February 6, 2015
Have you ever wondered what the supermarket sells that you never buy? I visit my local chain grocery store about three times each week, always with a list. The list doesn’t change very much from week to week. Most supermarkets carry over 43,844 items (2013, http://www.fmi.org/research-resources/supermarket-facts). Most shoppers buy 260 items each year (.0059% of the 43,844 items). I regularly purchase about fifty, or .00114%. Not bad; but we do spend about $1200/month on food for a family of two, plus another $250/month on average dining out. I wonder what we would spend if I entered the mysterious aisles or stopped and shopped along the perimeter of the store.
If I survey the perimeter of our local store, the sections I never frequent make up 60% of the shelf and cooler space, not counting the aisles. I pass by the deli counter, butcher and fish counters, all sorts of meats, juices, dairy, yogurt, cheese and ice cream, and finish by passing by the fresh bakery. None of these sections have items I buy.
The aisles are even a greater mystery to me. The first I call the “TV Sports Food Aisle.” It has hundreds of brands of cold beer, enough chips and salsa to supply a Carrier Dome basketball crowd, and most of it from brands more recent than my last Lowenbrau or tall-neck Piels beer purchased of the 1970’s and 80’s. I’ve had about one beer per year in the last dozen years. No loss; I don’t have a TV either. Without TV advertising, one doesn’t know such an array of products exists. It was interesting to see a woman picking up beer and chips while using her cell phone to order pizza to be delivered by the time she was to arrive home. No cooking on game night!
Next is the cereal aisle where an uninformed mother can select breakfast cereals for her children by the pictures on the boxes, hundreds of them. Oddly, the basic Cheerios box looks about the same as it did 45 years ago, when my son ate them one at a time (now there are eleven types of Cheerios according to Consumer Reports). Then there is still Life cereal, though enhanced with flavors, which captured my attention every morning for 20 years when I served in public education. I gained about two pounds per year for 20 years. Here’s where I imagine the “Sugar Rapture” and envision what might be left behind if all the sugar went to the next life. Cereal boxes might look like New England’s underinflated footballs.
Then there is the cracker aisle. Imagine buying one box of crackers each week and saving them until Christmas. A two-year old could have a marvelous set of blocks, and even open a box to munch on a cracker or two. Wow! Blocks with treats inside!
Canned fruits and vegetables are in the next two aisles, next to the condiments. I’ll admit to picking up an occasional can of artichoke hearts or a jar of olives, but prefer the sauerkraut from the local Polish Meat Market where they make it fresh. I wonder about the nutritional value of canned vegetables when compared to the items in the produce aisle or the farmer’s market.
Then there is almost an entire aisle devoted to peanut butter and jelly. They are even listed on the overhead aisle signs. Once again, I envision the Sugar Rapture. Next aisle is bread, hundreds of varieties of loaves of bread – white, wheat, rye, old-fashioned white, honey wheat, Jewish rye, cinnamon bread, whole grain, multi-grain, sixteen grain, hot dog rolls, hamburger rolls, and rolls of every size and shape. Then there are pita breads, flatbreads, naan, and a dozen flavors of wraps.
Did I miss the soda, juice and bottled water aisle? How could I? It should be back lit to create an artistic array of marvelous colors, so many one couldn’t have imaged sugar could have such a place in the world of electric sculpture. Surely, the soda aisle must have inspired Dale Chihuly’s glass blowing art. Remember when we got water from the tap? Now we can pay for it, dispose of the empty plastic bottles, and enjoy flavoring in what used to be “the benefit of pure water from our wells.”
I’d be like a child in a toy store if I started to survey the expensive frozen food cabinets. These must have been invented before people learned to cook at home. There is box after box of frozen meals, desserts, vegetables, fruits, pizzas, and too many other items for me to identify. It does feel good in that aisle on a warm summer day.
Most shoppers buy 260 items each year (.0059% of the 43,844 items). I regularly purchase about fifty, or .00114%. Not bad; but we do spend about $1200/month on food for a family of two, plus another $250/month on average dining out. I wonder what we would spend if I entered the mysterious aisles or stopped and shopped along the perimeter. Think I’ll wait for the fish man’s weekly stop in the village, the farmer’s market, and the great food at the natural food store. We purchase from our local natural food store and local farmers who provide free-range eggs, chicken, beef , pork, lamb, turkey and goat cheese. The natural food store sells us organic frozen, dark, unsweetened cherries and unsweetened almond beverage by the case. There we also find an excellent assortment of fresh spices, millet, dried beans, bulk nuts, and “very locally grown,” fresh vegetables.
It’s also a benefit to me to purchase food where the vendor knows my name, not just whether I want to use debit or credit.