A person with blue hair buns browses through her phone for mobile food, shopping, and checklist apps.

The Psychology of Grocery Stores

I always love going to the grocery store ready to bring home the good food I planned for. It’s always been something I look forward to. When I walk into my favorite grocery store, I see nothing but fresh fruits and vegetables. They look so amazing. That is, if I’m looking straight ahead.

The temptations when grocery shopping with diabetes

Now if I turn my head slightly I will see on one side prepared foods, all cooked pasta, cold salads (you know, the high-carbs ones), and the smell of roasted chicken. If I turn my head to the other side, baked goods. I can walk by the pasta and cold salads without a problem. The baked goods, well that’s another story. I can’t walk by them easily. I look straight ahead and hope I’m not weak. I also have my list of excuses ready. I need to buy the bakery muffins because my husband leaves for work at 5:40 am. He needs something quick to eat and get out the door. Muffins, yup that will do the trick. And, my son, tall and lanky, wants some bakery cookies for his work lunch. I’ll get some for him.

So it’s ok to buy those things, which in the context of family life, it is. In the context of living with diabetes, I have to find another way. It’s easy to say “Just don’t bring those foods into the house” but I can’t expect my family to be ‘diabetic’ because I am. I have to continue to strive to have the willpower to avoid the foods I shouldn’t be eating on a regular basis.

At another grocery store I really like, I see the flower department when I walk in and smell the fragrance of the flowers. Glorious! However, I’m not there to buy flowers. It’s a nice distraction though. Looking straight ahead, I see the fruits and vegetables. And...the cooked pasta and chicken department. Walking straight ahead I think good, no bakery department. What’s that I smell? Ugh! The smell of the in-store bakery. I swear they’re out to get me and my diabetes.

Grocery store set up is purposeful

Now as it turns out, there is a psychology behind how grocery stores are set up.

They entice the senses

“...the first supermarket feature you inevitably encounter is the produce department. There’s a good reason for this: the sensory impact of all those scents, textures, and colors (think fat tomatoes, glossy eggplants, luscious strawberries) makes us feel both upbeat and hungry. Similarly, the store bakery is usually near the entrance, with its scrumptious and pervasive smell of fresh-baked bread; as is the flower shop, with its buckets of tulips, bouquets of roses, and banks of greenery. The message we get right off the bat is that the store is a welcoming place, fresh, natural, fragrant, and healthy, with comforting shades of grandma’s kitchen.”1

Don’t we all want to spend more time in grandma’s kitchen? Of course, we do.

“Colors can have a symbolic significance in the products, which will affect the decision-making process. Consumers will frequently be on the lookout for brighter colored products.”2

Are you kidding me? They saw me coming!

They use end-of-aisle placement

“The location of the products can play a significant role in the way that the consumers shop for them. The ends of the aisles are reported to be among the most profitable sections to place products. Often, manufacturers will pay an additional premium to have their products placed there because studies show that customers are often interested in what they will find at the end of the aisle.”2

“(End caps) are hot spots for impulse buying. According to the National Retail Hardware Association, a product at an end cap sells eight times faster than the same product shelved elsewhere on the aisle.”1

You know, things like highly salted canned goods, crackers, high-fat products, etc. Oh and let’s not forget some of the buzzwords like ‘organic’ and ‘fat-free’, also located on the end caps.

I know now why I go in for 3 or 4 things and come out with a basket or buggy full. I also now know why it usually takes me longer than I expected to get the job done. The colors are beautiful, the smells amazing, there are bargains galore, and I like being there.

How I grocery shop to support my diabetes

So knowing all of this, how does this help me to shop to support my diabetes? First off, I know I will be assaulted by things that may not be healthy for me. I may have to do some self-talk or self-coaching to prepare myself on my weaker days so I don’t get distracted.

Secondly, go in with a list and stick to it. Easier said than done because I love a good bargain but I’m a work in progress.

Third, if I do buy the not so healthy stuff for my family, remember, it’s for the family. And if I feel I must indulge, do it once and in a small quantity, just enough to satisfy the craving but not enough to lead me into continual bad habits.

So grocery stores, I’ve got your number now. Ha!

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Type2Diabetes.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.

Community Poll

How confident are you that you know all the ways you can spend health savings account (HSA) and flexible spending accounts (FSA) funds?