even though the products are similar.
    • Q: Who do you think buys the Old Spice one? If you were to imagine a TV commercial for Old Spice, would they be talking to men or women?
      • A: The industry (and Old Spice specifically) has done the research and it is usually women who buy the body wash in the household. So even though this is a men’s product, it’s typically a woman buying it. So the TV commercials talk to women and talk about the benefits of women buying it for a man vs. talking to a man and buying it for a man himself.


Check-out area

  • Go to the area and point out how there are cold drinks, individual bags of chips, candy bars, magazines, etc. at the check-out area.
    • Q: Why do you think these items are available at the check-out aisle?
      • A: These are called “impulse buy” items. That means that people buy them without much thought and at the last moment. They are here in the checkout aisle because the grocery store’s research has shown that these are items that the largest number of people will buy on impulse. The fact that you have to wait in line and will likely look at them while you’re waiting will likely increase the chances that you buy one of these items. It also increases the chances that the kids with parents will try to convince their parents to buy one of these items for them. Have you ever tried to get your parent to buy something for you while in this area?



  • Turn them around to see the whole store.
  • Now that you know all of this, here’s $10, use the tools I just taught you and pick out something for you and your brothers. You can pick whatever you like, but it can’t be over $10. (This may be a good opening to talk about sales taxes in your state)