Everyone has to shop for groceries, but not everyone has to like it. You’ll like it even less when you find out more ways that the grocery stores are scamming you. Some of the scams are pretty direct, but others can be a lot more subtle and hard to spot.
10. Fish Story
Grocery stores often market their seafood as healthier options than red meat and pork. Fish can be abetter choice, but this doesn’t mean stores aren’t playing games with how they try to sell you on seafood. Seafood labeled as “wild” is coveted by many shoppers who are seeking out the freshest and healthiest choices, but grocery stores can use a technicality to try to mislead you. Farm bred fish live and grow in water just as fish in the “wild,” but a lot of shoppers would feel like they’re being scammed if they found out the farmed fish was being sold as “wild.” A 2015 Time Magazine investigation found that us much as 43% of Salmon sold in grocery stores was mislabeled. Almost 70% of the Salmon labeled Wild Atlantic Salmon turned out to be raised in farms. The investigation also found that less appealing kinds of Salmon were being labeled as higher end Salmon. No one wants to pay more for a product than they have to, but this one seems like a fairly low level scam in the scheme of things. This scam would mostly effect people who have the time and energy to worry about the exact location their Salmon came from.
9. Spice Racket
Spices can add just the right flavor to a recipe, but they tend to be pricey especially considering that they usually are sold in tiny containers. For the prices you pay in grocery stores for spices you have a right to assume you’re getting what’s on the label, but your assumption might be wrong. To increase profits companies will sometimes cut spices with cheaper ingredients. Nutmeg, a common spice used in baking cookies and pies can be cut with coffee husks. Spices can be expensive and time consuming to cultivate, process and ship so it’s not hard to understand why spice makers would be tempted to cut corners, but selling a product in grocery stores under false pretenses amounts to fraud. Along list of spices have been tampered with including black pepper, turmeric, saffron and oregano. There is also an extensive list of fillers that are added to spices includes syrups, chalk powder, dung, papaya seeds, bran and saw dust. Even if none of the false ingredients would actually harm you there is a principle at stake here: you should get what you pay for. We might not be able to notice that the spices we buy are compromised, but these diluted spices certainly can’t provide the same flavors and textures that genuine spices do.
8. Unlike a Virgin
Olive oil has become the go to oil for many home chefs. You’re told it is bette for you than vegetable oils made from corn, but are grocery stores really being sold extra virgin olive oil or something else? Forbes and other publications have reported that 80% of Italian olive oil can be considered fraudulent. Some olive oil experts argue that the real problem isn’t fraud, but simply poor quality products labeled as high quality virgin or extra-virgin olive oil. Sometimes the “olive oil” you bought at the grocery store isn’t olive oil at all, but vegetable oil with added color and aroma. Unless you extract the oil directly from olives yourself how are you supposed to know what’s in the bottle of olive oil? The problem has gotten so bad in Italy that its government started calling the fraudulent olive oil producers the agro mafia. Much of this Italian olive oil is actually produced in Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Morocco and Tunisia, but also in some European countries such as Greece and Spain. Italian companies use these countries for their products because they can be produced more cheaply and with fewer controls. Unfortunately, American consumers are often the primary victims of these organized crimes against olive oil. Maybe people should start shopping for alternative cooking oils like canola oil. Hopefully grocery stores aren’t running a scam with canola oil as well.
7. Flower Arrangement
You might have noticed the the arrangements of colorful flowers with their sweet fragrance often greet you as enter your local grocery store. While you might not have given this much thought you can be sure that the people who run the grocery store have given it a lot of thought. So what’s the deal with fresh flowers and why do the grocery stores think they are important to their image? The sights and smells of fresh flowers is a psychological trick to convince your brain that you have entered a place where bountiful supplies of fresh produce are ripe for the taking. The flowers help create an impression that the fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy are as inviting as the flowers you enjoyed when you walked in the grocery store. The stores don’t stop with flowers, however, they usually put produce, baked goods or hot foods like rotisserie chicken near the front of the store as well. If this seems a bit silly to you understand that other industries try to entice you with smells. Some movie theaters pump the smell of the fresh popcorn popping out into the parking lot so you can get a whiff and hopefully a hankering for a bag of popcorn by the time you go inside and see the concession stand. It is debatable how much these little scams actually work, but it seems like the grocery stores and movie theaters that put out the effort think they work.
6. Honey, I Scammed the Shoppers
You may or may not be surprised to learn that like many other products a lot of the honey sold in grocery stores is produced in China. The Communist regime’s product quality and safety laws have long been suspect and have negatively impacted the honey industry. The use of honey for medicinal purposes as well as a food goes back to ancient times. In those days honey was not heavily processed. Today’s commercial honey is usually pasteurized to kill bacteria, but the process also kills off many of the healthful nutrients naturally found in honey. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration describes authentic honey as having pollen, but most honey found in grocery stores does not contain any pollen. Food Safety News investigated honey sold in grocery stores and found as much as 76% of the honey on the shelves contained no pollen at all. Much of the phony honey is produced in India and China with a process that dilutes it with water and high fructose corn syrup. This over processing kills off the enzymes and pollen that make honey nutritious in the first place. So really all you’re getting at the grocery store when you buy commercially processed honey is a yellowish sugar gel like substance with almost zero nutritional value.
5. Milking You
It’s not your imagination; grocery stores really do put the milk in the back of the store. They run this particular scam so you have to walk past hundreds of colorfully packaged items and delicious aromas just get a carton of milk. Moo juice is one of the best selling items at grocery stores so it makes sense for them to use that fact to their advantage. Milk and cream aren’t the only products grocery stores like to place strategically on the shelves to increase sales. This means spreading common items like bread, coffee, cereal and pasta around to different aisles so shoppers will have to cover a large part of the store even if they are there only to buy a few items. The more time you end up spending in the grocery store the more likely you will be to grab some impulse items other than the jug of milk you intended to buy. Some studies show that a sizable percentage of shoppers spend about $30 on impulse buys every week. So the next time you’re walking to the back of your local grocery store to get a gallon of milk you’ll be armed with this knowledge, perhaps you’ll resist the impulse to buy that tempting bag of chips the grocery store has conveniently placed at eye level. Some grocery stores will sell some milk from grab n go cases at the from of the store to get back some sales the lose to convenience stores, but don’t count on your store offering this choice.
4. Water Works
A 2017 article in Consumer Reports described how some orange juice companies began marketing the fact that they were watering down their products. You’d think they’d want to hide this scam instead of trying to use it as a selling point, but the orange juice producers seemed to want to take advantage of many peoples’ health and weight concerns. The fact is watered down fruit juices are indeed lower in sugar and calories. However, it is also true that if you buy watered down fruit juices in the grocery store you’re essentially paying premium prices for water instead of fruit. We have to be real and recognize that most overweight people didn’t get heavy because they drank too much fruit juice. This shouldn’t have to be said, but orange and other fruit juices aren’t the cause of obesity. There are many eating habits that are problematic such as indulging in too much greasy fast food and too many sugary snacks and desserts. A glass of fruit juice is healthier than most things people eat. To discourage drinking regular fruit juices seems like a misguided idea in general. But to go a step further and make money off it by marketing watered down juices in grocery stores as some kind of improvement seems like a particularly sleazy scam. Some people avoid this scam by making their own fresh fruit juices with a juicing machine, but this can be an inconvenient and time consuming fix for this scam.
3. Musical Feast
An article written in 1973 by a business professor named Philip Kotler pointed out that “In some cases, the place, more specifically the atmosphere of the place, is more influential than the product itself in the purchase decision.” Kotler is credited with coining the word “atmospherics” and the role it plays in business and commerce. A company called Muzak was formed in 1934 to take advantage of an idea called “stimulus production.” This theory argued that instrumental music played at low volume in an office would increase worker productivity. Muzak became web known for providing the pleasantly bland “elevator music.” The stimulus production theory was seized on by retailers including grocery stores to shape the atmospherics in grocery stores. The store owners realized they had an opportunity to design the shopping experience in such a way as to encourage shoppers to buy more. The pleasant music played at low volume is supposed to increase shoppers feelings of well being and comfort and this translates into spending more time in the store shopping. Instead of rushing in and at with only a few items you’ll be more likely to extend the enjoyable experience of being in the grocery store. We’d like to think we aren’t this malleable, but clearly the grocery stores have done a lot of research and have taken certain steps because they think we are.
2. Say Wood!
Like milk cheese is a popular dairy food at grocery stores so you might be wondering how the stores are scamming you when it comes to cheese. You might not know what cellulose is, but you’ve probably heard of wood pulp and wouldn’t want it in your shredded cheese. This is why the manufactures list it as cellulose on the package. To be clear, cellulose isn’t bad for you; it is a natural substance found in fruits and vegetables and helps you digest food. It’s great that there is not health issue, but this doesn’t excuse companies that are selling cheese with unknown amounts of this filler replacing actual cheese. Shredded parmesan, cheddar, mozzarella etc. are not cheap products and they are even more pricey than we thought if a significant amount of the product consists of filler instead of cheese. These companies have a green light from the Food and Drug Administration to use wood pulp in shredded cheese because it has anti clumping properties that are useful for processed cheese that must be shipped and sit in a refrigerated case before being sold and put in your refrigerator. This is a legitimate reason for cellulose, but companies trying to increase profits would be tempted to use as much wood pulp as they can and as little actual cheese as possible. The answer to this scam is to shred your own cheese at home, but this is not very common because the pre-shredded cheese is so convenient.
1. No Go Carts
The grocery stores have done a lot of research to see what will get shoppers to buy the most items. One of the scams they came up with is to provide giant shopping carts. According to the research if shoppers use shopping carts that are hard to fill they will buy more to fill it up. Apparently people will have an unconscious desire to put more items in the cart so it doesn’t look empty. By the time you’ve used up a lot of the available space in these over sized shopping carts you’ll have spent a considerable amount of money on your grocery bill, but the stores hope you won’t notice. Do these big shopping carts really make a difference? The grocery stores must think they do otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered to replace their more normal sized carts with the plus size versions. Research suggests the stores are right to offer bigger carts because some of the studies people tend to spend more time and more money when they’re shopping with a big cart. Instead of letting the grocery stores try to scam you with their psychological games you can try to be more proactive. You could reverse the psychology to suit yourself. For example, use one of the small hand carts or your own small bag for your grocery items. With this little trick you’ll be more likely to buy only what you need, spend less money and get out of the grocery store a lot sooner than with a giant shopping cart.