Fighting Supermarket Junk Food: How to Leave With a Healthy Trolley

by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.
Supermarket trolley

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March over seventeen aisles and head back two rows and you’ll find your most used items: yogurt, eggs, and fish.

Why all the way back there anyway?

Those items are not just inadvertently placed deep in and down. They’re strategically placed to help you buy more than you need.

Gee, thanks for that “help”.

Look, it’s not like you’ve never been in a supermarket before. Maybe you don’t even notice the end result of millions invested in product placement. But you’ve got to face it: you are about to be bombarded with a ridiculous amount of unintentional choices. They have done their job very well in disguising the evil path set up for you to travel.

The good news? you can outfit yourself with your own game plan so you’ll be able to steer clear of unplanned purchases of fat, sugar, and bulky junk. The very items that are fattening us beyond belief. You can avoid supermarket junk food!

Beating supermarket junk food temptation

The well-esteemed publication, the New England Journal of Medicine, expressed their position that the supermarkets deliberately position unhealthy food items at a place of most susceptibility to buying them.

Equipped with that fact, you must educate yourself and execute a plan or else you’ll fall victim again and again. As a regular consumer, understanding the psychology of the supermarket is one of the most educated things you can do for yourself.

Go through those doors and emerge victorious with some basic understanding of how supermarkets deliberately hypnotise you to follow along.

Read these five basics. Study yourself and the store on your next visit. Then practise them on all your subsequent visits.

1. Always know what you need

When you enter the supermarket, get the blinkers on.

If you have a list, this is best. Get those items and stay away from sinister calories wrapped up in the cute little packet of conveniences.

And all that walking you’re doing covering lots of supermarket real estate? Treat this as a positive push for your activity levels. As long as you avoid the pitfalls and subliminal traps you can turn the supermarket traipsing into salubrious super steps and emerge victorious. Thank you supermarket!

2. Don’t shop hungry

Shopping hungry is one of the easiest ways to add so much crap to your trolley that you never needed.

You’re already walking into a secretly coded structure where you’ll be challenged every step of the way. You know how it is when you’re hungry. Everything looks good and is a must have right now.

Going in hungry is a sure way to go up calorie hill with a costly bill. Always make it a rule that you will not even consider your trip unless you have fed yourself something.

3. Tune in, zone out

Zone out from the over stimulation and subliminal set up by tuning into your favourite music.

If you get to choose the music that’s playing in your ears you’re more apt to stay on target for yourself. Just like the store structure is set up to trick you, so is the music keyed to either hype you up or slow you down to buy more. Don’t be a melody pushover. Choose your tunes and notice your trolley stay steady.

4. Be aware of bulk

Bulk items mean over ambitiousness, overbuying and overeating.

Consumables like kitchen rolls, tissues, and loo rolls are fine as you won’t consume calories with these items. But watch out for the 10 pack of crisps, ‘fun size’ snack packs and so on. These will get you in trouble the moment you throw them in your trolley.

Put them back. Get one or two at the most.

5. Ignore end caps

The end caps are eager to entice your eye. They generate 30% of supermarket sales.

These items generate the most impulse buys and are frequently loaded with unhealthy ingredients. Pay mind to that and choose wisely.

Heads up (and down): if you’re looking for the most healthy choices, you won’t find them at eye level. This may require looking beyond your sight line by bending, reaching, and retrieving your items. It’s well worth it. And by golly, look at all that movement you snuck in.


Supermarkets literally feed into bad habits that we’ve grooved for ourselves. Quite often, food choices are made unconsciously. We’re not even paying attention to what we’re doing. They’ve got our number and impulse marketing is their game. You can play back by paying attention and becoming aware.

And every time you play you get better. Take every opportunity to sharpen your supermarket skills so you can come out a winner every time.

Bear in mind that the supermarkets are not going to help you conquer your quest for health and wellness. Profit rules. The layout of the store aims for you to follow the subliminal signs and pick from the high fat, high sugar end caps best sellers. Don’t do that anymore.

You have new information now.

Next time you go shopping, just take notice. Appreciate the clever design. And then chuckle quietly under your breath as you promptly put your counter plan to work and emerge victorious.

I’m sure you know a handful (or a lot!) of people who would benefit from reading our supermarket-conquering tips. Please take a moment to forward this post to a friend most in need, or share it with your followers and friends!


Science Reports:

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  • Darren martindale

    Reply Reply July 7, 2014

    A great article, I use many of the skills you surggest , I always take a list and ignore the eye level temptations and I can understand why so many people get caught out and fall for the shop tricks and take home a trolley full of s*** nutritional food, keep up the good work .

    • Alex

      Reply Reply July 7, 2014

      Darren, great to hear about your “list” habit, and oh yes “shop tricks” indeed :-)

  • Michael

    Reply Reply July 7, 2014

    Great advice and one to follow; well done

    • Alex

      Reply Reply July 7, 2014

      Thanks so much Michael, go for it :-)

  • Michael

    Reply Reply July 7, 2014

    Thanks great advice.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply July 7, 2014

      Your future comments will start showing without approval Michael :-) Hope to hear more from you!

  • Rose

    Reply Reply July 7, 2014

    Dear Alex

    Thank you for your mail + link about supermarkets etc….I am glad that I am not the only one who thinks that the supermarkets are the bosses and feel that their clever tactics are working! NOT!
    They should be made aware (which I know some of us are!) that we only want the best for our bodies and will not be attempted by their advertising.
    Keep up the good work we students of The Science Academy are all behide you in the effort to let THEM know that we are the boss of our divine bodies and not them!

    In happiness


    • Alex

      Reply Reply July 7, 2014

      Rose, oh I love what you’ve just said, great motivation for your fellow students :-)

  • Carl Ellis

    Reply Reply July 7, 2014

    That’s a great read. Have known for a long time the tactics the supermarkets use for product placement and have been caught out once or twice but as you say, make a list, don’t shop hungry & plug in to your favourite tunes all helps.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply July 7, 2014

      That’s it, Carl, fantastic summary! Look forward to hearing more from you :-)

  • Denise Horton

    Reply Reply July 7, 2014

    Yes, some good points made of which I use too. The positive from supermarket shopping is that you walk miles pushing your trolley around and use your muscles putting it in the trolley, taking it out and onto the till, packing it and then putting it into your boot and then into the house and then unpacking it and putting it away!!! A good workout!!

    • Alex

      Reply Reply July 7, 2014

      What a great way to put it, Denise, all that pushing, pulling and lifting… it takes stamina!

  • Simon

    Reply Reply July 7, 2014

    The image with the trolley in the water is hilarious and so is Denise’s comment, I can now appreciate my wife’s heavy lifting LoL I’ll tell her about the headset strategy because the Pringles, ice cream and cakes keep magically appearing in our kitchen!

    • Alex

      Reply Reply July 7, 2014

      Simon, curious to see how that goes! Working together on a list will help :-)

  • libby

    Reply Reply July 8, 2014

    excellent info! It is crazy how true this is. I do make it a point to never go into the supermarket hungry.
    That will be the end of my healthy trolley indeed.
    keep up the good articles:)

    • Alex

      Reply Reply July 9, 2014

      Exactly, Libby. Hope to hear more from you!

  • Lorraine

    Reply Reply July 25, 2014

    Great advice

  • Joyce Kent

    Reply Reply August 11, 2014

    Don’t shops for food in supermarkets unless you walk to them. That way you only buy what you can carry. It has the added bonus of making you exercise. The amount you save on fuel etc compensates for local shop/market prices. Use online ordering for washing up liquid, washing powder etc

  • Lisa Scott

    Reply Reply August 18, 2014

    great reminder that we need to stick to our shopping lists and not be “persuaded” to purchase the things we don’t really want!

  • susan, nutrition coach

    Reply Reply August 18, 2014

    I really like this article and it great to share those sneaky Supermarket tricks, so that as consumers we can make an informed choice about what we want to put in our trolley
    I bloged about a similar thing connected to high sugar high profit foods that are very visible in supermarkets. I now pay particular attention when i walk in to a supermarket and always go with a list!

  • Denise

    Reply Reply November 19, 2014

    I try to shop like there is somebody looking over my shoulder into my basket all of the time!! Sounds crazy, but it works! If you stop and really objectively look into your trolley before you get to the check out also helps! There is always plenty of impulsive, sugar and salt ridden food that you really do not need.

  • Samantha Legg

    Reply Reply January 3, 2015

    This is a great article. However, the way that I get around being tempted by all those tasty treats is that I simply do not go to supermarkets anymore. I do all my food shopping online. That way I am sure to only ever by what I need. If you are like me and tend to buy the same food every time you shop, you can create a shopping list on your chosen supermarket app and simply stick to that every time. Then it all gets delivered straight to your door free of temptation!. Perfect.

  • Glyn

    Reply Reply August 7, 2015

    Nice food for thought!

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