Grocery Stores’ Dirty Tricks

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Grocery store managers call them “end caps” – those ubiquitous end-of-the-aisle displays stocked with whatever low-budget food the store is trying to unload on impulse buyers. But are they deals? Not really, and in fact, they can be as unhealthy for your wallet as they are for your health.

The thing about grocery stores is that, like real estate, location is everything. Since many shoppers don’t browse every aisle, store owners are faced with a dilemma: How do they get excess inventory and the priciest items to stand out?

That’s where end caps come in. They are easily visible from many points in the store, and food and drink manufacturers don’t mind paying a high premium to put their products front and center.

Most consumers probably don’t realize it, but end-of-the-aisle displays don’t offer the store’s best deals. On the contrary, grocery stores love to put products on display that offer the juiciest profit margins. They’ll be tricky about it, too. Store managers have been known to “short-size” end cases, forcing shoppers to go to the larger product aisles to find the exact size and flavor of the product they want.

Make no mistake, grocery stores want shoppers in the aisles. So they’re not above using a little subterfuge with end caps to steer consumers into the aisles, where they’re likely to choose more products and spend more money.

The best remedy for minimizing overspending is to have that grocery list handy, stick to it, and research prices on items you know you need (check discount websites or the manufacturer’s own web site to get a baseline). Websites like offer “grocery list” plans that get you in and out of stores with only what you came for, reducing impulse buys in the process.

End caps are not only about pushing pricy product, either. Many grocery store managers also like to put about-to-expire products at the end of the aisle, slap a seemingly low price with an exclamation point on a sign with big block letters, and call it a “sale.” But in many cases, the price is the regular one.

Or they’ll sometimes put “twin” items together, like peanut butter and jelly, or marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate, and only offer a sale price on one of them. You’ll still pay the premium price for that peanut butter, if not the jelly.

If you’re on a diet, beware. Grocers almost never put low-fat, healthy, nutritious foods in their end caps. This is especially true at eye level, where most shoppers are “brain-trained” to look. Instead, expect to find the fatty, sugary treats that stores believe consumers can’t resist.

Grocery store chains have no shortage of tricks up their sleeves when it comes to end-of-the-aisle displays. It’s your job to know that stores aren’t trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat with end caps; they’re trying to pull more money out of your wallet.

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